By Jason Keidel
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Perhaps it’s my inner anarchist, but when I heard that Ryan Braun beat the system, tweaked the steroid sonar to get his suspension reversed, I did a little fist pump. It was a win for a boy against the man, the machine, and the vague monster that governs our lives, implicitly or illicitly.
And when Braun held his press conference on a sunny baseball diamond, perfectly coiffed and confident, assuring us that he doesn’t run a second faster, lift a pound more, or swat a ball farther now than he did a few years ago, I believed him.
But I have no idea why.
When a conga line of chemists, physicians, and doping experts said that while Braun may have cleverly handled his case, riding the best legal defense to the finish line, his testosterone didn’t spike to stratospheric levels (20 times that of a normal man) because the man who collected Braun’s urine left it in a basement over the weekend.
Moreover, Braun never attempted to prove that the sample was tampered or that the test results were false. So why is anyone but Braun and his Brewers happy?
It seems quite reasonable to assume that Braun won and we lost. And if the NL MVP is juicing, you wonder who’s sharing his prescription. Maybe we’re back to Summer of Sammy levels. Some are even asking if we should bother screening these sluggers.
Respectable writers from respected publications (like The New York Times and Sports Illustrated), posit that either doping should be legal or the current testing systems have botched things beyond repair. They are tired of reporting on sporting crimes with no convictions, from Braun to Bonds to Clemens.
You could go a legal leap deeper, making it a civil rights issue. Prohibition failed, and the war on drugs is, well, wanting. If some dude wants to drink beer and gobble Doritos while watching “Cops” all day, he’s largely hurting himself. As long as he doesn’t drive a car or steal your television to get his groove on, we probably wouldn’t know about it. And history shows us that just about every governing body in human history can’t keep out the supply whenever there’s demand, no matter the product.
But this relativism triggers a kind of moral avalanche that pours onto level playing fields. If juicing becomes the norm (as it once was) then sports invite a new talent – the ability to find the best PED dealer.
We won’t know who the best players are because we won’t know who’s clean, and those who are the best get there by dint of doping. What about the players who actually choose to play a sport without shooting equine cocktails that shred your organs, drain your testosterone, and leave you a trembling, impotent mess when you’re 50? Can they even compete with their bionic colleagues?
Not to mention it’s not fair to fans, kids, or the game. Baseball, more than any sport, stands on its history, wed to numbers a century old. Talk amphetamines all you like, but they didn’t imbue players with superhero size and strength, the fountain of youth we now find dripping from a needle. (At 36, Mickey Mantle hit 18 homers. Barry Bonds hit 73.) And if we’re watching an illusion at the ballpark, we might as well rent a movie. The defining difference between worshiping Braun instead of Batman is that Ryan Braun is real. At least he’s supposed to be.
The fact that morally void chemists are ahead of the apparatus designed to find them doesn’t mean it’s fine to fudge the rules. Indeed, if your kid cheats on an algebra test, you don’t tell the teacher that everyone else should, too. It ignites a line of toxic events that further blurs the already blurry line separating bandits from bystanders.
Should steroids be legal? If you say yes, I understand your reasons. I just find them unreasonable.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.firstname.lastname@example.org
Where do you stand on the PED debate? Let Keidel know in the comments below…