Like Barry Bonds, Baseball Widow hasn't retired; she's just not playing.
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Saturday, March 06, 2004

PEDs Part II

Baseball Widow said we'd come back to this topic.

Two strands of thought seem to be floating around out there: one questioning the true effects of Performance Enhancing Drugs, the other identifying additional circumstances and factors that could be considered performance-enhancing.

Baseball Widow will speak only briefly to the former. Baseball Widow hopes that everyone understands the now oft-stated assertion that steroids, hgh, and the like aren't magic pills. The drugs alone won't do much but send your hormones into overdrive. (Take it from Baseball Widow, who had a nasty lung infection last winter and was as pumped full of various steroids as, well, as Barry Bonds would be if he weren't innocent until proven guilty.) Of course any effectiveness must be accompanied by an exercise and diet regimen. And, of course PEDs wouldn't work the same for everyone.

I don't think that speculating as to their effects is really useful for this discussion. I think PEDs probably are effective, or they wouldn't be used. Even if they're not, there's a whole school of thought out there that says because a placebo effect can be incredibly powerful, the thing that induces the effect can and should be considered a drug (which raises a tangential but nonetheless interesting question about the desirability--and feasibility--of regulating placebos).

As to the latter thought strand, Baseball Widow is intrigued by the idea that almost anything can be considered performance-enhancing. I made the point that the Yankees payroll is an artificial/innate/organic advantage. Others have said that because Babe Ruth played in the segregated era, his records were enhanced by the fact that he didn't compete with Negro league players. Although I'm not willing to equate PEDs in absolute terms with sociological conditions, I do think that Performance Enhancers (PEs)--drugs or not--are interesting fodder for thought. Therefore, Baseball Widow would like to shift the discussion toward the very idea of Performance Enhancement.

I submit to you that none of us would even watch Major League Baseball if PEs weren't involved. Don't believe me? What separates professional baseball from backyard baseball? The level of play--the enhanced performance.

Ladies and gentlemen, we want PEs. We demand them of the athletes. We've set up a system whereby men who can throw balls really fast and hit them really hard are elevated in society. We make them millionaires, we pay through the nose to see them do their special tricks, we ask them to write their name on paper so that we can prove they touched something we touched.

It's not just baseball. Think of your average celebrity. You think Britney Spears keeps her bod gorgeous by working out a lot? Sure she does. But she's also taking PEDs--in the form of a diet pill. Guess what Beyonce Knowles gave herself for her birthday? Waffles. Yes, waffles. . .because she can't sit down at brunch on Sunday and snarf them the way you and I do. Self-denial is her PE.

It's inadequate to blame the culture of fame that encourages extreme behaviors. It's not being famous that makes athletes and celebrities go to extremes--it's that they wouldn't be superstar athletes or celebrities without the extremes. They're not just idolized; they're idealized. We expect celebrity athletes to embody the super-human athleticism that we have dreamed up in our heads to envy.

I don't mean to offer an excuse for PEDs; I believe in personal responsibility for one's actions. I do think, however, that the very nature of the professional game offers an explanation for their use. I'm not saying it's good or bad; I'm just saying that if we're going to let the steroids debate simmer, we'd better be prepared when it boils up to expose other things that force us to be less naive about the game we love.

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