Friday, January 18, 2013


This is going to be a long post. You’ve been warned.

I’ve long had a beef with Lance Armstrong, but it had nothing to do with what he did or didn’t do to prepare for competition. I dislike bullies, he happens to have a black belt in bullying. This isn’t about Lance. It isn’t about Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire and it isn’t about records or any Hall of Fame. This is about cheating. Or what we call cheating. Personally, and this is weird, what these guys have done, I don’t really consider it to be cheating. Technically, sure, they cheated. So first, let’s look at the definition. Pardon me for going all Bill Clinton here.

Cheat:  Verb- Act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage.

Yes, athletes taking steroids are doing so to gain an advantage. But every athlete is looking for an advantage. Somehow we’ve arbitrarily drawn a line so certain drugs or treatments are considered an unfair advantage.  I don’t know all the rules, in all the sports, about which medications or treatments are allowed and which aren’t, but I know some. I know that a baseball player with a sore shoulder can get cortisone shot for the pain. I’m also not a chemist, but I can Google with the best of ‘em. Cortisone is a steroid hormone. The common use of cortisone is to provide short-term pain relief. So you know, it allows a player to feel better, so they can perform better. That’s okay. There are side-effects, as with any medication, and none of them are all that appealing; anxiety, depression, cataracts, and glaucoma. Those are only some of the side-effects. Just those that I don’t need a medical dictionary to talk about.

A pitcher can have his elbow blow up (not the correct medical term) and have surgery to repair the damage. He can then come back with a stronger elbow than he had before. Some have even come back with a more effective arsenal. No one considers any of this cheating, but the result gives the athlete an advantage. Why, because it’s not against the rules? Well if an NFL player gets called for holding, he broke a rule, but no one will call that guy a cheater. If we’re going to say that, technically, Armstrong is a cheater, isn’t every offensive lineman also a cheater?

Gaining an advantage over the competition is what separates athletes. The best athletes are the ones who push themselves the hardest. They’re the ones that practice with the most intensity. They find a way to gain an advantage over the competition. The “level playing field,” is always brought up in these conversations about cheating. I call BS. The level playing field is the field of play for each sport, and the equipment the competitors are allowed to use. As long as none of that is tampered with, you have a level playing field.

As someone who strongly believes that individuals should have equal rights, I don’t, for a second, believe we’re all equal or created equal. Some of us are born shorter (ahem) some of us stronger. Some of us are born smarter; some of us are born with challenges. We’re not really “equal” in the truest sense of the word. And neither are athletes. What an athlete does in order to prepare for competition shouldn’t be our concern.

Fans love to discuss where a great player ranks among the all-time greats. When we have those debates, the ones that our wives roll their eyes at, we totally ignore the fact that there’s no “even playing field” between eras. Adrian Peterson just had one of the best statistical seasons of any running back in NFL history. He did this, not even a year after tearing his ACL and MCL. 20 years ago, an injury that like would have likely ended his career. Yet, thanks to medical advances, he came back and performed better than he ever has. So we marvel at this, as we should, but had he used certain drugs, we’d call him a cheater and discard his entire season, and probably his entire career. It just makes no sense.
What they put in their bodies can absolutely be a detriment to their long-term health. And that’s worth discussing, both for their benefit and to educate anyone else considering using the same tactics. But the general public really doesn’t care about their health. We love the violence of football. We want these people to play through pain that we’d never consider. And we want them to be stronger,  run faster, jump higher, hit a ball further, play through pain we can’t imagine and believe it all happened because ate their Wheaties.

I was telling my wife about my idea for this post last night, and she asked if I have a problem with authority. I do, I absolutely do. Not that I’m some rebel, but hypocrisy drives me batty. It doesn’t mean that I think Bonds and Armstrong are righteous, heroic guys. They’re both jerks. But they’re both, in my opinion, the best to ever play their sports. They broke rules, even some laws. Rules and laws that I feel are completely ridiculous. I’m much more upset by the athletes who are arrested for assaulting their significant others or driving while intoxicated. Basically, doing anything that harms someone else or puts the lives of others at risk is worth our attention.

The line that we’ve drawn in the sand is more of a wall, and it’s time to tear down that wall.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hall of Flame

Today’s the big day, where the Baseball Writers of America get their moment to grandstand and play morality police, as they've promised us they would for the past 10 years. Today their Hall of Fame votes are made public, and we’ll see them keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the PED poster boys, out of the Hall of Fame. Sure, they’ll also continue to keep Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell, and Mark McGwire out, as they have the past couple of years.  And Mike Piazza is a coin flip at this point, but Bonds and Clemens are the biggest fish in this pond. Perhaps the greatest hitter and greatest pitcher of all-time, who both also happen to be all-time jerks.

The voters, and many fans, will hide behind a joke called the “character clause.” A clause which allows voters to take someone’s character into account when deciding if their career warrants enshrinement in a museum that was designed to celebrate the best in the history of the game. But these players, “allegedly” used some drugs that the powers that be deemed illegal. Even though a doctor could prescribe them to a patient, if they so choose. Both Bonds and Clemens had their day in court, and neither was convicted of perjury, nor where they caught by Major League Baseball using anything illegal (at a time when baseball actually had rules stating it was illegal).

The truth is, this isn't about keeping the sport clean. Baseball has a long history of players taking amphetamines or caffeine pills, for a competitive edge. Cheating has long been celebrated in baseball, and made some players endearing to fans. Gaylord Perry, a Hall of Famer, even wrote a book entitled “Me and the Spitter.” So the writers are actually telling us that they’ll accept cheating, just degrees of cheating. I wonder if their wives know that.

What bothers me most isn't even the idea of voting for guys who put up legitimate number. Although there’s actually no way of knowing who did and didn't  if Ben Johnson was taking steroids in 1984, why is it safe to assume that no one in baseball was? No, what aggravates me the most is the public and media singling out baseball and, oddly enough, cycling. If a NFL player gets caught, sure they get suspended for four games. That’s a healthy punishment, as its 25% of the season, but that’s the end of it. There’s no backlash. No one is asking for their awards to be stripped or their numbers to be marked with a Scarlet asterisk. Oh sure, after Shawne Merriman was caught, the NFL ended up passing a rule that prevents a player who fails a test, from making the Pro-Bowl in THAT SEASON. Meanwhile, since the “Steroid Era” began in baseball we've seen the following:

·         Five running backs have topped 2,000 yards in a single season, only two before.
·         Five quarterbacks have thrown for more than 5,000 yards in a single season, and it only happened once before.
·         13 receivers have tallied more than 1,600 yards in a season, only two did it before.
·         Nine defenders have recorded 18.5 or more sacks in a season, and only seven did so before the mid 90’s.

Then there’s the fact that no one seems to even consider that NBA players may also take these drugs, but most will agree that the game is played by bigger, stronger and faster players. In a league where there are far fewer roster spots and the average NBA player earns over $5 million a season, compared to $3.4 in baseball and $1.9 in the NFL.

But no one cares about the other sports, simply because the individual statistics aren’t as valued as they are in baseball. The average fan might know who holds the record for most rushing yards in a season or assists in a career, but they don’t know what those numbers are. Whereas, even casual fans know what 61 represents in baseball. Baseball fans know who the last player to hit .400 was, or how many no hitters Nolan Ryan threw, or how many hits Pete Rose racked up.

It all drives me nuts, but nothing more than the “character clause.” Babe Ruth was known to be a womanizer and heavy drinker. Ty Cobb was a world renowned racist. Countless baseball players cheated on their wives. Eddie Murray was charged by the SEC with insider trading. “Character clause,” are you kidding me? If we’re going to consider character, then shut the door to the Hall of Fame and open up a Character Hall of Fame. I can promise you this much, if you selected from the general population, the Character Hall of Fame would have less members than Skull and Bones.

Lastly, those writers who want to ignore the accomplishments of the players they believe cheated, I wonder if they discount the income they received in covering those same accomplishments. Mike Lupica wrote a best-selling book, celebrating the home run chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. I haven’t yet received an offer to refund my $20, since his book was aided by steroids. Now he gets to double dip, and earn a nice check while he vilifies the same players that he made money celebrating. All under the umbrella of a “character clause,” this has to be a joke, right?