Tuesday, January 14, 2014

PEDs: Yes, Again

I've had mixed feelings for years about doping. It's not that I'm in favor of it. It's just that I've never found the standard arguments against doping to be particularly compelling. So professional cyclists take EPO because they can rebuild their red blood cell count, in order to step up their training. I'm against "cheating" when it permits people to take shortcuts. But remind me why I would be against something someone takes because they want to train harder?” Malcolm Gladwell

I’m not sure who is more obsessed with Performance Enhancing Drugs, Major League Baseball or myself. I think I may have promised not to write about PED use anymore, and I could apologize, but there’s maybe three people reading this, so I’ll risk it and hope you’ll just have to forgive me.

I just can’t help myself. Every time there’s a major PED story in the sports news cycle, the subsequent outrage just drives me batty. Yes, it’s technically cheating. The rules say players aren't allowed to take these drugs, so by taking them, they are cheating. That much isn't really debatable. So while Alex Rodriguez isn't being suspended for flunking a test, I’m confident that he did 95% of everything they say he did. I was a fan of Alex, until he left Seattle. In part, it was because he spurned my Mets, and also because I've never been a fan of franchise players leaving via free agency, unless they are returning “home.” As Barry Bonds did when he went to the Giants, and Ken Griffey Jr did when he went to the Reds.

It wasn't until Alex forced a trade to the Yankees, that we realized how much of a prima donna he really is. Then on top of that, he was just horrible in the post-season. But this isn't about Rodriguez. I don’t really care what he did or how inflated his career numbers are.

What I can’t wrap my head around, is how the very day that the media is ripping him to shreds, we’re all celebrating the greatness of Peyton Manning. And Manning is now, and has always been, a remarkable football player. Manning has put together, perhaps, the greatest career ever, by anyone throwing a football. And if he had a similar career throwing a sphere, rather than a prolate spheroid, his numbers would all be under a cloud of suspicion.

Manning is 37, and two years removed from a career threatening neck injury. He required spinal fusion surgery. That wasn't enough, and he had another procedure on his neck. Manning missed an entire season, and was released. He signed with Denver, and while his arm strength was obviously diminished in 2012, he had the second best season of his illustrious career. Then this year, Manning had, statistically, the best season of any quarterback in the history of the NFL.

Based on appearance, there’s never been any reason to suspect Manning of taking anything illegal. He’s currently listed at 6’5” and 230 pounds, the same weight he was listed during his senior year of college. That was 16 years ago. Manning and I are the same age, and neither myself, nor any of my friends, weight what we did 16 years ago.

It’s not that I suspect Manning has taken PED’s. My gut feeling is, that he actually has not. But the truth is, of the athletes that have been linked to PEDs, most weren't overly muscular nor did we witness some sort of noticeable physical transition. The outlier, of course, is Barry Bonds. Bonds looked more like the Hulk at the end of his career, than a baseball player.

Interestingly enough, both Bonds and Manning are the sons of fathers who played professional sports. Barry and Peyton both had much more productive careers than their fathers.

Of the 41 players that Major League Baseball that have been suspended for taking PEDs, only eight would be labeled power hitters. The vast majority were either relief pitchers or largely forgettable hitters. Of course, the list doesn't include Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa Mark McGwire or Jose Canseco. But my point is, it isn't just the super strong and Hulk-like, athletes using.

Forget about the big four sports in America for a second, and look at the rest of the landscape. Where is doping prevalent? In cycling (see; Armstrong, Lance) and track and field. Check out this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_doping_cases_in_athletics

Yet, in America, we seem to only suspect baseball players. When in truth, football players and basketball players have so much more to gain from taking performance enhancers. The list above contains mostly athletes who compete in sports where speed, agility and strength are most important. Have you watched baseball? It’s mostly about hand-eye coordination. Sure, being strong might help you hit a ball further, or throw it harder. But it won’t help you make contact more, and it won’t help you locate a pitch better.

But it would help a running back run fast, and allow him to be strong enough to handle being hit by a 250 pound linebacker. It would help a basketball player to train harder, and build up the strength in his legs, so he can run and jump. And it’s just too convenient, that, as of now, neither the NFL nor NBA, test for HGH.

So forgive me, if I can’t just accept Adrian Peterson coming back from a torn ACL, and had one of the best season of any running back, without borrowing some of Lance Armstrong’s methods. And I can’t look at Lebron James, combines the body of a power forward, with the speed of a point guard and can jump like a deer, and not suspect that he may be genetically modified.

Are we going to question every great feat accomplished on a baseball diamond, and blindly accept everything done on a football field or a basketball court? I can’t do that. Then again, I don’t really care what these guys put in their bodies. Because why I would be against something someone takes because they want to train harder?

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