Krauthammer discusses Barry Bonds and Steroids

Charles Krauthammer has a good piece in today's Washington Post. I have made these basic points before, though he may have done a better job of expressing the point.

. . . The idea that an athlete of Bonds's stature, for whom the body is both temple and bank vault, would be mistakenly ingesting substances is implausible, made all the more so by the evidence dredged up by two San Francisco sportswriters detailing Bonds's (alleged) gargantuan consumption of every performance-enhancing drug from steroids to human growth hormone.

But why should we care? What is really wrong with performance enhancement? We say we are against it because it diminishes striving, devalues achievement, produces a shortcut to greatness, etc. But in many endeavors we don't really care about any of that. Medical residents at hospitals have been known to take Ritalin to keep themselves alert on overnight shifts. If it enhances their thinking in the emergency room, what's the objection?

Many public speakers, performers and even some surgeons take beta-blockers to literally still their hearts and steady their hands. I've never seen a banner at the opera complaining: "Pavarotti does it on pasta." And what about the military, which pioneered some of these performance-enhancing studies to see how they could help soldiers survive the most extreme stresses? Isn't that an unqualified good?

Performance enhancement turns out to be disturbing only in the narrow context of competition, most commonly in sports. And the objection is not cheating nature but cheating competitors. It's basically a fairness issue.

When everyone has access to technological improvements (graphite tennis rackets, titanium drivers, more tightly wound baseballs) the sport may be transformed, but the playing field remains level. When technology is enhancing the equipment, fans become quickly reconciled to the transformation. (And it can be radical: The transition from bamboo to fiberglass totally changed the pole vault.) But when technology enhances the physiology of the athlete, we tend to recoil. . . . .



Blogger Darkside007 said...

I was thinking about this when I first read it. People get upset over performance enhancers for the same reason people get upset over cheating in online gaming: There are a set of rules, and everyone is supposed to play to the best of their ability on a level field. The regular behaviour is drug and cheat-free, so when a few people bring it in to give themselves an edge that isn't related to the effort they make, it violates the rules.
It's like letting one player have a Knight in chess move like a bishop and still retain it's special move propterties. Chess is supposed to be about the better player, not the better pieces. Same as sports, it's about the natural skill and talents, not chemical boosts.
It is in NO way like other professionals who use chemicals to do their jobs - there is an expectation that they will do everything in their power to to the best possible. It's not about the people involved, but the outcome. Competition IS about the people, not the tech.

6/02/2006 5:53 PM  
Blogger saturdaynightspecial said...

Baseball is a game designed not for television, designed when the idea of tv never existed. In the year 1909 the thought of having accesss to the world series to watch men of steel, men of iron and of iron will was as close to the idea of entering the gates of heaven as you could ever get. The records and the stats of that bygone era are the small bit of evidence remaining proving the phenomenal capability of what man can do, did do, without the aid of technology.

Change is inevitable; and even Cobb wrestled with it. He was always jealous of Ruth, the cork center ball, and the shallow right field that followed him. But Cobb knew too that Ruth was still an amazing phenomenom: "Ruth was a natural left handed pull hitter, but whenever the defense gave him an opening, he could slap the ball into left field with beautiful ease...Babe had a record 714 home runs...he also hit twice as many singles - 1,517 of them..." [Cobb]

I think Charlie K. wants to go to the field and view heaven in action like it was done during an earlier era; to do this he is willing to cheat; but I have a message to all the Charlies: that's exactly what you will have to do Charlie to see once again men of iron play the game the way it was played before the tv ruined the game and the men that want to play it.

I seldom watch baseball on tv - it's boring, and so are the players. Baseball was not designed for tv. But I do love to watch the minor league players struggle to make it to the next level - I love going to a minor league game - it reminds me of an earlier time. We have the hardest time understanding what it was like to have to live and survive with only our wits and physical strength, and without the aid of technology. Only those who can interpret the records and statistics of an earlier time can do that.

"The greatness of Ty Cobb was something that had to be seen, and to see him was to remember him forever." [George Sisler, First Baseman]

Do you understand it was exciting to watch Pete Rose finally break one of Cobb's famous records even though it took a long long time. All the players that would later break one (one) of Cobb's records would achieve fame for that. None have come close to being Cobb with all his still famous records. One of them used pills on a daily basis.

Back in Cobb's day everyone lived by their wit and whatever skills they could develope to survive - those skills are now lost in time but preserved in records; if you want to break those records you will have to do it with drugs because the skills needed to do it are lost forever.

6/03/2006 6:35 AM  
Blogger Dad29 said...

Beta-blockers for Target Handgunners!!


6/03/2006 10:24 AM  

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