The ‘Strikes’ Against Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Professional Sports

Barb Wire

Besides earning him the derisive nickname “A-Roid,” Alex Rodriguez’s 162-game suspension for using testosterone, insulin growth factor, human growth hormone and various other illegal drugs has many clamoring for a lifting of the ban on such substances in professional sports.  Many of these individuals are members of the same cast of characters who are pushing for the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana.  A libertarian strain is definitely infecting the American cultural landscape through media and political “patient zeroes” such as Ron and Rand Paul, John Stossel, Penn Jillette, Eric Bolling, and Greg Gutfeld.  This live-and-let-live philosophy will definitely have many unforeseen consequences if performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are permitted in professional sports.  Despite my heavy reliance upon metaphors drawn primarily from America’s pastime, each of these points is equally valid for all other sports as well.  Since it’s three strikes and you’re out in baseball, what follows is triple that number.  In baseball parlance that amounts to a pitcher’s coveted “three up, three down” inning.  In other words, the heavy hitters who are stepping up to the batter’s box, hoping to hit the long ball in favor of drug legalization, will be left fanning the ball.        

STRIKE ONE:  Performance-enhancing drugs create an inequitable “playing field” for those who do not use drugs. 

Right off the bat, it’s easy to see how permitting such substances would effectively force all other athletes to either take the same drugs or be competitively beaten out by those who do.  So, allowing such drugs will not only affect those that take them, but it will also exert a great amount of negative pressure on those who desire to remain clean.  Even though many question the effectiveness of our current drug testing methods which indicate a low prevalence of usage, it should come as no surprise to anyone that ending the anti-doping policy will significantly influence the pervasiveness of this problem.  So, instead of fostering a major league morass of junkies, rich sport’s traditions that promote fairness are worth preserving for the next generation.  This sad reality seems to be lost on those who are blindly going to bat for drug legalization.  The next thing we know, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field might do away with their hand-turned scoreboards.

STRIKE TWO:  It will greatly diminish all of the accomplishments and records held by the sports legends of the past.

All the sports records would eventually begin falling to those who have a competitive advantage due to PEDs, and family vacations to the Halls of Fame in places like Cooperstown or Canton would become increasingly meaningless.  Records such as Barry Bond’s 73 home runs in 2001 and all other drug-aided accomplishments forever deserve to have an asterisk by their names in the record books, and any comparisons of these players to baseball greats like Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Joe DiMaggio are definitely off-base.  Professional sports would cease to be about the best athletes, but instead become a race to get the newest and best designer drugs on the market before their competition does.  Any sports purist can easily see the harm that such a policy change would mean to the spirit of sportsmanship.  Sports would cease to be matter of, “May the best man or woman win,” but would instead become, “May the best drugs win!”  The possibility that this kind of full scale, league sanctioned drug culture could ever become a reality should certainly have everyone crying foul.

 STRIKE THREE:  Like it or not, sports stars are role models, and juicing athletes will only serve as a very bad example for our children.

Such a policy change would also encourage aspiring young athletes to do the same thing in pursuit of their professional dreams.   Even the most libertarian among us, who support professional sports allowing PEDs, does not want to see our, and especially their, children taking these banned substances.  Yet, that is exactly what will happen when our children find out that their favorite sports stars are gaining a competitive edge and winning by putting dangerous drugs into their bodies.  Blinded by the promise of future glory and their naive sense of invincibility, the youth of America will certainly rush to emulate their athletic heroes.  Furthermore, if the ban on these kinds of drugs is ever lifted, we will be teaching our children that we reward cheaters and rule breakers, and personal integrity will become another casualty of the win-at-all-costs mentality.  The innocent days of America and her favorite athletic champions have long since passed, but there is no reason to dispose of every last vestige of wholesomeness.      

STRIKE FOUR:  There are real and dangerous health effects associated with these banned substances. 

The adverse side effects associated with these drugs have yet to be fully understood, but there is much evidence that demonstrates their short and long-term harm to players.  Moreover, the health risks when taken at younger and younger ages will most certainly be worse.  The glory days of the New York Yankee’s “Murderers’ Row” will inevitably succumb to the new gilded age of a “Suicidal Lineup” of illicit substances.  But our children do not need to become part of a dangerous experiment conducted all in the reckless pursuit of temporary sports glory.  Winning isn’t everything, but the health and lives of our children is!  Since people typically conflate legality with morality, do we really want our children thinking that there is nothing wrong with drug use?  But if we permit PEDs in professional sports that will be exactly the message we are sending them.

STRIKE FIVE:  Other hidden costs of legalization will promptly materialize with the introduction of these drugs.      

The war on drugs has undeniably come at a high cost, but make no mistake about it, there will also be a very painful price to pay should chemical manipulation become commonplace.  The health risks have already been briefly mentioned, but who will pay for these ignored, but inevitable, adverse medical complications or the predictable rise in the number of wrongful death investigations such as we see in the case of Philip Seymour Hoffman?  For ballplayers bankrupted by their excessive drug abuse, there will be nothing to stop them from soliciting public assistance, and in today’s litigious environment, the result will also be more opportunistic lawyers than we can shake a bat at.  

STRIKE SIX:  Lifting the doping ban will also lead to the enrichment of shady drug dealers.

There will always be an underbelly in professional sports, but I’d like to see these peddlers of personal destruction remain on the “under” side of things instead of giving them an air of respectability by allowing such harmful substances into the athletic arena.  The sleazy Tony Bosch, founder and director of Biogenesis, who provided Alex Rodriguez with his PEDs, and other drug dealers of his ilk, do not deserve to receive the personal validation that such a policy change would give them. The behavior of a pariah like Bosch truly deserves the social revulsion that it has already experienced.  And A-Rod’s suspension should stand as a strong message to our youth that such behavior will not be, nor should it ever be, tolerated and most certainly never celebrated.

STRIKE SEVEN:  There seems to be no logical end to the libertarian point of view in professional sports.

If professional players are allowed to recklessly alter their body chemistry in an all-out effort to increase their performance, then what’s to prevent future genetic enhancements or some other sort of bio-mechanical implant?  The introduction of ever more synthetic chemicals and technology into an athlete’s body will only serve to further their objectification.  Or what about the radical modification of the equipment of the players as well?  Modest changes to the equipment are to be expected over the years, but if it’s only a matter of improved statistics, then a corked bat should really boost a player’s home run output, or scuffing the ball might be quite helpful in giving a pitcher a noticeable advantage. 

The rules are put in place for a reason, and it’s easy to see how a liberalized drug policy could quickly degenerate into wholesale deregulation.  To some, the rules seem arbitrary, and they will point to things such as preemptive Tommy John surgeries or Toradol injections for pain as examples of currently permitted enhancements, but the line must be drawn somewhere if we hope to maintain at least some modicum of athletic equity.  Rather than contributing to cultural decline, sports professionals should instead endeavor to utilize their fame and public platform in ways that elevate national standards.  Everyone will benefit from upholding such principled ideals.     

STRIKE EIGHT:  Drugs in professional sports will contribute to the further advancement of a national drug culture.

As mentioned in the preceding point, a more permissive drug policy sets a bad precedent that will further encourage the negative trajectory in professional sports, but it will also serve to accelerate the current trend in America towards the legalization of additional drugs for our society as a whole.  If we carelessly remove another brick from the already crumbling edifice of Western principles, we will be unwittingly contributing to our own cultural collapse.  We are all aware of the growing movement to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, which is a known “gateway drug” to other harder and more dangerous drugs.  If these substances are allowed to negatively affect our motivation, innovation, education system, and work ethic, U.S. dominance in the world will be at a much greater risk.  We can’t expect to irresponsibly fry our brains and think that there won’t be any destructive consequences.  Several years ago, Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Bob Patterson gave up a game-winning homerun to Cincinnati Reds’ player Barry Larkin.  Patterson later explained that pitch this way: “It was a cross between a screwball and a change-up. It was a screw-up.”  The same thing could easily be said of our nation’s recent legalization efforts.

STRIKE NINE:  Drug use is a very unprofessional behavior; so, our famous athletes do not deserve to wear the moniker of “professional” if they’re willing to cheat to win.

It’s my hope that the rest of those in the Major Leagues, and all the other professional sports leagues for that matter, get the intended message of arbitrator Fredric Horowitz who handed down Rodriguez’s suspension for the entire 2014 major league baseball season.  The imprudent doping of professional athletes should never be tolerated by their respective leagues, and by their fans and teammates, who still believe in fairness, sportsmanship, and the thrill of pure competition!  No one should ever support anything that will spoil “…the old ball game.”

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Jeff Allen is both a senior editor and columnist for BarbWire. He also serves as senior pastor in a mainline Christian church in Indiana. He is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. Jeff is involved in several community ministries.
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