09 February 2009

We're not doin' this again

American sportswriters got a late Christmas present last week when a report leaked naming Alex Rodriguez as one of 104 players turning up positive for steroids during an ostensibly anonymous 2003 testing experiment.  Why, the inevitable column scolding A-Rod for his dereliction of duty to the nation's chillens as well as soiling the previously-spotless history of baseball practically writes itself.  Nevermind that the leak was probably illegal; this example of favoring of witch-hunts over procedure is a microcosm for the current American conception of justice.  

I've gone over the hysterical arguments of the steroid moralizers on this blog before, and I'm not really interested in doing it all again.  But let me try to say something new that will shed a little light on the ridiculousness of their arguments.  Almost all of the moralizers' arguments come from an alleged concern for the sanctity of the baseball record book, or poorly-faked disappointment that modern athletes lack the moral pluck of their predecessors, who, we are apparently led to believe, would have turned down the opportunity to use steroids had they existed at the time.  The latter point is profoundly idiotic, as the late great Buck O'Neil casually pointed out some years ago, but it underwrites the entire purpose of the nostalgic moralizers.  The whole kefuffle could be boiled down to "kids today ain't what they used to be." 

What we have learned is that steroid use was pretty widespread in baseball in the 90's and early 00's, which really shouldn't surprise anyone.  Their use wasn't regulated, and the risk-reward equation in the high-stakes world of professional sports logically meant a great many players would make the choice to get juiced.  But this fact also undercuts the scolds' arguments on both fronts.  It shows both that the record-breakers of the past 15 years were not, in fact, a unique breed of despicable cheater, using secret formulas to get a massive edge over all of their competition, and that the ethical choice to use steroids was not such a cut-and-dry consideration; that it might indeed have tempted even Willie, Mickey, or the Duke.  Or, heaven forbid, a sportswriter.   

See also King Kaufman.  

(Also, if you want to be conspiratorially minded, note that this story broke the week after the Super Bowl.  The NFL, of course, continues to escape virtually unscrutinized in the public hysteria about PEDs.)