He was young...he was stupid. It was a different culture back then. He was under tremendous pressure to perform at a high level.
No, that's not from the intro to Dubya's upcoming memoirs. This weekend, we were shocked, shocked!! to learn that Alex Rodriguez, baseball's own golden boy, used steroids after all. Here's his red-eyed confession. And here, just for fun, is a 2007 clip of him lying his face off about it to Katie Couric, and being damn sanctimonious too.
"I've never felt overmatched on the baseball field," swore A-Rod in his '07 denial. "And I felt that if I did my work...I didn't have a problem competing at any level." Cue the laugh track.
Yes, A-Rod, like so many athletes before him, has been busted, and has now had to issue the Standard Public Apology found on page 3 in the media-relations handbook. ("Remember, you were young and stupid. You were under tremendous pressure. And for that pity-inducing red-eyed look, rub your fingertips across a fresh-cut onion right before the interview!")
Having confessed, he awaiteth forgiveness. Should he get it? Tough one. Alex Rodriguez, a professional sportsman, cheated. He cheated just as surely, and as effectively, as if he used a carbon nanotube superbat, or ran a shorter basepath than everyone else. He reaped the benefits; set records, got endorsements, made millions.
And let's be really clear on this: He didn't do it because he was young and stupid...you don't get a hypodermic needle, acquire a banned substance in secret, and inject yourself in the ass, again and again over a period of years, because you're in an immature daze. No, Alex Rodriguez cheated because he knew it would make him artificially better. And damn, it did!
Every high school athlete in America knows the real equation, and it is this: If you use steroids, it will make you better at sports. There's no denying it. You will be able to lift more, run faster, recover more quickly, compete better.
Sure, there are consequences. It's illegal, for one thing, so you will have to hide your usage. It may cause long-term serious damage to your health, much of which may be irreversible. Whatever, Grandpa. It's guaranteed to boost your performance right now. Which could mean the difference between whether or not you make the team...which in turn could mean the difference between whether you get to spend your life as a professional athlete or have to sweat it out as an insurance broker like your stupid dad.
We need to stop pretending we're shocked that an athlete would take a banned substance "just" to triumph over his peers, earn zillions, and generally live the life of Riley. It's an incredibly powerful inducement well worth trading in a dozen rickety years at the hazy end of your life for. For a young, promising athlete with dreams, the question really is: Can I afford NOT to take steroids? Especially if anyone I'm competing against is?
What to do, what to do. We clearly can't police it--the banned-substance creators have always been one step ahead of the banned-substance monitors. We can't stop it--the "think of your future" pleas of parents and teachers are empty threats, set against the vivid real world successes of the likes of A-Rod, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds.
So let's stop whining and let 'em juice!
I'm serious: We should throw in the towel. Let athletes do whatever they want to their bodies, and take their own consequences. You're an adult; pump your body full of whatever you have to to get the job done. Steroids, bovine growth hormone, Kryptonite, whatever. You are the racer, and your body is your machine; you choose your fuel.
I mean, are athletes here to entertain us or aren't they? If football is fun now, imagine the same game with 600-pound linemen, overballooned meat machines staggering around on the field with testicles the size of unshelled peanuts. I'm not even kidding about this. When two ballplayers collide I want their foreheads to shatter, great shards of bone splintering all over the turf in a cysty snow.
Roger Maris could only squeak out a pathetic 61 homers without the use of steroids. Barry Bonds took every steroid known to man--uh, allegedly--and belted out 73. And he had to sneak the juice in the shadows, like a disgusting junkie. What if Bonds could shoot up without fear of repercussion? Pants-down, bent over in the on-deck circle, with a bat-boy syringing his butt, and the crowd going nuts? Bonds fully juiced could probably hit 100 dingers, screaming like a demon all the way round, and punching the catcher right in the facemask every time he crosses home plate. Tell me that wouldn't keep your attention.
Oh, sure, it'll make it tough to compare the players of one era to another. But that's an old man's game. I'd trade that in any day for 9-foot NBA players who can dunk without leaving the floor. Boxers who can collapse ribcages, hockey goalies with adamantine claws that spring from their knuckles to ribbon the throats of any offensive player who comes too close.
We've tried ineffectively enforcing weak rules, letting players cheat at will and wagging our finger for show whenever we catch one. Now it's time for a simpler solution. If we can't do away with the steroids, let's do away with the scandal, and let ballplayers play ball without fear. Leave the doctors on the sidelines, where they belong, and let our athletes be superheroes...real, superhuman superheroes, with powers beyond our mortal imagining.
And if their skulls crack from the snap of a comb two years after they retire, or their knees crumble to dust in the nursing home, or if they occasionally snap and kill their families in a bloody androgen spree, well, that's the price you pay for superlative entertainment.
The time has come to recognize that we have an inaccurate record of human achievement today. Who knows what the longest long jump or fastest mile could be, if athletes were unencumbered by our overprotectiveness? If steroid use extends the boundaries of human achievement, as we all believe it does, then until we drop the restrictions we'll never know how good we really are.
For a sporting world that prides itself on superior statistical achievement, surely nothing less than unfettered freedom to excel will do. We worry about which juicy players to put an asterisk next to, but it may be that future generations will put an asterisk over our entire era, with a caveat like this:
"Records from the 1950-2009 era are thought to be artificially low, because of oppressive restrictions on what athletes could and couldn't put into their own bodies. Athletes often lived long into their 40s and 50s in those days, but at what cost to their on-field records we may never know."
Don't hold our athletes down--let them juice up. The ass to risk should be your own.
Follow Keith Blanchard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KeithBlanchard