Enhancing Performance; Diminishing Integrity
Home run kings, pain-bringing linebackers, cycling masters—all tainted by one thing: performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). In the last 20 or so years, athletes all around the world performing at the highest level have been linked to such drugs. What was once only a staple in the diets of bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger has now stained many professional and amateur sports organizations (the largest being Major League Baseball). New clauses have been entered into league bylaws, outlawing the use of performance-enhancers such as steroids and testosterone boosters. Even with the laws in place, many a top athlete has fallen into the temptation of these PEDs. Professional athletes will do anything possible to gain an edge on the competition, for it is their job to perform at the highest level. .
In 2007, the “Mitchell Report,” a 409-page report on the use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormones in the MLB, was released. This controversial report included several of the top names in baseball, including home run king Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants. In prior years, many allegations had arisen against top hitters (such as Bonds) in the league, but without confirmation. These allegations had a greater impact on the sport than mere punishment of the players involved. The integrity of the nation’s pastime was completely compromised. From this point on, every player who seems to have exceptional strength—especially home run champions—is questioned whether he was on some PED. Given the importance of integrity to the sport, PED use needs to be taken seriously. A little leaguer at the time, I remember losing some respect for some of my favorite players that I used to try to emulate.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a San Francisco Giants fan. Unfortunately, the Giants were never any good when I was younger. The only thing I could really root for when watching the Giants games was my favorite player, Barry Bonds. I remember when my mom would tell me it was time for bed and I would beg her to let me stay up long enough to see Barry Bonds hit. To this day I can picture the smile that would be on my young face as I fell asleep after seeing Barry blast a home run over the right field fence. When I was eight years old I was introduced to the word “steroids.” It seemed no more real to me than a magical potion—that’s until they accused Barry Bonds of using steroids. At the beginning I didn’t believe it. It wasn’t until the Mitchell Report was released that I couldn’t hide from the truth any longer: my idol had cheated. I was heartbroken. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to develop an understanding of steroids and why a player like Barry would use them.
In the athletic arena, staying healthy is always on the minds of the athletes. Take baseball, for example: 162 games, minimal days off, constantly trying to take your body and performance to the next level. This is why you see so many players have one great year (or month for that matter) and then fall to the wayside the next. Staying healthy is a constant battle that gets even harder the older you get. This is where PEDs such as steroids come into play. Steroids increase your body’s recovery while also helping grow your muscles. These perks are what draw many athletes into taking PEDs. However, legal steroids are not inherently bad substances. In most cases steroids are a very good thing—such as relieving the pain of an illness or injury for the elderly.
I believe the negative connotation of steroids in my vocabulary comes from my involvement and interest in the athletic realm. There is no doubt that PEDs give an athlete an unfair advantage over the other athletes, thereby diminishing the integrity of that sport. The fix? Well, there doesn’t seem to be a fix. One might say you must increase the punishments! However, if the current punishments aren’t stopping players from using PEDs, than nothing will. I believe it’s going to take a change in the culture of athletics. How will that happen? How long will it take? I’m not sure, but for the sake of fans everywhere, I hope it’s in my lifetime.