Remember the Press sisters of the old USSR (make that the CCCP) Olympic track and field team? They wiped out the competition in the shot put and discuss in the Cold War Olympics of the 1960s. But they also had enough facial hair to do razor commercials and were pumping more testosterone than a frat house on Spring Break. Their shoulder widths were only matched by the swimmers on the East German “women’s” swim team that also wiped out their competition. No question about it, the East Block was way out ahead in the Steroid race. But those were the days when paper cups were for more than peeing in.
These days it seems that half the professional and amateur athletes in the world are juiced with steroids, growth hormone, or blood doped, or running on something a little extra. There’s too much money in sports these days to bother with that old fair play Baron de Coupertin crap. It’s about winning, dude, and if I have to have some surgical tubing running out of my shorts connected to some lab in the suburbs, so be it.
In not too many days baseball player Barry Bonds, who looks like the incredible hulk, will break Hank Aaron’s record for most career home runs. There’s a lot of angst about it and divided opinion among baseball fans. Bonds, despite his evasive replies, is very likely a “juicer.” That is, he regularly, and surreptitiously has a syringe is his butt full of hopped up juice that make him add muscle like he had a fire hose up there. Bonds is a chemistry set. Does he deserve the record, or one with an asterisk for “pharmacologically-assisted” next to it. I think so. A bunch of contestants for the 2007 Tour de France have been DQ’d for blood doping already, some whole teams. And they are still arguing over Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis’s blood.
Increasingly, as chemists figure out new drugs to build strength and add endurance, athletes are going to take that extra chance in going for the gold. Some sports, like those of the Olympics will and the Tour de France will probably stick to their principles and throw out any cheaters they can find. Hey may end up giving the venerable “yellow jersey” to a baguette delivery boy on his one-speed bike. Baseball on the other hand is rather a joke, hardly seeming to care how juiced up their players are because they may have already determined than most of the fans are more interested in records, or records set by the players of their era rather than some guys they never say play. Watching the baseball players who demolished hitting records in recent years as they lied and dissembled in front of a congressional committee (don’t these people get enough lying with the like of Alberto Gonzales?) is evidence that these players have not respect for their sport or for their fans. But what hypocrisy: would anybody care if some ballplayer broke a record by being drunk when he did it?
What does this signify, if anything? Well, it’s all about the money these days. Maybe it always was to some extent, but there wasn’t enough money in sports to set up your own private methtosterone lab. Will kids start shooting up, so they can make the junior varsity? Why not, the other kids are shooting up, sniffing or inhaling behind the bleachers. So part of it is that we have become more of a pharmacologically-assisted society. So should we be wringing our hands and forming more congressional committees to look into the crisis of drugs in sports? Well, you can if you want to, but this is just a manifestation of the further, and hypocritical, convergence of several “businesses”—drugs, and it’s profitable opposite number, drugenforcement, its legal big brother, the pharmaceutical industry, and now, the big business of sport.
Who cares! Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn. People have forgotten what sport is about any way. They think it’s about celebrity, who makes the most money, championships rings, and records—to hell with how you get them. So I say take down all the barriers. Let’s stop all the bitching and peeing in cups and let athletes become all they can be. So what if they start growing antlers and sprouting feathers in a few years, lets see what they can really do with full-on chemical assistance. Let’s see if we can get to a 4-second hundred meters, a one-hour and five-minute marathon, a shot put that takes out somebody in section 34E, and long jump that is really long. Swimmers will look like they have outboards attached. And, of course, baseball players will hit hundreds of home runs each year.
Why? You ask, Why take such a cynical attitude? Because we haven’t even seen what the mapping of the human genome can do for sport. Just think about it: swimmers with flippers for feet (next year maybe gills); high-jumpers who have had a gene from fleas spliced into their DNA; bike racers with two hearts and four lungs; 17-foot basketball players; golfers cloned from Tiger Woods; boxers with exo-skeletons; the guy who wins the 100 meter dash will have a parachute that deploys to keep him from smashing into the stadium wall; and let’s marvel at the figure skater who lands a perfect quadruple-triple-double axel with six and half twists and a double Lutz—all tens every time. Olympic teams will have their own pharmacists and “gene coaches.” Think what it can do for my favorite Olympic sport.
When I was a kid we just loved to go out to the street, or the alley or the park and play a game of pick-up baseball, or football or basketball. It was the innocent age of sport, when just the love of the game mattered, nothing else. Just participating, not winning was the essential thing. No money (OK, maybe an occasional little side bet) was involved, no records. OK, I played hard and like to win, and I remembered how many times I won and hit a home run or scored a touchdown. So what if I didn’t tell the other guys that when I chewed some of the leaves from that bush by third base that, oh man, I had the reflexes of a housefly and the foot-speed of a cockroach. What’s wrong with “just that little extra edge.”
©2007, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 8.3.2007)