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Why Performance-Enhancing Drugs Used by Ballplayers Should Matter to You

by John Henshell

In the past 50 years, Americans have bitterly debated when life begins and ends. The facts are biological, but technology has changed the possibilities and increased our understanding of the natural science. For most people, the issues aren’t scientific, but moral, religious, political, emotional, or all of those beliefs. Although the media and advocates on all sides of these issues discuss the beginning and end of life, I think the discussion is really about humanness.


Abortion is the most controversial of these issues because it deals with the mother as well as the fetus. Yet, I think all people would agree that a fetus is a living being, regardless of whether you believe it is a human being. The scientific issue is when humanness begins.


The Terri Schiavo situation gave us, as a society, a chance to debate when humanness ends. Her autopsy revealed that she had been in a “persistent vegetative state,” which is the medical term used to describe the syndrome. Not coincidentally, many people use the term “vegetable” to describe people in a variety of conditions who they perceive as less than human. In legal documents and in conversations with family members or friends, people often say, “I wouldn’t want to be kept alive as a vegetable.” They might also specify that they don’t want to be unnaturally kept alive by technological means. The issue is: when Terri Schiavo was last a living being was she still a human being?


A third issue has far less basis in science. A Harris Poll® conducted in December, 2003 found that 69% of Americans favor the death penalty, even though only 41% of those surveyed believe that the death penalty prevents people from committing murder. If only a small majority of the 22% who said they oppose the death penalty believe it is not a deterrent, that means that most capital punishment supporters favor it another reason. The pollsters didn’t ask, but I think the presumption is that most advocates want to punish the murderers.


Sister Helen Prejean began a ministry working with convicted prisoners in 1981 in New Orleans. She wrote a bestselling book, “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States,” about her experience counseling two executed murderers. Sister Prejean is adamantly opposed to the death penalty, but she has counseled family members of victims as well, and has developed a deep understanding of why most Americans support the death penalty. She explains, “We target the evil person, dehumanize them, and say they’re not human in the way we are, they are totally evil and so we are justified in killing them.” Prosecutors and family members of victims exemplify her hypothesis when they refer to the killers as “monsters.” Even Sister Prejean has described the horrible actions of the murderers as “animalistic behavior” and “not human behavior.” In an interview with the Oregonian last year, she said she believes that people are willing to execute murderers because they believe that those who commit gruesome capital crimes are something less than human beings.


Each of these issues illustrate that many Americans believe that a human-looking creature can be alive and be something less than a human being. With modern technology, a living creature can be something more than a human being, or can at least have superhuman talents.


Baseball has historically been played and umpired only by human beings. Fans have strongly rejected any alternatives. For example, MLB has found that fans overwhelmingly reject allowing technology to replace or even help umpires.


The prototypical fictitious superhuman is Superman, a humanoid character created for a comic strip who is faster than a Rob Dibble fastball, more powerful than a Frank Howard swing, and able to leap Reggie Jackson’s ego in a single bound. Superman would be a spectacular centerfielder. Unlike other speedy flyhawks, Superman can really fly. He’d easily catch any ball hit in the air to the outfield. If he flies as fast as the scouting reports claim, he would be able to catch foul pops hit into the upper deck behind home plate. With Superman in centerfield, no batter could hit a home run.


If you think creating an outfielder who can fly is hyperbole, consider what Victor Conte and other mad scientists have been able to do. They’ve created chemicals that have enabled ballplayers to:


reverse the aging process;

improve mood and motivation;

play 162 games and make 27 long flights in six months, endure frequent climate changes and extremes, and suffer through bruises, strains, sprains, media scrutiny, and losing without experiencing fatigue;

run faster;

throw harder;

see better;

swing faster and more powerfully; and

gain some of the athletic abilities of wild animals.


In contrast, Mickey Mantle, Sam McDowell, and Bobby Bonds used a chemical (alcohol) that hindered their performance. Players from their era to the present era used amphetamines. While amphetamines are arguably performance-enhancing drugs, they stimulate adrenaline and provide a level of energy that is humanly possible.


You can argue that using amphetamines isn’t cheating any more than having corrected vision is cheating. Some people even believe that cheating is an established part of baseball (e.g. stealing signs, throwing spitballs) and that it is within the realm of sportsmanship. Regardless of how you feel about cheating or degrees of cheating, you should not consider players who ingest chemicals that provide superhuman powers as mere cheaters. Players who doctor the equipment are using technology to enable the bats or balls do things that legal equipment can’t do. They take cheating to an extreme. Players who doctor themselves with human growth hormone, testosterone, insulin, erythropoietin (EPO) gene therapy, and tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), go way beyond cheating: they arguably become humanoids who can do things that aren’t humanly possible.





Sources and resources:


The factual basis for this essay came from three books and hundreds of newspaper, magazine, and Internet articles. The books are “The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems” by Will Carroll, “Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball” by Howard Bryant, and “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports” by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. The technical information about substances and their capabilities also came from the Mayo Clinic and U.S. government Web sites.







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