The big story in baseball right now is not home-runs but drug runs, with the revelations about steroid use by Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield. It was not a story that interested me too much, since my assumption was that everyone would pay lip service to how wrong it was and then promptly do nothing about it. Such is the pattern in America, given our laissez-faire morality.
But then I listened to Rush Limbaugh and, lo and behold, even the lip service was on the bench, side by side with the accountability. For he was conjuring up justifications for such behavior, complete with quotations from sports writers who have followed suit.
One argument that has been propounded is that this is just another example of athletes doing their utmost to reach for the stars. After all, "What is natural?," ask these dime store philosophers. Athletes work out using modern training techniques and high-tech exercise equipment; is that natural? They may ingest protein shakes and a trove of other supplements; is that natural? Should sports organizations proscribe the use of these things? Where do you draw the line? Well, there's no denying, this is a valid question that demands a valid answer.
So, I set myself to pondering the issue. Now, what would occur to most is that you cannot equate supplements, high-tech equipment and modern training techniques, which offer life-enhancing benefits, to steroids, which are undeniably deleterious to one's health. And I do concur, but that doesn't quite illuminate the issue. After all, that provides an excellent argument in favor of prohibiting steroid use on the basis of health concerns, but that's not the point of the question. The question is, how are the performance-enhancing qualities offered by steroids contrary to the spirit of sports when those offered by other measures are not?
Okay, I'd like to pose a question of my own: to what can one attribute the majority of the performance differences between men and women in sports? Answer: to what you could call naturally occurring steroids – namely, testosterone. After all, prior to puberty, at which point copious amounts of "Vitamin T" start coursing through a boy's veins, not much separates the sexes in the arena of sports. But that chemical is what separates the men from the boys; it's what transforms a lad into a man. No mere amino acid or regimen or Nautilus machine will effect that sea-change, making this factor integral to who and what we are. Thus, the equivalency that has been drawn between these two categories of self-improvement methods is a false one.
Next, I'd like you to ponder the subject of what makes great human achievement a sight to behold. Now, to kickoff this discussion, I'm going to put forth an admittedly fanciful hypothetical. Imagine that in the future we develop drugs that will enable you to become strong, powerful and lean without touching a barbell, drugs that will make you indefatigable without your having to do endurance training. Coupled with this, let's say we develop the capacity to hook someone up to a computer and infuse him with all the great skill and experience of the most seasoned prodigy, a la The Matrix. We would then have athletes and artists who would have tapped the upper limits of human potential, individuals who would have achieved the highest levels of mastery without lifting a finger. Now, I put it to you, would you be interested in watching these programmed organic robots ply their trades? I know, I know, perhaps it's a bit far-fetched. But taking thinking to its logical conclusion serves to shine the light of truth on a position, vindicating its logic or exposing its fallacies.
No, I think that insofar as our marveling at those occupying the pinnacle of their field of endeavor is legitimate, it's because we recognize the beauty of Creation in achievement. Sure, there is the worldly desire for titillation, which evidences itself in the Roman Arena mentality. Here I'm speaking of the pleasure some take in seeing racecar crashes or fights at hockey games. And also, there's the desire for escapism, as some will worship fame, power and celebrity and live vicariously through a sports figure or team. But perhaps, insofar as our admiration for these individuals is truly noble, it's because we are witnessing something ethereal. We may watch Tiger Woods swing a golf club, but what is truly enchanting is not simply that he can propel a little white dimpled ball far and often straight. After all, a machine could do that far better. What truly captivates is to witness Creation: the talent God has bestowed upon a man and the man's having developed it through the proper exercise of his free will. Therein lies sports' true beauty.
So, where do you draw the line? It's very simple: where legitimate human striving ends and the perversion of it begins. Unfortunately, with the undue emphasis on sports, million-dollar contracts and the gratuitous lionizing of athletes, that line is crossed more than it's observed. Let's not erase it completely.
Selwyn Duke lives in Westchester County, New York. He is a tennis professional, internet entrepreneur, and writer whose works have appeared on various sites on the Internet, including Intellectual Conservative and Mensnet. A large number of his works can be found at his site www.SelwynDuke.com.