Sunday, August 9, 2009

It's time to let the steroid thing go

We now have two choices in the aftermath of David Ortiz's "I'm innocent, but I'm not 100 percent sure why" press conference at Yankee Stadium:

1. We can pay close attention as more and more lawyers illegally leak names and as the union pursues every legal remedy to prove that no players actually did anything wrong.
2. We can let the whole thing go.

Look, everyone did something, and we're learning more and more that not everyone who did something injected themselves with a needle. Bronson Arroyo told the Boston Herald's Michael Silverman that he used androstenedione from 1998 until testing began in 2003 -- but he didn't really even stop then until he heard a rumor that it might be laced with steroids and thus turn an otherwise clean sample into a positive test.

By 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had banned the sale of androstenedione and lumped it in with anabolic steroids, and that meant a positive test for Andro meant a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.

"Before 2004, none of us paid any attention to anything we took," he told the Herald. "Now they don't want us to take anything unless it's approved. But back then, who knows what was in stuff? The FDA wasn't regulating stuff, not unless it was killing people or people were dying from it."

Andro, though, isn't an anabolic steroid. (To be an anabolic steroid, something must directly promote cell growth; the very definition of anabolism describes "the constructive part of metabolism.") Andro is what's called a "prohormone," a substance that has little hormonal affect itself but is intended to be a percursor to -- and have similar but not identical effects to -- anabolic steroids.

The possession and use of anabolic steroids has been illegal in the United States since Congress enacted the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. The possession and use of Andro has been illegal in the United States since the FDA deemed it illegal in 2004.

To sum up:
1. If you use anabolic steroids, you were always cheating.
2. If you use Andro, you weren't cheating until 2004 but would be cheating now.
3. If you use human growth hormone, an amino acid with so few negative side effects it's used as a therapy by both children and adults, you're sort of cheating, but no one has a good test to discover if you're cheating or not, anyway.
4. If you use creatine -- such as in EAS strength-building products, supplements that build muscle mass and enhance recovery time with only slight health risks, supplements endorsed by the Phillies' Chase Utley and football players Matt Hasselbeck and Brady Quinn -- you're not cheating.

If you're not confused, well, you're smarter than I am.

In theory, the health risks are what determine what's illegal and what isn't -- but Hank Aaron isn't saying steroid use is wrong because he's worried about the adverse health affects of Barry Bonds or David Ortiz. He's worried about his legacy and his records. Baseball officials are worried about the legacy of the game itself -- or, at least, the public perception of that legacy.

Look at it this way: Use of androstenedione and other steroid precursors wasn't outlawed until 2004, and even the ban on anabolic steroids wasn't enforced until 104 -- or 96 or 83 or whatever number you'd like to believe -- players tested positive for a performance enhancer of some kind.

There were rules. There was just no enforcement.

Imagine if there were speed limits posted all over the roads but zero police officers out there enforcing them, and you could get a tangible benefit -- I don't know, a raise -- from getting to work faster every day. Driving too fast much put your health at risk a little bit, but there were no legal ramifications to driving 80 instead of 70 on I-93 or I-95.

Would you do it? Would you speed?

Silly question, of course. You already do, anyway.

Baseball players are like anyone else: They're going to do whatever they can to maximize their production and get that edge over their competition so they can make the most money they can before their time runs out. Some players probably chose not to use performance enhancers, and those players probably didn't get to the major leagues.

Here's another one:
1. Amphetamines have been banned in baseball, and their removal from clubhouses has been seen as a way of purifying the game. Amphetamines have limited negative side effects, however, unless they're abused.
2. Every player on every team these days drinks Full Throttle or Amp or Red Bull or Five-Hour Energy before every game. Dustin Pedroia usually drinks two.
3. Every human being in the world drinks coffee before work.

Heck, players still take cortisone shots all the time to get themselves back on the field faster. Not only is cortisone a steroid hormone, but it has adverse health effects: It masks pain, and pain is the natural sensation of the body announcing that you should stop doing something because you're doing damage to your muscles or ligaments or bones.

That certainly enhances performance. But if you wanted to get really radical and ban cortisone shots, where would you draw the line? Advil?

Mark McGwire mostly is villified because he used Andro back in 1998 -- six years before it was illegal to use Andro. David Ortiz had to stand up at a press conference and announce that he didn't use "steroids" -- but, then again, he wasn't sure what he did use.

We can try to wrap our heads around it if we feel ambitious.

The easier choice might just be to let the whole thing go.


El Guapo's Ghost said...

Great post! I love the fact that lasik never gets mentioned in the PEDs discussion. Although it is not a drug, it is an unnatural performance enhancing procedure that likely gives hitters an edge and could have long-term negative consequences.


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