Jerry Moore: Steroid use in professional sports is inevitable

Jerry Moore

If Barry Bonds didn’t exist, self-righteous sports fans would have to invent him just to satisfy their pious natures.

The slugger from the San Francisco Giants, who broke Hank Aaron’s home run record last week, has been the player that baseball fans have loved to hate for quite some time. Despite Bonds’ repeated denials and a lack of any concrete proof that he bulked up on steroids, sports writers and fans alike have universally deemed him a cheater.

Some people believe his record should be followed by an asterisk. This would correctly recognize Bonds as the holder of this coveted record while maintaining a cloud of suspicion above his name. It’s a way of telling people that they don’t have to accept Bonds as the legitimate heir to Aaron’s home run supremacy.

I’m amused at all the hand-wringing that goes on over the “crisis” of performance-enhancing substances in pro sports. Fans cast judgments against those they believe are excelling at athletics through unnatural means.

Here is my message to all of you who decry the debasement of professional sports through steroid use: Grow up. Like it or not, the steroid genie has been out of the hypodermic needle for a long time now. Cramming him back into his tiny hiding place would be impossible.

Like any other synthetic substance, steroids can have serious side effects. So I’m not promoting their use but rather a change in our social mindset regarding their use.

Why do sports fans feel so threatened by steroids? Many people cling to a romantic notion of the pure athlete driven to physical excellence solely by his or her love of the game. These fans look upon steroid use as an unfair boost in achieving the strength and endurance needed to play pro sports.

But it’s time for a reality check. Our rabid devotion to sports as a form of entertainment has turned it into a business. And for sports teams to keep fans happy, they must produce winners (for reasons that defy logic, the Chicago Cubs are an exception to this rule).

For both athletes and teams, there is big money at stake in pro sports — money that the purist sports fans eagerly fork over every chance they get. This big money serves as an incentive for athletes to perform as best they can, and it ensures that sports teams can go after the best players. This keeps sports fans watching day after day, year after year.

So if you believe that pro sports should only be about the love of the game, stop spending money for it. Otherwise, accept that athletes (as with anyone else involved with big business) will look for every possible competitive edge.

If maintaining strength and endurance is crucial to playing pro sports, the use of performance-enhancing substances is inevitable. Such substances have been around for years and are widely accepted in sports, however much we don’t want to admit this.

How many championships, for example, have been won by one team or another on the backs of pain killers or anti-inflammation drugs? These are synthetic substances that assist the human body in performing at a greater level of proficiency than it would had the condition not been remedied.

What about the use of antibiotics to ward off the infections that result from injuries? Would an athlete perform the same if his or her body was left to deal with the bacteria “naturally”?

How many football players have we seen taking hits of oxygen while playing in Denver? The body produces oxygen, but not at the levels needed by players to perform their best. Should this be considered cheating?

The best way to level the playing field regarding steroids is to permit them and then regulate their use like other performance-enhancing substances. This way they can be monitored by a physician, and the adverse effects can be limited.

But this can only be done if we come to grips with what has been going on in secret for years. Accepting steroids as another facet of professional sports is the only way to ensure they are used wisely.

Jerry Moore is a news editor with GateHouse Media Suburban Newspapers. He can be reached at jmoore@libertysuburban.com.