This morning when I woke up, I took a Levothroid, as I do every morning. I do this to cheat my hypothyroidism so that I do not continue to gain weight (something I’ve struggled with since quitting smoking a year and a half ago), and am not as tired all the time as I would be if left only to the hormones that my body is capable of naturally producing on its own. I then put on my glasses, because I can’t see worth a damn without them; in a way, you could say I’m cheating by artificially improving my eyesight so as to function better in my day-to-day life. After showering and getting ready for work, I then took a Prilosec, another part of my daily routine, which helps me to avoid the heartburn that I would normally suffer from (partially as a result of the weight gain) without the help of medication. When I go to lunch today, if I have something with dairy products in it (which is almost everything that tastes good), I’ll have to take a Lactaid with my meal. My body isn’t capable of producing lactase enzymes on its own, you see, so I have to cheat if I want to enjoy a cheeseburger or a slice of pizza.
Could I live without these products? Sure, and man has been doing so for centuries. But I enjoy my life more thanks to them. Am I cheating by taking them, or just enhancing myself to make me a little better? People who are depressed take Zoloft to help them function better in society. Are they cheating? How about people who take Viagra, whether recreationally or as a prescribed fix for ED? Is it cheating when they “perform” better?
More to the point, people who work out often take Creatine to help them bulk up. This is legal and generally considered to be “ethical.” Millions of people, whether they work out or not, take vitamin supplements to help boost everything from their immune systems to their memories. And none of this is generally regarded as “cheating.”
So why is it, then, that when athletes take steroids so that they can perform better in the job they have dedicated their lives to, all of a sudden a whole nation of vitamin-taking, supplement-ingesting, over-the-counter and prescription drug dependent people suddenly becomes sensitive to what people put into their bodies? The vast majority of these people then proceed to denounce such atheletes, writing off their accomplishments as “cheating” or “supplemented” and debating asterisks when talking about records. To me, this is like saying that Ray Liotta was cheating because he wasn’t really a mobster. Well, no shit: he’s an actor whose job it is to pretend so as to entertain us. Likewise, a baseball player’s purpose is to entertain, and what’s more entertaining that hitting a record-setting number of home runs? How could one–especially a spectator–possibly think that what Barry Bonds ate for breakfast yesterday, or which vitamins he took, or which cream he rubbed on his muscles prior to hitting number 756, somehow makes the achievement less remarkable? I certainly don’t. That’s what he’s supposed to do: be the best specimen of human performance that he can be. In this case, the metric of human performance in question is hitting home runs, and he has achieved that goal better than anybody in history. Did he use “performance-enhancing drugs” in order to help him achieve this? Of course he did. We all do. It’s just much more obvious with him.
I’ll draw the line when a player uses mechanical appendages that actually swing the bat for him, or make him able to swing harder and faster than he would be able to on his own, or guide his arms to make more solid contact with the ball. And then that line will disappear again when pitchers start using that same type of equipment to throw more strikes, or to make the ball curve more, or to throw it faster.
Don’t get me wrong. I dislike Barry Bonds on a personal level, because he just seems like a huge self-centered asshole. Any athlete who doesn’t want media attention can suck it up and deal with it or find another profession, as far as I’m concerned. But that’s not to say that I still don’t think his accomplishment should not be regarded for what it is: the most home runs hit in the history of the game, plain and simple. I couldn’t care less how he did it; to me all that matters is that he did it. As long as he was the one standing up at the plate and swinging the bat those 756 times, it’s a legitimate record in my book.
I will say that I am in the camp that believes A-Rod, the youngest player to hit 500 home runs, will some day in the not-too-distant future hit more than 800, making all of the Bonds discussion moot anyway. For now, though, Barry’s the king, whether you like it or not. And if you don’t, at least it’s over, the inevitable has happened, and we can all get back to watching the Cubs blow their playoff chances yet again.