Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Say No to Dope

Now, I'm not a big sports fan. I used to watch football in college semi-seriously, and I was more-or-less a Mets fan for almost two decades until I had kids. But times and priorities change, and I haven't seen more than a few minutes of a game in years. (I do sometimes watch a bit of baseball when flipping channels in odd hotel rooms, since it's soothing -- but there I don't really care who's playing.)

So that establishes the (lack of) my bona fides.

I don't care about doping in the slightest. More than that, I'm not surprised in the least when it happens -- in fact, I expect it. I don't think it's a big deal, and I don't think it will ever go away -- if I were magically in charge of all sports, I'd let athletes do whatever the hell they wanted with their own bodies, as long as they were adults. This all seems really obvious to me, and I'm continually surprised when I see people getting all worked up -- as if it's a personal affront -- when there's yet another inevitable doping scandal.

Here's the thing: professional athletes are the second-most competitive people on earth. (After only professional stock/bond traders.) They've devoted their lives, and in many cases sustained serious, permanent, life-destroying injuries to get to where they are. Their bodies are tools, and they're used to honing those tools to the highest level possible. So my assumption is always that the best -- the most competitive, the ones most driven to succeed at all costs -- will do whatever it takes to win. And thus I expect the top performers will always, by definition, be the ones using prohibited "PETs."

Are you seriously expecting them to avoid using a specific list of chemicals, when those chemicals are proven to make their performance better? Really? After they've been willing to ruin their knees and brains and childhoods just to get a little more speed or strength or power?

I just can't believe that -- the top athletes are always looking for that tiny bit of edge, and they're clearly willing to ignore everything else in life in pursuit of winning at their sport. Ergo, they're going to dope; it's the logical solution.

Sure, it's against the rules, but those are the secondary rules. Because every sport has two sets of rules, and every athlete knows the primary set -- the ones that govern actual play, the ones that decide who wins -- always outrank the technical details of eligibility and paraphernalia and good sportsmanship and the other "nice to have" stuff.

The bodies running those sports will, and should, enforce all of the rules, and catch as many dopers and other violators (bat-corkers, pine-tar-grippers, and so on) as they can -- understanding that no enforcement mechanism can ever be 100% effective. Some dopers will slip through, and never be caught -- I'm sure many of them are in Halls of Fame right now, and will stay there.

But fans that see this level of extreme competition as a moral failing should look in their mirrors: you want those athletes to fight as hard as they can, because you want them to win. Well, this is how to win. It's not pretty, but it works.

And remember: nobody ever talks about how nice it is that they all played fair when your team loses.

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