Let Them Shoot Up: In Defense of Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez’s crime isn’t using performance-enhancing drugs—it’s breaking the illusion that Major League Baseball is a fair institution.

Editor’s Note: Alex Rodriguez has been suspended by Major League Baseball.

Alex Rodriguez’s career—and Hall of Fame hopes—died for somebody’s sins, but not his.

No, the Yankee slugger is simply the latest fall guy for our society’s infantile belief in sports as an imaginary zone somehow separate and apart from the real world, a sort of grown-ups’ version of Chuck E. Cheese’s (you know, the place “where a kid can be a kid”). Or, more precisely, where an adult can think like a kid.

To be sure, on a legal level, the intensely unlikeable Yankee slugger fully deserves whatever punishment is leveled against him by the industry that is paying him millions of dollars to wear long underwear for a living. He is facing a possible lifetime ban from baseball because he allegedly repeatedly and flagrantly violated MLB policy regarding performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). If he doesn’t get bounced via a full dismissal issued directly by the nosferatu league commissioner Bud Selig, he will almost certainly receive a long suspension that will effectively end the aging (he’s over-the-hill at 38 years old!) superstar’s career.

While I’ve got no problem with whatever boom gets lowered on A-Rod and crew (some six to 20 other players, including the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, will join him in shame and suspension), the moralistic outrage leveled against guys who are desperately trying to improve their performance strikes me as fundamentally misplaced.

Whether it’s Rodriguez or other equally unlikable characters from the last great cycle of pomp and circumstance such as Roger Clemens, we’re not talking about Black Sox players who threw games. Even sad-sack human tragedy Pete Rose—who is banned from baseball for conspiring with all sorts of shady characters, betting on games, and having the worst haircut since Moe Howard—was never accused of not trying hard enough. What was it Charlie Hustle once said about the game he loved? “I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.” You exile such horsehide warriors at the expense of the game, not to preserve its integrity.

Sports—and in particular baseball, the so-called national pastime that enforced a color line and indentured servitude via the “reserve clause” long after slavery had disappeared from American life—provide a comforting mental and symbolic space for us to believe in mythic things like “level playing fields,” “raw talent,” and “fair play.”

Despite knowing better, we desperately want to view big-time sports (including, of course, “amateur” industries such as college football and basketball) as a refuge from the moral, psychic, and even economic complexities of everyday life. Sports have clear rules and clear winners, right? Look, there’s even referees and umpires and judges on the field (sure, they occasionally cheat too, but let’s ignore that)! Let the better man win, watch effort triumph over adversity, behold a walk-off home run or a Hail Mary pass or a last-second buzzer beater winning the big game. It’s all there in the awful, final, bowdlerized scene of the Robert Redford movie of The Natural. (Spoiler alert: In the great Bernad Malamud novel on which the movie is based, Roy Hobbs whiffs while belatedly trying to do the right thing. The whole point of the story is that you can’t redeem yourself with a single act.)

We hate it when we’re reminded that sports are not separate from “real life”—they are laboratories that magnify all the contradictions and iniquities of real life. That’s why it made perfect, perverse sense that baseball would be segregated—as the national pastime, it wasn’t exempt from the social, cultural, and political forces at work in America. It was the unadorned expression of them, in all their ugliness, right there in the harsh glare of the fading afternoon sun out at the ballpark. Big-time sports fully incarnate the crony capitalism eating away at the American Dream (virtually all stadiums are directly built or financed through taxpayer dollars), and the preferential legal treatment of celebrity athletes is legendary. High school and college athletes get a pass not because they’re good students but because they’re good at something physical. And on and on.

We hate to be reminded that even—maybe especially—in sports, there is no level playing field. People are born with different levels of talent, and depending on when and where they were born, they might not get the chance to flourish. In the case of Negro League players, that might have been because of large historical forces over which individual talent and drive could hardly hope to triumph. On a less tragic level, it might be because you were a long-ball hitter in an era that catered to power pitchers via built-up pitchers mounds, broad strike zones, and cavernous parks. We can respect the less-talented pluggers who raise their game through hard work and dedication, but our utmost devotion is reserved for the demigods who spring fully formed out of the womb.

When it comes to PEDs—at least in sports—our nation’s insane and hysterically bifurcated attitude toward drugs rears up like Juan Marichal delivering a pitch. Every year, we arrest hundreds of thousands of people for possessing marijuana, selling dope, and cooking meth. We make full-blown adults piss into cups before we let them work for a living, even when the job has nothing to do with public safety. We waste precious minutes in school days with idiotic Just Say No lessons. Drugs are bad, mmkay? Except when they’re not. Use a statin to reduce your cholesterol, an SSRI to level your moods, Viagra in the boudoir, Adderall to goose your SAT…that’s just being a responsible citizen. But use steroids and HGH and pep pills to make yourself run faster, jump higher, or grow stronger in pursuit of Olympian perfection—well, that’s just wrong. Even if they are widely available and widely used in every sport. Even if they are not the difference between being a shlub off the street and an elite athlete.

Which isn’t to say MLB or the NFL or Tour de France doesn’t have the right to set and enforce its rules, however ineffective and arbitrary they might be. But spare us the outrage. Leagues and sports organizations that have little regard for the actual bodies or lives of the athletes they oversee suddenly become paternalistic in the extreme, worrying over the possible side effects of certain substances while ignoring the punishment dished out daily from simply playing the sport itself.

And so when our athletes fail us by breaking rules that are constantly changing and randomly enforced, we must dispense with them as cheaters and frauds and beneath contempt so we can go back to watching sports in a bubble separated from the real world. Like the natives in Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, who kill the man they mistook for a divine being, we must tear apart our cardboard gods when they disappoint us by being all too human.

This article originally appeared at The Daily Beast.

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  • KDN||

    Not this shit again.

  • Barnstormer||

    This. WTF, Gillespie? Go find a different ax to grind.

  • Steve G||

    Dalmia's already got immigration, so...

  • Stilgar||

    @Nick: Time to get off the soapbox. You cannot paint an equivalency between a kid taking adderall briefly before an exam or an individual taking prescribed medicine to address a medical problem (asthma, high cholesterol, etc) to athletes taking PED's. Yes, everyone has different abilities and that applies to athletes. But on what basis should you advocate that someone be forced to take drugs of unknown long term safety just to keep his job? Your health or your pay check? There is no evidence that the relative difference in abilities of players would change if they were all to take PEDS or were all to be clean.

  • ||

    In a hypothetical world where PEDs were legal for players nobody would be forced to take them.

  • CE||

    Unless they wanted to keep their job.

  • ||

    That's not force. Noone has a right to a job.

  • KPres||

    "Time to get off the soapbox."

    Yep. And I'm even sympathetic to his view. But he should get his own personal blog and write about it there since it's got nothing to do with libertarianism.

  • MiloMinderbinder||

    Food Trucks, Gay Marriage, PEDs

  • Almanian!||

    I agree with the Jacket. And I don't give a shit about "drug" use in sports in general.

    And I'm sorry you were cut from your Little League team, Nick.

  • Steve G||

    oh man, I thought he was torn up in comments at the beast.. lol

  • Mickey Rat||

    Among the charges leveled against Rodriguez is interfering with the investigation. Also, the consensus among the players is that PEDS should not be allowed due to the reluctance of most players chemically alter themselves in this fashion.

    "Leagues and sports organizations that have little regard for the actual bodies or lives of the athletes they oversee suddenly become paternalistic in the extreme, worrying over the possible side effects of certain substances while ignoring the punishment dished out daily from simply playing the sport itself."

    If some risks are accepted as inherent to a pursuit, all risks must be accepted? The logic of Gillespie's ideological purity here simply baffles me, it is simplistically black and white in the extreme.

  • Calidissident||

    How many more articles on Alex Rodriguez are there going to be? I don't even see how this is a liberty issue, the MLB is a private organization that has every right to make not taking PEDs a condition of employment. A-Rod knew that when he signed his contract and broke it anyways.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Nick is offended by any negative views on taking drugs of any sort, apparently. That's the gist of his rants on these things.

  • Anomalous||

    I think it's the sanctimony that The Jacket finds most bothersome.

  • Jakesta7||

    I find this article to be silly. I agree with Calidissident, Mickey Rat, and Stilgar. You can't compare a league's rules to keep it fair and healthy to the players in the long run to smoking a joint. Who cares about the rules they make about no PED's, you don't HAVE to play. This isn't similar to laws that one must follow. The points made just didn't make sense to me. It would be unhealthy if so many players shot up that in order for other players to keep their job, they would have to also.

  • Jakesta7||

    It is unhealthy and keep it natural instead.

  • ||

    Similarly if PEDs were allowed, those who didn't want to take them wouldn't have too and they could choose not to play. Professional athletes do far more unhealthy things that take PEDs (especially Football).

    I'd prefer no PEDs but this whole bullshit about players being forced to take them is just as big of nonsense. Noone has a right to be a professional athlete PEDs allowed or not.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    This looks like the same column as before, down to the stupid "long underwear" "joke."

  • CE||

    While I’ve got no problem with whatever boom gets lowered on A-Rod...

    I've never been an A-Rod fan, but MLB is treating him unfairly. If MLB really wanted to stop PED use, they would have made a lifetime ban for the first offense. Boom, problem solved. But they (in agreement with the players association) agreed on 50 games for the first offense. This is A-Rod's first offense (at least for which he's been caught), so why is he getting 210 games while other players get 50? Stick by your own rules.

    ...the moralistic outrage leveled against guys who are desperately trying to improve their performance strikes me as fundamentally misplaced.

    The moral outrage is totally justified. The guys taking PEDs are cheating to get an edge on the competition. Where's the sport in that? Have some integrity.

  • CE||

    And don't say he's "impeding the investigation" just because he doesn't cooperate and give away a years' salary.

  • ||

    A-Rod is an unsympathetic figure but I agree he's getting shafted with the ban. It should be 50 games.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Taking PEDs is exactly the same as running seven miles a day, working out on the same inflexible schedule every day, and drinking that Whey shit. You are making yourself a freak either way.

  • CE||

    No, it's not. One is earned by personal effort and anyone can do it if they want to match you, and is within the rules. The other is cheating by taking a shortcut, one that can have serious medical consequences.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    One is just a faster way to be retarded.

  • Jake345||

    Hey, Nick the intellectual lightweight is back again with the same idiotic article...

  • Henry the Twooth||

    I'm not gonna defend Rod, cuz he broke the rules.

    But that doesn't mean we shouldn't rethink the rules. Read The Economist article a couple weeks ago about doping. They note that no sport actually tests in any way that would be reasonably expected to catch all or most doping. It is random and sporadic. That is intentional, as if testing were actually thorough, it would confirm many's suspicion that it is widespread and that, if we assume doping is unfair, that no matches or games in recent history were played without doping, undermining not just the sport, but BILLIONS in business.

    Their proposal is simple - regulate doping. Have an "approved" doping list (not all doping substances are actually bad for you), have rigorous testing, and harsh punishments.

  • ||

    Not getting this, Nick. You seem to have a problem with the subsequent and reactionary moral outrage more than the PED's themselves. Are you suggesting to legalize them to avoid the outrage? I hope not because that makes no sense.

    Fuck those sycophantic sports writers who wail after the fact.

    Joe Sheehan brings a different perspective to the table.

    http://joesheehanbaseball.blog...../xiib.html

  • Lyle||

    Nick Gillespie is stuck on stupid when it comes to baseball and peds. Baseball men exercise the liberty to play the sport drug free.

  • y8games||

    relax with hobo games

  • BigT||

    “I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.”

    No, he offered to “walk through hell in a gasoline suit" FOR SPARKY!

    PS: F the Hall of fame until Pete is in.

  • Mike A.||

    This really is becoming fucking ponderous.

    MLB rules are not Gubmint rules. If the MLB wants to say in the interest of ENTERTAINMENT, that the rules are no PEDS, then there's no PEDS.

    If the Yankees suddenly start screaming that it takes 4 strikes for a strike out, they're wrong. The rules of MLB are the rules of MLB.

    If you don't like them Nick, in the spirit of Capitalism, I recommend starting your own competing league. Let's let the MARKET decide which they prefer. (good luck)

  • XM||

    I think legalizing PEDs is outlandish, and has as much chance of gaining support among fans as Republicans winning 90% of the black vote. Or Ron Paul becoming president (Zing).

    But you can plausibly say that no one's being "hurt" by A-rod and his buddies taking drugs, That notion is the basis of many libertarian advocacy - as long as your behavior doesn't harm someone else, then you should have the freedom to do it. The competitive disparity between of "clean" players and their steroid enhanced opponents will be a moot point if PEDs were legalized across the board.

    The most recently suspended players accepted their punishment because they were stupid enough to leave paper trails at the Biogenesis lab. Otherwise, they might have denied everything like Braun. Some PEDs are untraceable, even Lance Armstrong passed drug test. And Armstrong would have gotten off if not for informants. This is the part of the story when someone says "You can't stop drug use, so we might as well as legalize it and regulate it." That's Gillespe.

    What about the integrity of the game? Gasp, that's a moral argument.

  • anon||

    What about the integrity of the game? Gasp, that's a moral argument.

    Don't you think the integrity is already compromised?

    I'd say allowing PEDs would strengthen the integrity of the game; less people "cheating."

  • Jake345||

    relevance?

    "Don't you think the integrity is already compromised?"

  • ||

    If Armstrong was semi-civil to people around him and not an utter douchebag, his chances of getting away with it would have been much, much greater.

    Instead, he chose to be a despotic asshole knowingly ruining people's lives. What, he didn't expect blowback? How arrogant and egotistical can people get?

  • Jake345||

    "Alex Rodriguez’s crime isn’t using performance-enhancing drugs—it’s breaking the illusion that Major League Baseball is a fair institution."

    no intellectual lightweight, its really about the peds

  • Henry the Twooth||

    No, it's not - not anymore. Because there are players, RIGHT NOW, playing on drugs. No one in their right mind refutes this.

    Now, given that there are many players no doping, MLB can (1) actually hammer down on doping with rigorous testing and bans; (2) allow limited doping since it is already going on and can be made more safe and transparent, or (3) lie, pretend to say no to doping, pretend to prevent it and march out a scapegoat every once in a while.

    MLB, and other sports, have chosen 3. Honestly, I don't care - I don't even like spectator sports - but that doesn't mean that the audience should be ignorant about what is really going on.

  • Jake345||

    like old Nickie...one run-on non-sequitur..try again..
    hint: even if there are players on drugs right now (ones not caught) that does not mean that Alex's stuff is not about peds...utterly unrelated...

  • Jake345||

    the moralistic outrage leveled against guys who are desperately trying to improve their performance strikes me as fundamentally misplaced....the illogical mind requires to conceive of the thought...wow...maybe all the black dye from his childish black leather jacket/turtleneck affectations to demonstrate his coolness finally leached into his brain

  • Jake345||

    This might be as poor a Nick performance as I have sen in a while...i know there are a lot..might even be worse than his pathetic rebuttals of Ann Coutler's critiques of some libertarians when he was on Stossel..almost but close

  • Cbalducc||

    Has there even been a "likeable" professional athlete accused of using performance-enhancing drugs?

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  • April06||

    just as Heather said I am shocked that any body can profit $5264 in 4 weeks on the internet. have you seen this page http://www.max47.com

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