Good Men Can Surely Agree

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Georges Bush and Will may no longer see eye-to-eye on Iraq, but they'll always have steroids! Here's Bush, via his mouthpiece:

[T]he President believes it's important for Major League Baseball—management and the players' union—to act by taking strong steps to address the problem. Professional baseball players are people our children look up to. Players use drugs—players who use drugs undermine the efforts of parents and coaches to send the right message to our children. Drug use also poses some real risks, health risks to athletes, and it also diminishes the integrity of sports. And the President has made it very clear that he believes Major League Baseball needs to act to address the problem.

And the bow-tie:

Athletes chemically propelled to victory do not merely overvalue winning, they misunderstand why winning is properly valued. Professional athletes stand at an apex of achievement because they have paid a price in disciplined exertion—a manifestation of good character. They should try to perform unusually well. But not unnaturally well. Drugs that make sport exotic drain it of its exemplary power by making it a display of chemistry rather than character—actually, a display of chemistry and bad character.

Will, to his credit, decries "the idea that everything is the federal government's business." He's on far shakier ground when he asserts that "only one radical demarcation has disrupted the game's continuity—the divide, around 1920, between the dead ball and lively ball eras," but that's a whole 'nother debate.

Dayn Perry wrote about the "pumped-up hysteria" over steroids for Reason's January 2003 issue, and Jacob Sullum questioned why sports should be drug-free this January.

NEXT: Annanition

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  1. I’ve heard of high schools that require drug testing for ANY extracurricular activity.

    Somehow I think it would be a waste of money to test the debate team for steroids…

  2. Professional athletes stand at an apex of achievement because they have paid a price in disciplined exertion — a manifestation of good character.

    Shrunken testicals sounds like a pretty steep price to pay for sporting excellence. How come you never hear that described as evidence of serious commitment?

    Only one radical demarcation has disrupted the game’s continuity — the divide, around 1920, between the dead ball and lively ball eras.

    Yes, it’s just a minor accounting error that Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb never got tested against any black players.

  3. Re: “continuity”

    From 1963-68, when baseball allowed pitchers’ mounds to be raised, the average team scored 3.86 runs per game, or less than in such Dead Ball years as 1901, 1902, 1903, 1905, 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1919….

  4. Yeah, you’ve got to wonder about that “Only one radical demarcation… comment. I mean WTF? He can’t be that stupid. Doesn’t anyone else get a look at the thing before it goes to press? I’m forced to conclude that he must be trolling. But who is he trying to bait, and for what purpose. I really can’t make any sense of that statement.

  5. Warren,

    Will writes (and says) incredibly stupid things all the time. I still remember his comment about Harley’s success having nothing to do with the romanticism associated with movies like Easy Rider.

  6. Warren,

    If you want to see really stupid people though listen to the talking heads on ESPN talk about anything other than sports (such as the talking head who suggested yesterday that Artest face “criminal charges” instead of a misdemeanor charge). 🙂

  7. Matt, there was a thread on Primer the other day on this column.

    My argument there, which I’ll greatly condense here, is that the idea that becoming a professional athlete by itself represents a manifestation of good character is nauseating, and is itself a manifestation of Will’s hero-worship at its most absurd.

  8. “I’ve heard of high schools that require drug testing for ANY extracurricular activity.

    Somehow I think it would be a waste of money to test the debate team for steroids…”

    I’d guess it’s so they don’t get shit for focusing just on the athletes. That’s “discrimination”.

    I bet they’d really love to drug test EVERY STUDENT IN THE SCHOOL. If that day ever comes I swear to God I’m out this goddamn country.

  9. Gary,
    Yes of course Will has a long record of dunderheadedness. However, one could always understand the cause (i.e. he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he’s intellectually hampered by faith, etc.) This one though, I can’t figure it no-how.

  10. That Baseball Primer discussion can be found here.

  11. “If you want to see really stupid people though listen to the talking heads on ESPN talk about anything other than sports…”

    Or ask Rush Limbaugh about Donovan McNabb. I recall a few people on this thread defending that asshole, and backing up what he said about Mr. 24-consecutive-completions, just so they could preen about their hero being done in the evil librul media. In your face, righties!

    Back on topic, I don’t write this very often but, “Hey everyone! That weak-chinned little sissy with the bowtie is right!”

    You all need to read your Aristotle.

    I saw a ridiculously-muscled, 360 pound lineman come out of a game Sunday because he was knocked ever so slightly off balance and, because his body was too big for his frame – and it was a pretty damn big frame to begin with – he injured his ankle. Just by having all their weight come down ever so slightly wrong.

    On top of everything else, steroids ruin sports by making it less fun to watch. If baseball was supposed to be about a power “arms race,” we’d build machines to play it.

    You people need to read your Aristotle.

  12. OK joe, i’ll bite. What’s the “Aristotle” reference all about ?

  13. SM, the aesthetic and moral virtue of sport. I don’t think it pleases the gods that you can hit a ball 600 feet because of the drugs you took.

    Would it be interesting to watch a robat bat against a pitching machine? Why not just let a guy on a moped represent the US in the 400 meters? Maybe for the novelty, a couple of times, but it wouldn’t please the gods.

  14. The truth is the truth, and the truth is that athletes are using artificial means to enhance play. So is it shame on someone for telling the truth? The truth is that high school kids will be taking steriods as per examples of success.

    Take away the anti-trust protection from baseball and tax exemption from college sports. Can you imagine what the pro-wrestlers are putting in their bodies, but that’s entertainment.

    Athletics – one more example for why drugs are going to be regulated.

    dj of raleigh

  15. I dare anyone to read the Kaplan piece about “class bias” in military reporting Matt linked to the other day along with this Will column and tell me the two of them don’t have some hero-fetish over men in uniform.

  16. joe’s comment reminds me of the recent experience with Jeopardy. There is something to be said for rules that “keep the playing field level”, even if they do prevent people from reaching the full potential that may be possible with various techniques.

    Oh, before I go any further, let me make it clear that I respect the right of any league, game show, or other sponsor of a competitive event to make its own rules. If I critique said rules it is not in any way a call for or acceptance of legal regulations of said competitions. It is simply my opinion as a fan. (Just gotta get that out of the way on this forum.)

    Ken Jennings made Jeopardy boring. He didn’t use any “unfair” enhancers that I know of, but he had a huge advantage with the buzzer, simply by virtue of experience. As somebody who won $850 of Ben Stein’s money, I can tell you that winning a quiz show is as much about timing as it is about knowledge. No doubt some of Ken’s opponents were more knowledgeable than him, but they could only ring in on the questions that he didn’t know. He won his first several episodes on knowledge and raw skill, but after that his experience with the timing on the buzzer made him almost unstoppable, even against opponents who knew more than him.

    If they had kept a limit to how many episodes you can win before being sent home to await the Tournament of Champions, it would have been much more interesting. Sure, there was some excitement initially, as we all watched to see how far he could go. But eventually every episode became the Ken Jennings show. And he so effectively froze out the competition that there wasn’t even a competition for 2nd place in Final Jeopardy (2nd place gets $2000, 3rd place gets $1000), since frequently the scores going into Final Jeopardy would be something like $25,000 for Ken, $5,000 for the runner-up, and $800 for the guy in last place.

    Since Ken lost the games have been more exciting. However, the next time some really knowledgeable person comes along and wins several games by knowledge, he or she will probably be able to go for weeks or even months on the accumulated skill with the buzzer.

    I realize that this isn’t directly analogous to the issue of steroids. But limits on competition, while undesirable in law and economics, are sometimes necessary to keep entertainment entertaining.

  17. Excellent point, thoreau. And all the more reason to keep sports out of the arena of government regulation. In a free market, I say that the non-steroid baseball would become more popular than the steroid-enhanced baseball.

    You could make a similar argument re: Nascar and Formula 1, I think, but I don’t know enough about the subject.

  18. “I don’t think it pleases the gods that you can hit a ball 600 feet because of the drugs you took.”

    I don’t know if the gods have much wiggle room on this one. They hung around Mount Olympus refreshing themselves with ambrosia and nectar. Makes me wonder what the hell was in that stuff if it could refresh a ‘god’.

    http://www.loggia.com/myth/olympus.html

  19. Douglas Fletcher, etc.,

    The use of chemicals in the ancient Olympics was common. Indeed, the ancient Olympics are far closer to how sporting works today – commercialized, professional, doped-up, etc. – than the notion of sport that we get from the historically ignorant like George Will.

  20. Another sport that has suffered from technical advancement is men’s tennis. More points are won on the serve than on volley. Boring! This is due to both training and racquet technology. The racquets need to be limited somehow, to allow for more volleys. Some of you may be old enough to remember when ice hockey was played in North America. In its final decade, goalie equipment had become entirely outsized, contributing to a dramatic drop in scoring. Boring!

    Placing limits, as thoreau argues, can often make for a more entertaining event. Competitions that ban certain equipment, steroids, and other technologies are not necessarily luddites and preening moralists. Of course, on the flip-side, an intransigence toward new technologies and techniques can hinder a sport. These things need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

  21. “Why not just let a guy on a moped represent the US in the 400 meters?”

    Coz then it would be a bike race or something.

    It’s still baseball even if they’re taking steroids.

  22. Professional baseball players are people our children look up to. Players use drugs — players who use drugs undermine the efforts of parents and coaches to send the right message to our children.

    You can easily send the right message by upping the ritalin dosage to your children. If drugs are the problem, then drugs are the solution!

  23. Joe et al,

    Kudos on the Aristotle gambit (I’ll just take your word for it), but you’re implying that baseball is interesting in the first place.

    Levity aside, face it: bringing in federal regulators — or MLB regulators, if that’s your wont — will never achieve a thing. If you don’t like home runs, why not just push the outfield fence back a dozen yards or so?

  24. Joe, what are you talking about?

    Steroids are what people are now using to get to the peak of human physical performance. But not solely. How many times should I mention software that analyses your every movement so that you become more efficient, and hence a better player? What about nutrition, coaching, plyometrics, etc, etc, etc? When we’re able to genetically modify our bodies, will people consider that cheating, too?

    If a sport becomes boring because the players are ‘too good’ (whatever the hell that means), then stop watching. Me, I appreciate athletes performing at the peak of human achievment. I say dope them up more. The only problem I see (and this addresses joe’s problem with the lineman falling down and fucking up his ankle) is that these guys push it too hard and don’t let their tendons and bones catch up to their huge muscles. But it can be done in a way where there wouldn’t be those types of injuries.

    Oh, and the analogy of NASCAR and Formula 1 is not bad, I suppose. And I’m sure someone who prefers NASCAR to F1 might make a similar arguement. I would disagree for 2 reasons. 1) because NASCAR is not really all that “pure” in the first place (they’re not “stock” cars anymore, for instance) and 2) I prefer F1 because it is the pinnacle of motor racing…ie the technology and training is the highest level you can get, period. Some people say it’s boring, I say it fuckin’ awesome and inspiring.

  25. Free Market idea–let baseball imitate bodybuilding. Have a “Pro” group that uses whatever it takes to win, and an “all natural” group that eschews any chemical assistance and plays for the sheer love of the game. The fan’s dollars will decide which one of them survives. And it won’t take any unjustified government meddling.

  26. “Athletes chemically propelled to victory do not merely overvalue winning, they misunderstand why winning is properly valued. Professional athletes stand at an apex of achievement because they have paid a price in disciplined exertion — a manifestation of good character.”

    Two propositions here I don’t think I can stomach:

    “1) athletes stand at the apex of achievement because of had work alone”

    Partly true, but wrong in the way that counts. Most athletes are simpyl born superior, with superior genes and body structures for their sports. They still have to work very very hard to reach the pinacle of their sport… but then so do people who take steriods: those drugs don’t magically make you a great hitter or pitcher: they basically function like extra “nature” boost that sporting “nurture” can take advantage of.

    “2) a manifestation of good character”

    We are talking about athletes here, right?

  27. The entertainment value of baseball is determined by the viewer’s alcohol intake, not the player’s steroid intake.

  28. Some of you may be old enough to remember when ice hockey was played in North America. In its final decade, goalie equipment had become entirely outsized, contributing to a dramatic drop in scoring. Boring!

    Why, I can remember that like it was last night!

    Cuz it was. See:

    http://www.theahl.com
    http://www.chl.ca/
    http://www.centralhockeyleague.com/
    http://www.echl.com/
    http://www.ncaa.org/sports/icehockey/
    http://www.universitysport.ca/e/m_icehockey/index.cfm
    http://www.theuhl.com/cgi-bin/index.php
    http://www.ushl.com/
    http://www.ushsho.com/

    True, there are no NHL games right now, and we may have to do without any kind of season, but there is still hockey.

    I note the objection to oversized goal pads. Let’s not stop the scrutiny there. Sticks made of metal or composites must be taken into account, as were sticks with extremely curved blades back when. Goalies whose pads are too wide can be challenged, just as a player with an excessively-curved stick can be.

    Then there is the whole debate about helmets and face-shields, and how they affect reckless stick-work. More on point, pro hockey players gobble sudafed (or pseudofed) in order to be able to get enough oxygen into their systems to compete at a high level. When the NHLers went to the Olympics, they had to stay off it, as it was one of the substances the drug screening would catch.

    Hey, if this season’s Calder Cup champs challenged the winners of the European Elite league, couldn’t the winner of that series claim the 2005 Stanley Cup?

    Kevin
    World’s worst pond-hockey goalie (retired).

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