Why Not Steroid Leagues?

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Thought for the day: Why not create two kinds of sports leagues? One will be free of steroids and gene doping–call them the Natural Leagues. The other would allow players to use steroids and gene fixes–call them the Enhanced Leagues. This could work for all sports: baseball, basketball, football, hockey, rugby, soccer, whatever. Then let's see which of the leagues the fans prefer to watch.

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  1. Life imitates Saturday Night Live…

    http://snltranscripts.jt.org/88/88aupdate.phtml

  2. Count me in for the Enhanced League seasonal tickets. I like it when my entertainment does all they can to entertain me.

  3. Maybe we can genetically re-engineer the players so they have telescopic vision, massive upper body strength, extra legs so as to run faster, and giant leathery hands that mitigate the use of gloves! I want real freaks! Steroids can only do so much.

  4. I’ve been proposing a two-league system for some time.

    Nostra – my friend’s physical training teacher thinks the next Olympics will be the last before genetically enhanced athletes. Not that that makes it true, just interesting to hear from an ‘expert’.

    As everyone on this blog knows, I’m all in favour of chemical and genetic enhancements.

  5. Yeah, sounds alot like the XFL to me.

  6. I like it, but aren’t the current pro leagues already putatively Natural ones per their own regs? Looked at that way the problem is stealth doping. Why would that stop under such an arrangement?

    Wouldn’t “Natural League” teams still have the same incentive to sneak doped players into the mix to tilt outcomes in their favor?

    The obvious safeguard I can think of would be “Natural” player contracts with severe penalties for doping, but mightn’t that incentivize someone to slip banned substances into an opposing player’s diet in order to sideline them?

  7. Only two problems with this idea:

    1. It sabotages the War on Drugs.

    2. The “let the people decide” part is just something that the government could never tolerate.

  8. But think about the children!

  9. let’s see which of the leagues the fans prefer to watch

    I think it’s a bit premature to assume fans will automatically prefer the Enhanced Leagues. I’ll take the Natural Leagues myself – I find innate talent to be more impressive than “enhanced” talent; and who’s to say whether the dope improves all athletes equally? But then, I prefer “average guy” sports, like soccer or hockey, to sports that only freaks can play, like football.

  10. Sounds like the system used in bodybuilding. There are competitions labeled as “natural”. The other ones aren’t actualy called “drugged to the eyeballs” but since they aren’t labeled as natural…..

  11. Why not just a league where extremely sophisticated robots play instead of humans? Think how exciting that would be!

  12. I don’t see how this would solve the problem at all, since there’s clearly a status/image benefit to being perceived as naturally talented, and the natural league would still have a lot of problems with stealth doping. Would you rather be the best player in the natural league or the 25th best player in the enhanced league? Maybe if the author is right and fans flock to the enhanced league, salaries will be higher there and people who don’t mind doping will play in those leagues, but I’m not so sure.

  13. hmmmm. Enhanced baseball players. Something new,huh? What the hell. Let em bulk up and smack the little ball out ofthe damn park every time. I figure the best idea is to enhance the damn ball! Fix the sob so that when someone hits it it hits back. See some damn fancy bat swinging then I betcha!

  14. This has already been done before. It was called the “All Drug Olympics” and was picked up by Saturday Night Live during the late 80’s until a body builder tore his arms off lifting 800lbs.

  15. Eryk: And that tacitly non-natural side of bodybuilding is where the bulk of money is.

    If the market was allowed to work, I expect there would be two leagues in most sports: The Steroid-Enhanced and The Insignificant.

  16. Just because I think people should be free to use sterioids if they wish to do so doesn’t mean I want to watch a bunch of roided-up creeps knocking out home runs all day. If that’s all there is to the game, just shrink the size of the field.

  17. But think about the children!

    I see no reason why we should think of them at all. Yes, sports stars are role models for millions of children. So, their parents can patronize the natural leagues. Let the market sort it out! The market knows all and sees all!

  18. Natural bodybuilding is hardly “insignificant”. Sure, it doesn’t have all the whiz-bang freakiness as the obviously non-natural variety, but it gets just as much attention from the public, if broadcasts on ESPN are any indication.

  19. Has there EVER been a chemical-use scandal (apart from beer) in hockey?

  20. There seems to be an overarching theme judging from most of the tongue-in-cheek snide remarks: “oh, yeah, doped up athletes, that’ll be something new…”

    A couple of points in that regard:

    A) Entertainment, glory, greatness, excitement; all these things are, in sports, for the most part, relative. They are relative to the other players, to the players/stats that came before them, to the expectations of the fans, to the stadium where they play, to the rules which constrain them.

    The point here is, in “sport”, the game must be equal in terms of that which can be controlled by man. We cannot (yet) control genetics, nor natural ability. These are the things that set them apart. Though, we (not Congress, but the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, etc.) can control (to a certain extent) the use of certain substances, just as much as they can control the distance from first base to second base. The point of the sport is to control as much as possible so that the abilities of the players and the coaches, etc., make the difference.

    As such, a league where everyone was free to use steroids is, in terms of sport, identical to a league where nobody was allowed to use steriod. Of course, it’s relative, but, then, one could just expand the outfield walls, make the basket higher, etc. Given the relativity of success in sport, and its dependency on equal rule structures, the details are rather inconsequential.

    B) Looking at the above statement, the players who use steroids in a league where the rules prohibit it are, in economic terms, rent-seeking. They wish to extract uncompensated value, at the expense of others, by modifying the market environment. In terms of natural rights, this is morally abhorrent, like fraud.

    But, I still don’t see the great disconnect between all-steroid leagues and no-steroid leagues.

    C) The bigger problem is that the constant refinement of training and strategy has brought about a moment in sports where it seems we have reached a pinnacle of natural ability. Yes, there are better and worse players, but there is not as much parity; the most parity is seen in fabulously wealthy owners stacking their teams with all-stars—which, even then, is no guarantee of success.

    Given this situation (especially in baseball, where much of the game is so redicoulously boring, many fans must resort to statistic-obsession and fantasy leagues), fans long for explosive parity, the Bondses and McGwires. If steroid use facilitates this, even if it is rent-seeking, the league and the owners, who obviously profit from such rent-seeking, are less likely to try to stop it. This could, in many ways, be seen as defrauding the fans, as well as the players who are pushed aside at the expense of said rent-seeking.

  21. How about this: instead of separate leagues, just test every player every week. If they test positive for any controlled performance-enhancing substances, then, every time their name/stats appear on the jumbotron or your TV screen, an extra box accompanies it indicating which substances they are using. They are also forced to wear a special patch on their uniforms indicating that they are using. Thus, now, the players and the fans all know who is using and who is not, and can then analyze their performance in that new light. If Bonds steps to the plate with a big red patch on his sleeve, and his stats say “CURRENTLY USING: PROHORMONES, ANABOLICS, ANTI-ESTROGENICS”, then, I suppose, I’d be much less likely to be impressed when he smacked his 90th homer.

  22. Dyanmist wrote, in response to the observation that there are “natural” and, um, “other” body-building competitions:

    “Eryk: And that tacitly non-natural side of bodybuilding is where the bulk of money is.”

    I don’t believe this will translate to baseball. What makes bodybuilding (putatively) interesting the the muscle development of the participants. That’s it. So steroids, drugs used for the purpose of promoting muscle development, can be said to enhance the sport by taking it to a higher level.

    Baseball, on the other hand, is not primarily about the musculature of the participants. I’m not going to go off on a long tangent, but the bottom line is, the aspects of baseball that make it interesting would be eroded, not enhanced, by boosting the power of the players. If you want to see what happens when advances in players’ power sweeps aside the tactics and finesse of a game, look how boring men’s tennis has become.

  23. Evan Williams: works for me. But, really don’t give a damn. I quit following when the greedy bastards decided not to have a world series a few years ago. I have no problem with demanding whatever the market will bear but this market will not bear it.

    About the only professional sport I care to watch anymore is the Professional Bull riders. I generally root for the bull.

  24. Has there EVER been a chemical-use scandal (apart from beer) in hockey?

    No, but that’s only because hardly any ‘Mericans care about hockey. In ’98 when NHL players were allowed to play in the Olympics, one story I read mentioned bowls full of pseuodophedrine available for the players to chow down like M&M’s.

  25. The steriod scandal highlights two opposing currents in American culture. We want ours to be the biggest, strongest, best. But we want to be able to tell a noble heroic story about we got to be the best.

    Steriods are not commensurate with the second point. The idea of taking a drug and improving yourself at little cost or risk is an anathema to the protestant work ethic that underlies the American Dream. When the Steriod Control Act was in Congress in 1990, the primary issue wasn’t medical, it was that steroids would promote “cheating” and “shortcuts” and “send the wrong message” to children.

    Libertarians need to stop kidding themselves about the government being the root of all these ridiculous policies. This is the way most Americans think.

  26. Maybe they could let roid-users and non-users mix in the same league, with the proviso that roid-users’ stats need to include the size of their testicles (and the change since the prior season).

  27. Rhywun: Yes, “insignificant” is rhetorically harsh. Natural BB seems to be doing well (as a separate league). Still, the big-money endorsement contracts and Olympia trophy go to the enhanced players.

    joe: Look at it from an opposite direction. Baseball is, today, steroid enhanced. Removing steroids may slightly reduce the extreme perfomance of some players and limit some marginal players to eternity in the minors. But, on the whole, it just doesn’t make an important difference in baseball mechanics because so little of the sport depends on extreme strength/muscle. The games between Natural and Maximal leaugues would still have all the same strategies and drama. The difference is in the predjudiced minds of some fans, who may think it is more “honorable” to watch the natural players.

    How is this different from/same as when we had Negro and “natural” leagues? (Yes, I know steroids are elective, and melanin is not) The opinons of the fans about the sport and players matter more than the mechanism of the game.

  28. “But, on the whole, it just doesn’t make an important difference in baseball mechanics because so little of the sport depends on extreme strength/muscle.”

    That’s not exactly true – extreme muscle is used to generate power at the plate. The power game is very different from smallball.

    Also, the difference between doping players and honest players (see, I can use loaded language to steal bases, too!) is not in the minds of fans – the doping players are physically different. On ther other hand, the difference between white and black players, as players, is entirely in the mind of the fans.

  29. That’s pretty slick, Dynamist. You use the word “prejudiced” to describe a fan’s preference for one style of baseball over another, and thing come in with a race card, in order to make the opinion that natural baseball is better seem immoral and neanderthal.

  30. 🙂 And I did it without drug enhancement.

    The language used by naturalophiles implies that at some level of applied science, maximal ball is immoral. Powerbars and kinesiology are O.K., but concentrated animal/herbal extracts are not.

    Maximal ball and Natural ball would certainly have differences, but how much does that matter to the majority of casual fans? The rules and field changes suggest that fans-at-large pay for home runs more than no-hitters. But there must be a sizeable market for those fans who appreciate the old-style game. Raise the rubber, baby!

    On the whole, it has little to do with sport and more to do with our feelings about technology and displays of power. (We fear what we don’t understand and love to see big people hit things with sticks)

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