Steroids, Schmeroids. Why Not Enhanced and Unenhanced Sports Leagues?


Baseball phenom Barry Bonds is trying to match or exceed Hank Aaron's all time home run mark any day now. By some people's lights, Bonds' accomplishment will be marred by the suspicion that he used enhancement drugs of some sort. The fact the commissioner of baseball has been following Bonds around the last few games suggests that any such lingering stigma is already dissipating. For the record, I am not in favor of anyone breaking the rules to which they voluntarily agreed. But should the line against various enhancements hold in professional sports?

Washington Post reporter, Joel Garreau, explores this question in an article about techno-athletes. Garreau asks:

Is it inevitable that there soon will be two kinds of leagues in baseball, basketball or football—the Naturals and the Enhanced? '

For a long time now, my answer has been yes. In an April, 2005 op/ed for the Riverside Press-Enterprise (unfortunately, I can't find a link to it) I suggested:

Why not solve the future problem of gene doping and the current problem of steroid use in professional sports by creating two kinds of sports leagues? One would be free of genetic and pharmacologic enhancements—call them the Natural Leagues. The other would allow players to use gene fixes and other enhancements—call them the Enhanced Leagues. Let fans decide which play they prefer.

Whole Garreau article here. My March 17, 2005 NPR Marketplace radio commentary making the two league proposal here. reason contributor Dayn Perry's astute 2003 observations about steroids in baseball here. And my February, 2005 column on gene doping in sports here.

Finally, here's wishing good luck to Bonds.

Hat tip to Ted Weinstein.

NEXT: RIP, Ulrich Mühe

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  1. Leela: “Miller’s on a pace to hit 70 blerns.”

    Professor: “He’s good, all right, but he’s no Clem Johnson. And Johnson played back in the days before steroid injections were mandatory!”

  2. It’s a nice idea, except that the Natural League would last about five minutes and earn exactly $0 in revenue.

  3. JA: That’s my suspicion too, but let’s find out.

  4. It’s more marred by the known fact that Bonds is a shitty outfielder these days, past his prime, and a total asshole to fans.

  5. Ron’s correct to suggest that players should follow the rules they agreed to follow. But why should there be any prohibitions on performance enhancing drugs? Right now, there’s not a total ban. Advil and other OTC drugs are permitted, and players use them to relieve pain and play when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Moreover, the rules currently allow for other performance enhancers (not drugs), like Lasik eye surgery, metal rods to keep bones in place, etc.

  6. see SNL: Steroid Olympics

  7. But why should there be any prohibitions on performance enhancing drugs?

    Because arbitrary rules are the basis of sports? Why should the batter be out if he swings and misses three times? Why should the offense get only four downs?

  8. Currently, we don’t have much of a handle on what kind of drugs would truly make for better baseball players. Last century, the Twins (my faves) had an outfielder who put on some serious muscle mass one offseason. I dunno if he was juiced or not, but I do know that his batting average, fielding, and base-running abilities suffered mightily for a marginal improvement in power at the plate. He was cut loose when his contract came up.

    Where baseball’s concerned, I wouldn’t be surprised if the non-juiced league was clearly better at winning baseball games. There’s much much more to baseball than physique. Football, on the other hand…

  9. How did the XFL do against the NFL again? How does the “World’s Strongest Man” series on ESPN do (in participation and “mindshare”) compared to weightlifting competitions in the Olympics again? I think the future is already here, and the world has more or less yawned.

  10. If the Naturals League does keep a major audience, won’t you have the same problem policing it that you do now? Won’t athletes have an incentive to claim to be un-enhanced, even if they are (in hard-to-detect ways)?

  11. But the real question…

    Which (if any) league would have the Designated Hitter rule?

    *ducks away from the shower of bricks*


  12. I think it would by more amusing to see them play while tripping.

    Not all the time, maybe one game a year, like the all star game.

  13. A home run derby league with teams sponsored (NASCAR style) by big pharma?

    “His 17th consecutive home run!”
    It’s a good thing he doesn’t have to run the bases.

  14. I don’t know if anyone here follows Bodybuidling or considers it a sport. I sorta follow it ( not well, but I know the names of a lot of pros and can probably name most of the Olympia winners), no sure if I would call it a sport though.

    Well, anyway, it’s well known that EVERY successful pro bodybuilder uses roids, HGH, diuretics,etc. There ARE some “natural” bodybuilders and competitions- though many of the “naturals” also “use” and depend on beating the tests at the right time. By far, the Steroid users are much more popular and no one at all cares about the naturals.

    People want the freakishness that can only be accomplished by drug use. And obviously drugs alone do not produce MR. Olympia level bodies. There are probably millions of steroid using bodybuilders, but only a few who have a shot at winning major competitions ( just as there were prbably hundreds of steroid using baseball players, but only 1 Barry Bonds and less than a handful of 2nd-3rd tier enhanced sluggers ( mcgwire, Sosa, Gonzalez, Palmeiro,etc).

    I guess maybe it’s “different” because bodybuilding is based on growing freaky muscle and has subjective judging, not a show of skills with objective stats and scoring. and so on. But overwhlemingly, despite any calls for “natural” competitors, people overwhelmingly choose the roid monsters.

    Arnold S.,Governor, probably wouldnt be known at all without roids. I think he claims he took them in moderation, “before they were illegal.” But everyone knows when he was winning all the Olympias, doing Pumping Iron,etc, ALL those guys were juiced to the gills. Without his “enhanced” body, he never would have been Conan, Terminator, Commando,etc.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But people have been competing and providing entertainment through the use of steroids ( and of course drugs in general)for decades. At least.

    And for all the crying about steroids now, if there were enhanced leagues, I can’t help but think no one will bother to pay to watch “naturals.” Like Bodybuilding is now.

  15. forget steroids..gene therapy is going to change the whole idea of what an athlete is, can and will be.

    I wrote a sci fi story 20 years ago about allowing full blown drug and gene modification to athletes who would compete at a nation and border defining world olympia. In place of war, hyper sporting events would decide geo-political confrontations.

  16. Good grief, people are just in denial if they don’t think steroids can aid baseball performance. Adding large amounts of muscle mass isn’t necessarily the point of using steroids. Faster recovery from muscle tissue damage, say, from a more strenuous weight lifting regimen, or, as too often overlooked, the damage caused by throwing a baseball very hard 120 times in one night, or 20 pitches very hard 4 days in a row, is the point of steroid use. Not all weight training is for the purpose of adding large amounts of muscle mass.

  17. As long as our brilliant Federal Government makes steroid use illegal for the purpose of athletic performance enhancement, the professional leagues really do have to ban them as well; you can’t have a fair athletic competition which hinges on which competitors are most willing to break the law, unless you also want to see, say, boxing matches determined by one trainer slipping valium into the opposition’s water bottle.

  18. I feel like sports is way behind on this one, or at least getting there. For example, artists have been using enhancement for a long time to make their work better. Do people complain about that? No, they appreciate it even more. Likewise, I think it’s only a matter of time before sports fans realize enhancement doesn’t diminish the game any. Athletes already “enhance” themselves unnaturally simply because of the amount of time and energy they put into training.

  19. It’s a nice idea, except that the Natural League would last about five minutes and earn exactly $0 in revenue.

    It depends on which is the start-up league. Any league, natural or enhanced, that tries to compete against MLB, NBA or NFL, will fail.

  20. Besides bodybuilding as an enhanced sport, we have professional wrestling. Look at the mortality rate of the wrestlers over the years and the damage done to their bodies and minds by rampant roid use. I think there are valid health reasons for banning steroid use among pro athletes.

  21. I thought this was already tried. It was called the XFL.

  22. The only “complaint” I have about the brouhaha regarding Bonds and the Hank Aaron record is, where the hell was all of the “hatin'” when Sammy Sosa hit 600? Surely we can all agree that he more likely than not used steroids. I don’t like either guy, but it seems like Bonds is being treated unfairly. Or Sammy was treated too well.

  23. Sosa’s also a known bat-corker. Which has always been cheating and ought to see him banned from the game.

  24. But Selig is a spineless pussy, frankly.

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