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Sports at La CoffeeMelodie Suite - The Coffee Corner

Steroids. The word conjures up so many thoughts and feelings, and I find the debate about whether they have a place in sport to be a fascinating one.

There is no doubt that the improper use of anabolic steroids leads to numerous and serious health problems, just as there is no doubt their proper use enables individuals to improve their strength, endurance and athleticism.

Everyone talks about two things in the steroid debate: first, they want competition to be 'fair," and they feel that steroids give an unfair advantage. Second, they are worried about the health consequences of improper steroid use, which extends especially to those children using them in high school and even earlier.

I look at it a little differently. For me, the salient question is to what extent do we allow athletes the opportunity to improve? Do we only allow those things that are not potentially "harmful?" Who determines that standard?

I'd like to address the major concerns relating to steroid use. First, fairness, by almost any measure, is an illusory ideal in sport. There simply is no such thing. The competition between the New York Yankees and Florida Marlins is not fair since the Yankees are paying more than five-and-a-half times as much to the players on its roster as are the Marlins. In the Olympics, competition between first and third world athletes is not fair because the former have excellent training facilities and are guaranteed to receive high-protein diets from the moments of their births.

Now, I realize for many that these are the differences that are compelling: we want to see how well David can compete with Goliath. But it's hardly "fair." In fact, since each person and his circumstances are unique, there is no fairness in sports- or in anything, for that matter!

Think about anything an athlete does in training: he does it to get better and, hopefully, ahead of his competition. For all we know, Babe Ruth did something so different from his peers to gave himself an advantage over them. Who knows?

Now, the same can be said about the concept of cheating: that an athlete does it to get ahead. Fair enough; but, cheating is by definition illegal. Obviously, if steroids are illegal, then to use them is cheating. I don't question that. My inquiry relates to why they are illegal: what is it about them that puts them outside the pale? We accept weight training as within the rules, and a deliberate breaking of the rules as not. Why are steroids on the one side of the line and not the other? Don't just tell me the use of steroids is wrong because some ruling body has said so- to say it's wrong because it's wrong is not really very satisfying.

You may agree with me or you may not, but I believe the American public doesn't really even want to know about steroid use. We were amazed with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds as they smashed home runs deep into the sky. We loved watching linebackers pummel a wide receiver as he ran a slant across the middle. We "oohed" and "aahed" as weightlifters pushed weights almost equal to that of small cars above their heads, and we gasped as sprinters exploded from the blocks as if from a gun. From the spectator's point of view, as theater, sports was never better.

Not to mention, could you blame any athlete- especially the elite athletes- for taking steroids when his contract millions are affected directly by his performance relative to his peers? Barry Bonds, steroids or not, was a great baseball player. If he sees scores of his peers "on the juice" and passing him by, his 20 million a year will fast become 2 million. Hell- I'd take steroids if it meant 18 million dollars more each year. What about you? Not to mention, if everyone is passing you by then your legacy is at risk. I realize it is today, too, but try to see it as it must have presented itself at the time.

Sure, steroids have the potential for great harm. All the pre-college students taking them indiscriminately in the fleeting hope of future athletic stardom is a national tragedy. Lots of things have the potential for great harm, though, such as excessive protein or sugar intake, brutal three-a-day workouts in the hot sun leading to collapse and death.

Look: steroids are not little sunny pills that make the world a better place. They have a distinct down-side. But they also have a distinct up-side, and the genie is out of the bottle and not going back in. So many people are tainted by the stain of possible steroid use, and we are talking about the validity of the records set by today's athletes.

I'm not saying we should ignore steroid use and turn a blind eye, but I think we need an honest debate about them rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

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