Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 380, August 13, 2006

"When you let people do whatever they want, you get Woodstock.
When you let governments do whatever they want, you get Auschwitz."

Hypocrisy On Steroids
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

I can't take it anymore.

Enough with the whining. Stop it with the hypocrisy.

A couple of weeks ago, Floyd Landis was an ex-Mennonite turned Tour de France hero. People were calling him the new face of sports bravery for winning the world's toughest bike race in spite of needing a hip replacement.

Today, he's a cheater—a bona fide louse, a man who betrayed his sport and country—because he tested positive for unusually (read: suspiciously) high levels of testosterone. Now, instead of singing his praises, all I'm hearing from people is, "Say it ain't so, Floyd." All anyone wants to do is bitch and moan about "another" fallen hero taking a bite of that forbidden, albeit performance-enhancing, fruit called steroids.

Just stop already.

Honestly. Please. For the love of God.

Just stop.

Yes, the man was caught doping. No, that doesn't mean he betrayed his sport or his country. . . or the three or four people who actually follow his sport in his country.

Landis has denied any and all steroid allegations, but the truth is, whether he used or not, it doesn't matter. Maybe officially, legally, in the context of rulebooks, it matters. But not in reality. In reality, steroids only matter because we've decided they matter. And we've only decided they matter because of some vain belief they "taint" this or "cheat us out of" that.

In truth, steroids cheat us out of nothing.

I know we all want to believe sports are "real," and that steroids make the real "unreal" in some way or another. But that unreality is relative. A guy winning a race on steroids looks the same on TV as a guy winning a race without them. This is all that matters now that everyone in every sport seems to be juicing.

If fairness were the issue here, every athlete could use steroids and no one would be arguing. Instead, every athlete seems to be using them, and we're still trying to ban them anyway. This can only be because we believe steroids are somehow immoral. It can only be because we believe Landis's victory somehow besmirches past Tour champions—or because we believe Barry Bonds somehow destroys the credibility of baseball's homerun records.

To believe these things is to believe there's something immoral about human progress.

Floyd Landis needs a new hip, and here he's winning races. Barry Bonds is in his early 40s and until recently was hitting homeruns like a guy in his late 20s. If drugs are making these things possible, it would be more unnatural not to take those drugs. How many middle-aged men are taking Viagra or Cialis, for instance? And what are those, if not performance enhancers?

How many people take allergy pills just to make it through work during allergy season? How many drink coffee just to make it through work every day of every season, all throughout the year?

When faced with certain obstacles, human beings innovate. When they want it bad enough, they'll find a way to match their will to win.

If we're going to accuse steroid-using athletes of cheating—if we're going to say their achievements shouldn't count—then how can we include Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allen Poe in the pantheon of great American writers? Both men drank heavily. Alcohol was their performance enhancer. How was this fair to sober writers? Writers who didn't drink couldn't possibly compete.

Much the same, is it fair for a short man wearing lifts in his shoes to compete for dates with short men who don't wear them? Wearing lifts may be a little different than injecting something into your body. But at its heart, how's it different than taking human growth hormone? How's it different than drinking coffee or alcohol, or taking Cialis, or doing any of the other things people do to enhance their natural endowments?

I'm not saying pro athletes necessarily should be on steroids. Nor am I saying pro sports leagues have no right to ban them. I understand performance-enhancing drugs can have negative long-term side effects. Ultimately, that may be a great reason not to use them. But the medications we take in our kitchens every morning can have negative long-term side effects, too. Sometimes we don't even know how those medications will affect us in the long-term. But we take them anyway, because we believe the benefits outweigh the possible risks.

Some athletes juice with the very same mindset. And not just to gain a competitive edge, either. Sometimes a pitcher using HGH does so to overcome the physical pains of what he's being paid for. Yet we hold him to a much different standard. We don't yell about the "credibility" of our personal health histories when we pop our pills each morning; we only yell about credibility when athletes are popping theirs.

It's not unusual for a society to project deep-rooted feelings onto its sports heroes. Deep down, maybe we fear our society's overly medicated—and maybe that's why we've dismissed performance enhancers categorically. In the end, though, I think the argument that steroids "send kids a bad message" tells us everything we need to know here. We think it's immoral for science to help kids run faster, jump higher, or overcome the effects of time on their bodies. Yet drugs that sedate kids and make 'em sit still in a classroom? Those, we have no qualms with.

There's a common thread throughout this discussion. The idea that we should make do with our lot in life is it. But that mentality is self-defeating. And considering the lengths we'll go to just to look and feel better in this society, it also makes us a fat bunch of hypocrites.

Jonathan David Morris writes from Philadelphia. He can be reached at


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