Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Disgraced World of America’s Favorite Past Time

Earlier this week, the world of professional sport was rocked by Mark McGwire’s public confession that he was on the juice.

The former Major League Baseball player, who’s professional career included the awe inspiring 70-home run recording breaking summer in 1998, announced that he was in fact on anabolic steroids, for that glorious summer, and during much of the later part of his baseball career.

McGwire retired from the sport and from public life in 2001, but suddenly this week, he pops out of nowhere to unload his great big secret.

Was it a sense of guilt that prompted McGwire to come out of hiding and tell the world he cheated?


He accepted a job offer to coach one of his former teams, the St. Louis Cardinals which led to his public confession. Although he will no longer be whacking balls out of the park, as a coach on a Major League Baseball team, he will no doubt be once again in the public eye.

And it was that fear of coming back into the public spotlight which prompted McGwire to come out with his confession.

I remember during that fateful summer of 1998, as he and fellow teammate Jose Canseco, under the guidance and leadership of the Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa were having a slug-fest. Both McGwire and Canseco were in a tight home run race, each with a dedicated smattering of fans cheering their respective players on, as they both edged ever nearer the all-time home run record set originally by the Babe himself, Babe Ruth.

During this home run derby, just as many theories about how the two ballplayers were able to hit so many home runs surfaced, as fans were drawn to the stands to watch the balls fly.

Some said it was because of the hot and dry summer, claiming baseballs fly further when hit in warm atmospheric conditions than colder ones (which actually has been proved true). More fanatical fans claimed the two baseball players were under the influence of the ghost of the Babe.

A more likely reason the home run record had never been broken since Babe Ruth’s time, was because the game of baseball had changed so much. Back in the Babe’s day, ballparks were smaller, so it was easier to hit home runs.

Also, back in the days of the Babe, professional athletes weren’t managed and trained in the same intense manner. The players back in the old days often just showed up at the ballpark, got into uniform, and played ball. These days, the players go through rigorous individual and team fitness programs, led by some of the best and most sought after professional trainers. By the time you are in your hard uncomfortable seat at the ballpark with your hotdog dripping mustard on your neighbors lap, the players have usually just wrapped up their second or third-hour of training.

That said, and despite the questionable behavior of using performance enhancing drugs, just as McGwire said – sometimes while he was on those drugs he had bad days, and sometimes while he was on those drugs he had good days. There’s no question Mark McGwire is a very talented ballplayer, with the lightening quick reflexes, sharp eye for pitches, and all the other skills and attributes he needed to make it in the big leagues.

The use of the juice just gave him an edge – albeit an unfair edge over the other players.

Although in the end, the choice whether to take or not to take performance enhancing drugs is a decision which McGwire and other athletes must make on their own, part of the blame does come from you and me.

When we cheer on the monstrous players as they grow bigger, stronger, and run, jump, pitch and hit faster and further, we are driving them closer to taking those drugs.

We aren’t so much yelling at them to take the drugs directly, but there must come a point in time where they know they just can’t physically do any better on their own. The human body is an incredibly agile machine, but all machines have their limits.

When an athlete reaches that limit, he or she must be under enormous pressure to find a way to pass his or her own physical limitations.

With steroids and other illegal substances constantly hovering off in the distance, it doesn’t take much to push someone over the edge, to do the wrong thing.

Taking performance enhancing drugs is wrong – just ask Ben Johnson. He was the fastest man in the world for the briefest of times. As soon as it was discovered that he had taken performance enhancing drugs, they took away the famed Canadian’s Olympic sprinter’s medal, and he – and his country – were disgraced.

Mark McGwire shouldn’t be allowed to coach, or do anything else in any professional sport – now that he’s confessed his sin. As soon as he spoke out, he disgraced himself, his sport and his country, because he’s not just admitting he took these performance enhancing drugs, indirectly, he’s admitting there was and most likely still is a drug problem in his sport, and his country.

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