Integrity’s Turn at Bat

Published: April 7, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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Colman McCarthy, peace activist, and former columnist for the Washington Post wrote a provocative Op-ed (Sanctimony’s Turn at Bat) on Roger Clemens’ appearance last February before a House Committee.  The purpose of the hearing was to discuss Clemens alleged steroid use as outlined in the Mitchell Report.

“This is the second time members of Congress have posed as drug-busters cleaning up the great American pastime,” Colman writes.  “Except, that drug use… already is the American pastime…

“I’m hoping,” Colman says, “that Clemens polls the members of Waxman’s committee on their use of performance-enhancing drugs.  Start with Viagra.  Or Cialis… how many need shots of caffeine… to get themselves up and out every morning… or Jack Daniels… How many [baseball reporters] sit in the press box enhancing their bodies with alcohol, nicotine and caffeine…?

“What’s the difference,” McCarthy points out, “between people freely abusing their bodies with one drug but not another, as long as no one else is harmed and the consequences are self-sustained?”

And there’s a great deal of truth in what he says.

America began its addiction to nicotine in tobacco long before the states were united.  The Boston Tea Party must have come as no small sacrifice to those colonists hooked on the fatigue-fighting powers of caffeine in those tea leaves.  And who can deny the terrible tragedies born of alcohol?

I can’t deny the fact that when I get a headache I turn to that miracle drug, aspirin, to get back on track, or antihistamines when my allergies flare up. I’m also one of the lucky beneficiaries of statin drugs that have a positive impact on reducing cholesterol in my blood.  I am absolutely convinced that each of these drugs, as recommended and/or prescribed by my doctor help the quality of my life.  And I’m equally convinced that any one of them can easily be abused.

Virtue and vice have always shared the same dance card.

Anabolic steroids were developed for the therapeutic use in fighting chronic wasting diseases such as cancer and AIDS.  However, it didn’t take long for some bright trainer to discover that if steroids could help increase muscle-mass in deficient individuals, think of what it could do to enhance the abilities of a well-honed athlete.

I’m for any drug that is prescribed by a doctor or doctors for the therapeutic treatment of a specific condition or disease.  I am against using a drug contrary to the manner in which it was developed or prescribed — the obvious exception being experimental research.

To the best of my (Googling) knowledge, the use of anabolic steroids is prohibited by all major sporting bodies, including the International Olympic Committee, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the Women’s Tennis Association, the International Tennis Federation, the European Athletic Association, the National Football League, the International Federation of Association of Football (FIFA), and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

If I decide to use steroids to enhance my performance on the fencing strip, well… first of all, my fencing teacher would fall over laughing, but the consequences would not carry much beyond me, a few fencing buddies and my fencing master.  And it would still be wrong.

When Olympic runner Marion Jones finally came forward and announced that she used steroids after years of denials, the consequences reached well-beyond her body to include family, friends, community, not to mention the many fans who stood by her.  Look at Jones’ Olympic teammates who performed in an honorable fashion in the 2000 Olympics only to be told that they would have to return their medals as well as Jones because Jones cheated.

Ultimately, there will always be individuals who cheat to get ahead.  Ethics requires us to look inside ourselves and choose what kind of person we want to be.

While we are a country and a people of contradictions, shouldn’t we strive to be better?  Along with improving our batting average or running time, shouldn’t we try to improve our ethical average?

It’s not too late to turn the corner on drugs and play by the rules.  It’s not too late to return integrity to sports.  For that young kid in the stands watching his first baseball game, it’s not too late.


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