Sunday, December 05, 2004

Steroids: A Debate

I know many of you have come to rely on Twins Chatter as your (Twins-related) beacon of light amid the darkness of winter. However, absolutely nothing new has been reported since early last week, so I don't exactly have much to go on here. Instead, I've decided to reprint an article that I ran in the St. Olaf newspaper in late October (I'm the sports editor). We touched upon the steroid topic because Ken Caminiti had recently passed away, so it doesn't discuss the recent relevations concerning Giambi and Bonds. Still, I think you'll find that some interesting points were raised.

The first section was written by my co-editor (and fellow student) Matt Stortz, while my contribution is the second section. Had I known about Bonds and Giambi I may have taken a less controversial position, but like I said, I think my ideas have merit.

If any Twins news breaks before tomorrow (the deadline to offer players arbitration is Tuesday), be sure to make Twins Chatter your first stop.

Steriods: Showcase talent, not drugs

By Matt Stortz

The international athletic community was shocked to discover an inordinate number of Olympic athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs. I write shocked because the coaches, athletes and medical staff involved have long known about the doping problem. The amount of athletes doping this year wasnt inordinate; there was merely an inordinate amount of discovery.

There is also speculation that 1996 National League MVP Ken Caminiti's recent death was expedited by steroid use.

In addition to banned substances, a number of currently legal but disputed drugs have made their way to the sports scene. Among them, Ephedrine and Creatin are the best known. Not only do athletes consuming of these drugs violate the fair play expectation inherent in sports, but they put the athletes in grave danger. Among the strongest reasons performance-enhancers should be banned:

1. Athletes who rely on performance enhancing drugs are less impressive than those who depend on their own natural ability and hard work. I would rather watch a gifted drug-free cyclist compete for the Tour de France title than one who has synthetically increased his athletic ability.

2. Even legal supplements can be dangerous. Products containing Ephedrine and similar drugs are often used by athletes to increase their stamina. These supplements increase the athlete's heart rate, moving oxygen-filled blood through the body more quickly. The problem: there is no method, other than exercise, which safely allows athletes to increase their heart rates.

3. Chemically enhancing performance is disrespectful to great players of the past. To use baseball as an example, players who down Creatin in order to crack 70 homeruns a year or smoke a 100 mph fastball have an unfair advantage over Satchel Paige, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig.

4. If you lose, you lose. I hate losing more than anyone, but no one wins every game. Michael Jordan lost nearly 300 games in his career, and missed 30 game winning shots. The possibility that an athlete's natural talent may not propel them to victory in the upper-echelons of athletic competition shouldnt be feared; that's just how life works.

What supplements are okay for athletes to take? Any supplements that supply benefits available from food should always be available. A football player needs protein after he lifts; to get that protein, he could drink a protein shake, or eat a chicken. We can spare the chicken and the athlete by permitting the healthy, all-natural protein drink.

Sports cannot be fair and athletes will not be safe unless all unnatural performance-enhancing substances are banned, frequent random testing is performed to monitor its consumption as well as drugs that mask illegal chemicals and meaningful sanctions are imposed against players, companies, coaches and doctors who promote their use.

Steroids: Wrong, But Understandable

By Ryan Maus

Matt, I have to agree with many of the points that you bring up. There is absolutely no doubt that unnatural performance enhancing substances are detrimental to the health of those who use them. Caminiti, who admitted to using steroids throughout his career, recently passed away. BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative), a San Francisco-based nutritional supplement lab that is under investigation by the federal government, has been linked to Giants superstar Barry Bonds.

Why then, if there is so much evidence outlining the perils of steroid use, are so many professional athletes associated with them? The answer to that question lies within the spirit of American capitalism.

Consider the following hypothetical situation. You are a minor league baseball player who has played three seasons at the triple-A level. While your skills seem to have hit their ceiling, you see dozens of younger players pass you by on their way to fame and (most importantly) fortune in the major leagues. While you are struggling along at $3,000 a month, the minimum major league salary is $50,000 monthly. Playing major league baseball is your lifes dream; it's the reason you didn't go to college, the reason you've spent the last seven years of your life riding busses around the country for little pay.

Then, an opportunity presents itself. This is something that can give you an extra advantage, something that will finally allow you to fulfill your dreams (and make excellent money in the process). You know there are health risks involved, but you decide it is worth the risk. Designer steroids are almost undetectable, they say. You'll never get caught. Would you pass on this one chance to fulfill your dream?

Steroids will not magically transform a marginal athlete into a major leaguer. When combined with intense training, however, they can give an give a highly-skilled athlete the extra strength needed to reach the next level.

Caminiti, who is the only major professional athlete ever to publicly admit to steroid use, is the perfect example. Prior to his 1996 MVP season, Caminiti was a solid-but-unspectacular third baseman, averaging about 20 home runs and 80 RBI a season. In 1996, he suddenly hit 40 home runs, drove in 130 baserunners, and hit .326, which was 50 points above his career average. Steroids cant make the player, but they can take that player to a previously unreachable level of performance.

Please be aware that I am not condoning the use of steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs. I firmly believe they are wrong and immoral in every possible sense. What I am saying is that I can empathize somewhat with those athletes who do use them. In today's sporting landscape, where competition is incredibly fierce, athletes are looking for every possible advantage they can gain on their opponents. If steroid use was the only way you could make the big leagues, secure that college scholarship, or secure that $20 million contract, could you resist?

Left, Caminiti takes out his 'roid rage on his lumber. Right, you can see the difference in physique between Bonds circa 1989 and Bonds today. Sure he didn't "know" he was taking drugs...