Performance enhancing drugs, or PED’s as everyone has come to refer to them as, seem to be on everyone’s hit list along with the players that use them. The main point to the agument that Performance Enhancing Drugs are “cheating” and gives athletes that utilize them is that “it’s not natural”, “It’s unfair” and “It’s cheating the game”.
Since we are all awaiting what the next chapter in the Alex Rodriguez story will be let’s discuss the morality or fairness of PED’s versus advances in medical procedure.
One of the most vocal, and most famous of these experts is the veteran and much revered sportscaster Bob Costas. Costas has been on numerous TV and radio shows preaching from his perch of being an “old time fan of the game” stating that it is a travesty and unfair to everyone who plays and whoever played the game of baseball. That legendary players like Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio and of course the great Mickey Mantle never stooped to such low levels of ever cheating.
My question is: Why are some medical advances considered “cheating” while others are considered “Incredible breakthroughs in medical technology?”
The most obviousy case in point is the famous “Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction”. Never heard of it? Its more commonly known as “Tommy John Surgery”. It is named after former major league pitcher Tommy John , whose 288 career victories ranks seventh all time among left-handed pitchers. This procedure was first performed way back in 1974 by Dr. Frank Jobe who still serves as special advisor to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Dr. Jobe and his ground breaking procedure was deemed so important to baseball that he was honored recently by the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame!
What does Tommy John Surgery have to do with PED’s you ask? My simple question is this: Why is one breakthrough in medical technology universally lauded and honored by everyone associated with the sport of baseball, while a simple pill, or injection of a liquid or serum is so reviled that everyone associated with it is cast out of baseballs most hallowed ground never to be inducted?
“PED’s are not natural”, “It’s cheating”. “It represents an unfair advantage”, “What kind of message are we sending to our children?” These are all the statements we hear from pundits such as Mr. Costas and any of the other baseball purists that shout from the roof-tops when PED’s are brought into the discussion.
The reconstruction is performed through an incision on the medial (inside) side of the elbow joint. The damaged ulnar collateral ligament along the medial side of the elbow is replaced with a tendon harvested from somewhere else in the body. The tendon graft can come from the patient’s own forearm, hamstring, knee , or foot . Usually, the surgeon searches for, and utilizes the strongest ligament they can find and replaces the damaged ligament with this stronger ligament. Totally natural…right?
So, what we are saying is it’s okay to take a ligament from one place in the body that is originally used to stabilize a persons leg, into the elbow so this person can continue to throw a baseball 95 miles per hour.
This is natural? This is fair? What about arthroscopic knee surgery? Is this a naturally occuring phenomenon? Of course it isn’t. It is a natural progression in medical technology that enables people, most notably professional athletes, to continue to compete at a high level without an invasive procedure. Do you think Joe Namath or Mickey Mantle would have benefitted from this procedure? You bet they would.
So why are PED’s so reviled? Why is it outlawed from every professional and amateur sport while other medical advances are praised? If there are medicines that exist that enable an athlete to perform at the highest level possible why are they banned? If these medicines can be administered by a licensed professional and can be assured that they are being in utilized in correct and safe dosages, why not?
The last argument made by Mr. Costas and the many others of his ilk is the line of thought that it destroys the integrity of the game. This is mainly due to the fact that the games most hallowed idols, ie: Ruth and Mantle, never had the opportunity to take those drugs so it desecrates their records.
Does anyone really believe that any athete from the 1920’s-30′-40’s-50’s-60’s or even the 1970’s can even come close to the kinds of athletes we are producing today? Have you seen these people? Babe Ruth, the “Sultan of Swat” was 6’2″ and 215lbs at his peak. That was huge for his day. Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers phenom is 6’3″ 245, Ryan Howard the Phillies slugging First Baseman is 6’4″ 240. This is relatively normal for modern day professional sports.(Puny when it is compared to Football)
The knowledge we have of nutrition and year-round training far exceeds what was the norm in Ruths time. Is that fair? Should Puig and Howard have to be limited to training only 4 months out of the year like Ruth did, (Along with adopting Ruths famous Hotdog diet!), so the playing field is level? Should they only play in the day and only travel by bus and train?
I do not have all the answers to these questions. All I want to do is to ask the questions. Get people thinking. Let’s start discussing this topic in a more subjective way rather than the myopic holier than thou stance that seems to be the norm.