…. I do understand my own complicity in the superstars’ need for the needle; we — fans, coaches, parents, owners, media — demand that they attempt superhuman feats to thrill us, authenticate us, make us rich and proud, and naturally they need superhuman help to satisfy us. (We also want our Whole Foods before they rot, which is why long-haul truck drivers pop speed.)
And we don’t want to know about the process. When it’s jammed in our faces, when athletes come up “dirty” in testing (or truck drivers jackknife on the interstate), we demand that they be punished and expunged from our fantasies.
This pattern of denial and demonization is our problem, not theirs. Steroid use in sports is a symptom of our disease more than theirs, and a fascinating, if tinted, window on Jock Culture, on its connection to the complicated, dangerous, exhilarating way manhood is measured in America from the field house to the White House.
“Athletes certainly have no ethical dilemma about doing steroids,” says Dr. Michael Miletic, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst whose Detroit-area practice includes high school, college, and professional athletes. “Steroids are totally embedded in the sports culture. We need to get past the finger-pointing. There’s been a wholesale abandonment of critical analysis.”
…. Consider poor Barry Bonds, the Othello of the sports drama. (His Desdemona was fame.) Barry was raised a prince, the son of a star (Bobby), the godson of a superstar (Willie Mays), and he definitely proved himself worthy. Lean and apparently drug-free, Barry was arguably the greatest player of his generation, but one day the crowd’s affection and the home-run records began flowing to a swollen, surly, red-headed meatball named Mark McGwire who was clearly on the juice. So Barry, with an aging and wounded back and bad knees, seemingly decided to level the field by getting some, too.
Now, I don’t much like Barry. Once, he so frustrated me during an interview that I appealed to his dad, who just shrugged and said he had the same problems. Barry’s moral character makes him a poor role model for the sportswriters who are jumping all over him now that he’s down. I wonder if they’re making up for having never noticed all the steroid side effects in locker-rooms the past ten years. (Actually, serious steroid use, particularly in Olympic events, goes back to the days when I was reporting, so you can blame me, too.)
Barry didn’t start taking steroids — if he did: no proof yet — to enslave our children or to mock all fans outside San Francisco or even to bury Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. He did it because he wanted to stay in the locker-room and on the field, and he wanted to be the best. He did exactly what he had been trained to do as a Jock Warrior, pushing himself and the boundaries, winning ugly, even cheating, if necessary.
…. So why should we — Botox’ed, Viagra’ed, silconed — be surprised that athletes are enhancing themselves, too? And why should we care?
On one level, I don’t. The jock’s capital has always been his body, and he should be free to spend and invest it. Policing that should be a function of the team dynamic. It is very telling that athletes, as competitive and violent as they can be in every aspect of their lives, have not dispensed locker-room justice to the steroid-users who are presumably tilting the playing field and stealing jobs from team-mates who stay clean. Obviously, most everybody is using drugs. That genie is out of the bottle.
That’s enough. Read the whole thing, and then we can argue some more.