Friday, June 09, 2006

The Veil of Conventional Wisdom
By Zach

Conventional wisdom is a dangerous thing. At various times, it's allowed us to believe that killing off millions of Indians was our divinely ordained duty, that women were unworthy of enfranchisement, and that it's a good idea to bunt with a runner on first and no outs. There have been what I'd consider four distinct eras of conventional wisdom when it comes to steroids and baseball.

The first era's conventional wisdom went something like this: "sure, steroid use may be rampant in the Olympics, and in football. But baseball isn't about muscle, it's about flexibility and speed and hand-eye coordination and whatnot. Thus, there's no incentive for players to take steroids." We've all seen how silly this conventional wisdom seems now. PEDs are about way more than just building muscle mass, obviously.

The second era's conventional wisdom said: "ok, there are a few guys who take steroids, but they're the big muscly power hitters. Plus, taking steroids doesn't help you hit the ball, it just maybe lets you hit it a bit farther." Again, this wisdom ignored the facts about PEDs, namely that more than just muscle-bound power hitters could, and did, benefit from using them.

It's at about this point that it became clear that PED use in baseball was far more rampant than just about anyone wanted to believe. Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti both said that PEDs were used by at least half of big leaguers. Drug testing showed that a number of players, not just power hitters but speedsters and particularly pitchers were using as well. That spawned the next era, which said "now that baseball tests for steroids, we've finally regained some sense of integrity in the sport. Sure, from 1995-2004 was pretty tainted, but with stricter testing we can, and have, cleaned up the game.

Jason Grimsley's recent bombshell seems to have done away with that brand of conventional wisdom. Clearly, players are still using forms of PEDs, and in fact all steroid testing did was make them change the type of PED they were taking.

Unfortunately, one final bit of conventional wisdom remains, saying "sure, we may not have cleaned up baseball, but with stricter testing we can." This line of thought is echoed throughout our culture. To paraphrase Daniel Quinn,, whenever we as a culture want to eliminate a behavior, we pass a law against it. Since no unwanted behavior has ever been eliminated by making it illegal, we end up finding out that we haven't eliminated our unwanted behavior. We then pass stricter and stricter laws, with harsher and harsher punishments, and yet get nothing out of it. The problem with PEDs in baseball is that we don't have a way to get rid of them. Even if the players association agreed to blood testing, and even if we tested players every day, there'd be no way to be sure that players weren't using HGH and other undetectable PEDs.

This puts on on the brink of a fifth age. We have to realize that as long as professional sports exist, PED use will be at least one step ahead of PED detection. There's too much money, power, and pride at stake for it to go any other way.

I've got one last analogy for you. It's a well-known biological fact that the use of chemicals like antibiotics, pesticides, and the like have at best only a partial benefit for our society. At first, using these chemicals provides a drastic effect: people stop getting sick from certain diseases, or various unwanted pests are virtually annihilated. The problem is, prolonged use tends to do nothing other than kill off the majority of the species. Those who survive are the ones who are immune or at least resistant to the chemical, and they're the ones who reproduce. Thus, using antibiotics creates antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and using pesticides creates pesticide-resistant critters.

In baseball, testing for steroids hasn't eliminated steroid use. For the most part, it's merely caught the stupid, the poorly-informed, and the arrogant. The more clever users have switched up what PEDs they're taking, or have found other ways around the testing. Now, they're the model that future athletes will follow, creating new generations of testing-resistant athletes.


Post a Comment

<< Home