Friday, January 15, 2010

McGwire and the steroid buzz

From the 18 January 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers


By Bob Confer

Chances are good in this day and age that you know someone who has smoked pot. It would be difficult not to. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says 98 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once in their lives. You may be one of them. Your spouse may be, too.

Does that make you, him, or her any lesser of a person? In the eyes of a few it may. But, in the eyes of most it does not. That’s because, for a good number of issues, Americans posses an intrinsically Libertarian mindset. We believe, as we should, that what adults do behind closed doors is their own business. They should be allowed to do almost anything they see fit as long as they don’t hurt anyone or infringe on others’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So, based on that, can someone tell me what exactly Mark McGwire did wrong? How does what he did to his body differ from what a third of Americans have done to theirs? Just like them, he bought or acquired a controlled substance and used it to alter his well-being. And, just like a good many of the pot smokers, it was a result of overwhelming peer pressure.

Since the days of Babe Ruth, when a brutish figure single-handedly made them commonplace, Americans have been clamoring for home runs. We yearn for the combination of raw strength, a good eye and a quick mind that produces majestic and sometimes vicious drives that can change a game almost instantly. After many decades filled with powerful home run hitters from Jimmie Foxx to Reggie Jackson, home runs seemed to taper off in the 1980s. The skinnier players of the time struggled to rack up 30 homer seasons and without those blasts major league baseball looked a little tame in the newfound exposure it was receiving on cable and satellite TV. But, in 1987, a livelier ball yielded a surge in home runs and people wanted more. Much more.

The players obliged. Over the course of the 1990s they bulked up – something we now know was a result of chemical enhancement – and hit balls out of the park in bunches. They were rewarded for their efforts (and gambles) by owners who paid the most-powerful fellows handsomely and fans who threw adulation upon them.

Mark McGwire entered the game at just the right time. Fresh out of college in the late-80s he was a big yet lithe man who soon used steroids to aid in the transformation of his body from injury-prone to muscle-bound. He utilized this brawn with his equally-immense talent and dedication to become a modern day Babe Ruth. He was larger than life and answered the wishes of the fans and the prayers of major league baseball, saving it from its darkest days. He absolutely excelled at what every ballplayer from the little leagues to the major leagues had hoped to do: He hit home runs at a record-setting pace and in distances that the game’s best could only dream of. He was a spectacle at every at-bat…and even during batting practice. The eyes of a sports-loving nation were fixed on him from 1996 to 1999. In 1998 especially it was like the 1950s all over again as the average fan bee-lined like a kid to the morning paper (or the modern equivalent of Sports Center) to see what the big man did the night before. He satisfied our once insatiable home run addiction, something that could only be achieved through steroid use.

McGwire gave us exactly what we wanted yet just like when a marijuana high wears off (or so they say) the high associated with his accomplishments wore off and in the years since his retirement the fans have experienced similar regret and disgust for his actions. Most folks now have as much disdain for McGwire’s now-admitted steroid use as they once did love for his feats.

It is hoped that once the smoke clears people realize that McGwire wasn’t the monster they are now saying he is. We pressured him. The game pressured him. He just wanted to fit in and he misused a drug to do it, hurting no one but himself in the process.

By doing so, he’s no different than anyone else.

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