Es irrt der Mensch, solang er strebt.
— Goethe, Faust, line 317
Another day, another baseball star is caught using steriods. This time, it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez. Pharmaceutically based cheating is not endemic to baseball alone. Nor, should it be emphasized, is it endemic to the world of sports alone. When we say it’s not natural, we deny our very nature.
Strangely enough, one of the more interesting and insightful sports blogs out there is written by actor Alyssa Milano of all people, a rabid Dodgers fan. She has been insisting for years that current performance-enhancing drug scandals in sports are really a reflection of our broader culture, and I’m inclined to agree with that notion. The Ramirez suspension, which will obviously impact the Dodgers in a big way, has caused her to write about it again. In addition to describing in a way that doesn’t put you to sleep exactly how human chorionic gonadotropin works in the body and can be used by athletes, she said this:
Am I enraged? No. Cheating in baseball has been around for as long as the sport has been around. . . . Performance enhancing drugs are, unfortunately, the evolution of cheating that mirrors the evolution of the pharmaceutical society that we’ve become.
And there’s a link to a post from a couple of years ago, called “The Steroid and Botox Era.”
We’re a pharmaceutical nation. In between acts of our favorite shows, every other commercial is selling a drug trying to ease what ails us. Allergies. Restless Leg Syndrome (I’m sorry, what?). Cholesterol. Impotence. Pop a pill and we will feel better.
We are youth obsessed. Creams to make you look younger. Plastic surgery. Botox. In my industry, it’s hard to find a woman over 50 that hasn’t had some procedure to try and recapture the physical appearance of her prime. In my opinion, it’s an epidemic. So . . . why wouldn’t athletes look to try and regain the physical ability of their prime? It is a sign of the times. We’re in an era when it’s easier to look for the quick fix. We’re in an era when we’re all looking to slow down the hands of time. We are in an era when natural ability just isn’t good enough.
Also, the ambition and responsibility to excel day in and out for these players is overwhelming. Should it be a surprise that they would look for something to speed healing time, prolong their careers, and make them stronger?
None of this makes it “right,” but it is an accurate reflection of who we all are. In one way or another, we all desire to be somehow better than we perceive ourselves to be. We all have insecurities. We all strive to better our lives and our selves, although we all have different standards for measuring what “better” is. If we didn’t, we’d still be grunting in caves.
The push to excel and to improve is neither inherently good nor bad; it is simply what makes us who we are, and it displays itself in a multitude of forms.
I am not defending steroid use here. What I am saying is that when we insist it is not natural, we are denying part of our humanity. When we dismiss as “unnatural” and “scandalous” the darker symptoms of our striving for betterment, we deceive ourselves and make them that much harder to understand and rein in.