Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Steroids and Lasik Eye Surgery

Bobby Baun.

I know that for Americans, there is little meaning to that name. Bring it up in Toronto though and people will immediately free associate words like "heroic" and "selfless." Bobby Baun had one of the most iconic moments in hockey history. In game 6 of the Stanley Cup final between his Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings, the largely defensive defenseman broke his ankle in the first period. He went to the locker room, got taped up, took some painkillers, and returned to score the overtime winner to force a game 7, which the Leafs also won. He is in the pantheon of sports heroes (Canadian sports heroes, but still).

Barry Bonds.

Barry Bonds is one of the most reviled figures in sports history. Bring up his name and people will immediately free associate words like "cheater" and "disgrace." As his career began to take a back seat to the home run record chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire, he allegedly used steroids and put in some of the best numbers in the history of baseball. Books have been written about how he defiled the game along with every other person from the steroid era of baseball.

I am not entirely certain why, as sports fans, we worship the players who use pain killers to get the most out of their bodies, who enhance their physique through painful and unnaturally long hours of body building, who get corrective eye surgery so that they can see the pitch better, while cursing the players who use steroids to get the most out of their bodies.

The uproar surrounding HGH is even more confusing to me than decrying steroids. Malcolm Gladwell has already written a perfect post on this issue and I do not need to reiterate his points. I wonder if the real problem is that the public generally do not have any idea about what HGH is. They are just scary initials to most people and have been lumped with steroids in the minds of the people. HGH speeds recovery so that a player can get back on the field after an injury as quickly as possible. Why is that different than what Bobby Baun, the hero of the Toronto Maple Leafs, did?

I was reminded of the topic of steroid and HGH use after reading a recent excerpt in Sports Illustrated for a new book detailing Roger Clemens' alleged steroid use. I don't care to link to the article because I don't think Clemens did anything newsworthy. He used then legal means to improve his ability to play the game that he loved. At worst, we should be indifferent. At best, we should see him as heroic, like we do Bobby Baun and all the other players who showed “guts” and “heart” by “sacrificing their bodies” and “playing through the pain."

1 comment:

  1. It is worth considering that your examples pit baseball players against hockey. Perhaps the different nature of the games has an impact in the different reactions to your examples.

    Baun's use of painkillers was done for the sake of his team, while Bonds's seems to been more about his own glory, by breaking the home run record.