Why did we draw the line at steroids

I watched 9.79* on ESPN last week and was transfixed.  It is a wonderful documentary about the 1988 Olympic 100 meter final race won by Ben Johnson who subsequently tested positive for steroid and had his gold medal taken.  The particulars of that single race could spawn another 5 or 6 documentaries on their own.  I don’t want to discuss those.  My question is why are steroids where we drew the moral line in sports?

Apparently steroids are evil.  They are a scourge upon the right thinking and living people who see sports as a moral nirvana where all is sunshine and rainbows.  I guess we see it this way because steroids provide an unfair advantage for the person who is using them.  That is fine, I get that and agree with it.

What I do not get is the righteous indignation so many seem to have to people caught using performance enhancing substances or drugs (PED) (that is the bureaucratic term for all drugs and other things that you can take to make you bigger, faster, stronger).

When did we become so self-righteous about cheating in sports?  The baseball hall of fame has pitchers enshrined who not only admitted that they put whatever substance they could on the baseball to get it slip, slide, and dip, they are celebrated for it.  Every football play has at the very least holding that isn’t called.  The Bad Boy Pistons won two NBA championships by breaking whatever rules were necessary.  So, it can’t be cheating that raises the scolding class of sports writers’ ire.

Maybe it is the use of drugs and the long term damaging effects those may cause.  Oh wait, football players take cortisone shots and other pain killer that numb their whole body to play on Sunday.  Long term use of cortisone damages your kidneys and some of the other pain killers are highly addictive causing some football players to become addicts after their careers.  Not to mention the fact they are playing a game that literally takes years off their lives.

Maybe our indignation comes from this:  We know what they are doing is wrong and damaging to their health, but we don’t care as long as we are entertained.  As long as we don’t know that Brett Favre is a pain killer addict we will happily watch him do Brett Favre things on Sunday afternoon.  As long as we don’t know that Lance Armstrong was the head of one of the largest PED operations known to man, we will enjoy his almost super human feats.  It is the same with musicians and actors.  We only become outraged at their drug and alcohol abuse when it surfaces.  As long as it is hidden while they entertain us, we don’t care.

That is why when we find out these things we as a public must react with outrage.  “How dare Lance Armstrong betray us by using steroids?”  Really?  Anyone who followed cycling in the 1990s and 2000s knows how much PED use was going on in the whole sport.  Whole teams were suspended from the Tour de France and we are shocked that Lance was an active and willing participant?  No, we are angry that he got caught doing something we deep down knew he was doing but chose to willingly ignore.

Maybe in 1988 when Ben Johnson got caught our collective anger was born out of the naive notion that he was the only one using steroids.  However, the documentary makes clear almost everyone was doing something without getting caught.  Today, when we flash that anger and righteousness towards athletes who are caught cheating with PEDs that anger is actually our anger towards ourselves for not caring what they do as long as they show up and entertain us.

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