Drugs in Sports

5 Jun

Today, our SF Giants take on the Toronto Blue Jays.  One player on those Jays was a Giant last season.  Well, most of the season.  Until he tested positive for extra testosterone in his blood and received a 50 game suspension, effectively ending his season and career with the Giants.

For you stat heads, through June 1 of this season, Melky Cabrera was hitting .62 (.346 vs. .284)  lower than his batting average last year.  His home runs, hits and on-base percentage were all way off last year’s phenomenal pace.

While his 2013 numbers don’t make him a horrible player, he is certainly not the same player who won last year’s All Star game MVP and was on pace to lead the league in hitting before his suspension.  Cabrera’s numbers in 2011 were also much higher than his middling career averages.

In the winter of 2012, the Giants took a shot that Cabrera had what scouts call a ‘break out season’ and signed him for just one year. Maybe they had suspicions?  Because in baseball, your numbers don’t typically jump like they had done for Melky.


What? Me? Cheat?

As we know now, it wasn’t that Melky was finally getting a better idea of how to hit major league pitching. He had help from chemicals.  And, as we see his numbers this year come back to his career averages, it seems clear that those chemicals truly do enhance performance.

Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are everywhere in modern sport.  For strength, recovery, faster healing, better eyesight, quickness, there is a drug to enhance what a body is able to achieve athletically. Generally speaking, society looks upon PEDs negatively.

So, what about things like Lasik vision enhancement? Knee reconstruction? Tommy John surgery? Taking pain killers? Don’t these things, by their very nature, enhance performance? But nobody has an issue with these scientific medical advancements to help athletes perform.

Isn’t it true that if you tear your ACL, you can no longer compete as a pro soccer player?  So isn’t surgery to repair a torn ACL performance enhancing?  If a ballplayer  were to have Lasik, and his vision improved, wouldn’t that enhance his ability to hit a 99mph fastball? When Stephan Curry received pain killing injections in his ankle so he could participate in the NBA playoffs, didn’t those shots help him sink his 3-point shots?

So, I wonder why we act so angry and offended when a guy like Melky Cabrera takes some testosterone.  Clearly, it helped him perform better.  Does Barry Bonds hit all those home runs in his late 30’s and early 40’s without some help?  No chance. But why does society frown on these PEDs but accept the other types of PEDs I mention above?

Is it because we think steroids are risky to health? Is it ‘cheating’ to take these drugs? If so, why isn’t it cheating to repair your ACL? Or is it simply that we have no scientific knowledge about many PEDs, how they may or may not harm someone and because of that, this is all guess work? Leaving us to knee-jerk reactions from ignorance?

With sports from baseball to cycling and every major sport in between grappling with this issue, isn’t it time to take amore scientific approach to PEDs? To study what is safe, what isn’t? To set clear rules on what an athlete can use and what he or she cannot? To allow science to better our sports the way modern surgical procedures have allowed our stars to regain careers that would have ended in yesteryear? I think so.


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