FanDuel - WFBC

March 19, 2007

Why we look the other way.: An interesting essay by Chuck Klosterman on steroids and the NFL.

posted by smithers to football at 05:41 PM - 46 comments

I really, really liked this article, and pretty much agree with most of it. I've long railed that the stain of "performance enhancing drugs" is silly in a culture where, as he noted, people drink Starbucks before going to work, or have a few drinks before hitting on that cute waitress, or obviously things like the stockbroker on cocaine. Klosterman rightly notes that outside of being a 10-year-old- a standard we'd hold basically no other profession to- we expect that people use drugs of all kinds routinely, and that this is no big deal. So why do we care for sports?

There comes a point in every normal person's life when they stop looking at athletes as models for living. Any thinking adult who follows pro sports understands that some people are corrupt and the games are just games and money drives everything. It would be strange if they did not realize these things. But what's equally strange is the way so many fans (and sportswriters, myself included) revert back to their 10-year-old selves whenever an issue like steroids shatters the surface. Most of the time, we don't care what football players do when they're not playing football. On any given Wednesday, we have only a passing interest in who they are as people or how they choose to live. But Sunday is different. On Sunday, we have wanted them to be superfast, superstrong, superentertaining and, weirdly, superethical.
Exactly. These athletes are our entertaining gladiators, and we couldn't give a crap about them when the game's not being played. So why this expectation that the same person we holler "You fucking bum!" at when they strike out or throw an interception should not only be better at the game, but purer than an altarboy to boot- purer than we are ourselves, as anyone who's had that afternoon coffee run could claim to be. Imagine if our bosses told us at work to be more productive, shouted obscenities at us in the hallway when our work wasn't quite perfect, yet forbade us from having a morning latte or having a drink on Friday night to blow off some steam. And this, for example, is why I just don't get the Bonds hate. He's just doing what we all want, which is pushing himself to be the best, to thrill us with towering moonshots and gawdy numbers. And if you think all his accomplishments are just from some pill- or that Barry's the only one doing it and has an unfair advantage- then you're free to go get those same pills yourself and become the best hitter that ever walked the earth.

posted by hincandenza at 06:45 PM on March 19

What the hell is her point???

posted by squirrelone at 12:15 AM on March 20

Caffeine to steroids? Really?

posted by SummersEve at 05:06 AM on March 20

Klosterman may be the best sports writer working right now.

posted by tieguy at 06:40 AM on March 20

Good read. I have to agree with this article as well. Chuck Klosterman made some interesting points. We, as fans need to get over our 'pure sport' theory and understand that the only time a sport is 'pure' nowadays is when a kid is out there playing it. I don't want to say that ALL professional athletes are on something but the bottom line is, most athletes are. The regular wear and tear of a grueling schedule can make any person take something in order to go out and perform at a high level day in and day out, so what makes anyone think that athletes don't? After a long week of work, people like to go out and blow some steam. It may be going out to a club/bar and having a few drinks or for the most extreme, going out and getting shit faced while driving a Porshe with a syringe full of steriods sticking out of their groin area, next to their Glock and a waterbong on their passenger seat engrossed with what makes Rickey Williams live on a yoga farm. I'm not suggesting that athletes that are taking performance-enhancing drugs are in the wrong, I'm just saying I'm not surprised if they are.

posted by BornIcon at 07:40 AM on March 20

Good heavens, Bornicon, that is a perfectly stellar way to spend the summer. By Labor Day, we-all could be punching strangers in the shoulder and calling people "brah" and I'll have corleones the size of almonds! Right on, bro! I mean, brah! It's true that people (not even athletes; y'know, actual humans) have been finding whatever edge they need to get through their day and make sure they've done everything they can to succeed in this world. Caffeine is not a gateway drug to steroids (probably), but they both have an effect on body chemistry that is sometimes beneficial to achieving a little better. And we all do something, whether it's caffeine or aspartame or chocolate or Macallan's or yoga or tattoos or weed or meth or bleach or airplane glue. It gets us from A to B in our day the way we want to get there, a little better, however you define better. The NFL has a vested interest in not catching steroid users. Players on steroids are better players; faster, stronger, more entertaining. No one ever turned off a TV because a middle linebacker was too fast or jacked up a tailback too hard. And since the NFLPA has decided to completely ignore players after they retire, no one involved with the league, on any level, gives one shit about whether the stuff takes forty years off your life. The only way steroids are going to get back under control in the NFL is if the NFLPA decides that its long-term health effects on the players is an issue they wish to address. Until then, it's pump 'em full of horse juice, let 'em run wild for two-three years until they run down or break, and leave 'em by the side of the road. There's billions in that business model.

posted by chicobangs at 08:41 AM on March 20

Caffeine to steroids? Really? If you're comparing attending a meeting and writing a report to running full speed into a 400lb man. Then, yes. Really. The point was "performance enhancing" happens all over, and that argument is a bit of a strawman. Great article. I fail to see why one wouldn't find something that rings true there.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 08:53 AM on March 20

Just something that intrigued me: over the 4 days of March Madness so far (March 15-18) we had 5 SpoFi front page posts. In the days before and after (March 14, 19), we had 11. Either the world stops for the March tournament, or we do.

posted by PublicUrinal at 09:03 AM on March 20

I've always been confused about the real concern steroids present. The "role model" crap always comes up, and with it the concern with youngsters and how they perceive the use of such drugs. But the bigger concern seems to be from the on-field standpoint as it relates to competition and the record books. So which is it? Are we more worried because of the possibilty more people will be taking, and altering their lives by injecting drugs? Or, could we really care less what athletes do to their bodies, but we're pissed because it negatively impacts fair competition? In baseball, I feel there's no doubt the average fan could care less if a athlete risks their health in any way; just don't threaten any records we hold near and dear. I'm sure many will say it's a combination of the two, but I will honestly believe it's a game issue more than a health/wellness/legal issue.

posted by dyams at 10:16 AM on March 20

I could care less what an athlete does with their body, I mean, it is THEIR body, isn't it? The only thing that, I believe, upsets people about this is the 'official' stats that are recorded in the history books. I don't know whether it's more about baseball than any other sport but I can tell you that in America's past time, every single detail is recorded. A lot of stats in football, like the sack, weren't even compiled until 1982. I can understand how people are getting bent out of shape about the 'sacred records' in baseball but there have people in the past that have taken some kind of performance enhancing drug/stimulant, whether it was 'greenies' or the 'red juice' but no further info was ever materialized from that, that I can locate. All that I'm saying is that unless someone is found guilty of anything, I'll just sit back and enjoy the way the game is played in this era. Regardless if the whole team is on some type of cryrogenics and half their bodies is part cyborg, as long as my team comes out with the W, I really don't care. These are some grown ass men and the only body I care what goes into it is my own and if they want to harm themselves or shorten their life span, it's their lives to live, just keep us entertained.

posted by BornIcon at 11:30 AM on March 20

The only possible weakness i see (at this point) in the article's argument is that at some point we all grow out of idolizing professional athletes. While this is true for most of us, i sincerely wonder if the 17-19 year old, who is getting ready to enter into collegiate athletics, has "grown up" yet. The players aren't just influencing 10 year olds, but also 17-19 year old Division 1 athletes will will be juicing because the idolize the persona and athleticism of the people in what the teenager hopes is his future place of employment. The 18 year old college football freshamn may realize that he needs "an edge" to be like Merriman, so he makes a choice b/c he still does idolize him. The ensuing road he chooses is a poor one for him. I think that the role model argument is dismissed so easily today b/c we view it as applying to 6 year olds. However, i think that athletes are heroes to highschool and college players as well, and these people will have the knowledge, understanding, and (if their coach is shady) the means to get PEDs. I think that we need to view the PED controversy from a preventative standpoint instead of just getting rid of them in pro sports. Professional athletes doing steriods make it almost necessary for most college athletes to also do so in order to get to where they want to go. It's a trickle down effect. I don't know what the answer is, but i think we need to reframe our understanding of who exactly these athletes are idolizing and influencing, b/c it is more than just 6 year-olds. I think that is a caricature of reality to justify our need to be "entertained" to claim that only toddlers try to model their life after pro athletes.

posted by brainofdtrain at 12:03 PM on March 20

There are numerous weaknesses in this article, the most glaring is the heavy-handed assumption that every talented athlete is juiced. Klosterman should stick to music. Oh... That's right...

posted by SummersEve at 12:23 PM on March 20

There are numerous weaknesses in this article, the most glaring is the heavy-handed assumption that every talented athlete is juiced. I think this is buttressed somewhat by two things: The tendency for most (especially those in the League offices... Of every sport) to suggest that only a small percentage of pro athletes are juiced. The glaring oversimplification that Klosterman said this. He said the punter was juiced. Feel free to draw your own conclusions. Remember that the only athletes that have come clean about their own steriod use - Alzaedo, Caminetti, Canseco have all suggested that the number of athletes on steriods is much, much higher than one would think. These days, I'm not so keen to think that they were just saying that to be controversial (or deflecting the blame). Also - I don't know what the answer is, but i think we need to reframe our understanding of who exactly these athletes are idolizing and influencing, b/c it is more than just 6 year-olds. I think that is a caricature of reality to justify our need to be "entertained" to claim that only toddlers try to model their life after pro athletes. Couldn't agree more. There is more than just some high-falutin' moral issue about records here. There is a dangerous ethical standard that were chosing to either enforce or ignore. It permeates athletics and goes far beyond it.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 12:58 PM on March 20

I could care less what an athlete does with their body, I mean, it is THEIR body, isn't it? The only thing that, I believe, upsets people about this is the 'official' stats that are recorded in the history books. You and I are coming from two very different places, I guess. I follow sport because I want to see meritocracy. I want to see those that work the hardest and those that are simply the best compete. I want to see who can stand the pressure and who caves under my relentless, profane and unfair catcalls. What I do not want is for the seventh game of the most amazing World Series ever to end on a walk-off 16th inning grand slam and have everybody do a wink-wink-nudge because we know the ball only went out thanks to the wonders of hard work, saying one's prayers and as assload of equine steroids injected during that four-hour rain delay when Morganna kissed everyone in the stadium. This has nothing to do with idols. It has little to do with the actual actors in the daily drama. It has everything to do with imparting meaning in drab and dull everyday lives. If the Red Sox can win the World Series, well maybe you and I do amount to a hill of beans and maybe we'll make it out of this dead-end town and get somewhere where people will recognize our value. If the Red Sox won the World Series because they were full of HGH, then cheaters do prosper and everything does suck and give me a skinful of heroin and whatever is on the top of the pop charts.

posted by yerfatma at 01:33 PM on March 20

It has everything to do with imparting meaning in drab and dull everyday lives. If the Red Sox can win the World Series, well maybe you and I do amount to a hill of beans and maybe we'll make it out of this dead-end town and get somewhere where people will recognize our value. If the Red Sox won the World Series because they were full of HGH, then cheaters do prosper and everything does suck and give me a skinful of heroin and whatever is on the top of the pop charts. Hmmm. Your ideas intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 01:36 PM on March 20

If we become permissive of PED's, and in fact they become the standard and a requirement for competing in professional athletics (and by default, college and high school), then the issue transferes from that of "sports idol" to "sports competitor". As a father (not of a boy, but I can still sympathize), the fear of burying my child far excedes any puritan interest. So now I am left with an unnatural and unnecessary choice. Restrict competitive sports, or condone this life altering behaviour. I would like to think that we care enough about our children to see that this isn't about follow our idols as much as conforming to a norm that will (has?) quickly bleed from the upper echelon, where very, very few people reside, to the common school athlete, where dare I say most of us have been.

posted by kjparker at 02:32 PM on March 20

I'm not a fan of the "what about the children" crap... Except in this case. These guys don't just fall off the athlete tree. They come from high schools and colleges. So are we just supposed to let them dope when they get to the pro's? College? Or do we stat shooting them up in high school? The National High School Doping Program. No Child Left Behind. Point is, if doping's suddenly legal, well, you can't become a doped pro without being a doped amateur. Bad things happen when high school or middle school kids dope. So, yeah, in this case, it is for the kids. Also, what yerfatma said.

posted by SummersEve at 02:36 PM on March 20

I think this article is "okay". Personally though, I don't think he's saying anything new at all. But good on Klosterman for writing it. It does open us up to some serious lines of ethical questioning. I think it's high time we did more of this publicly.

posted by Spitztengle at 02:48 PM on March 20

But yerfatma, is it cheating if most people are doing it? I mean, if Barry Bonds were taking steroids, but so were most of the pitchers, and other hitters... then is it cheating to take them as well? Or are you just keeping up with the Joneses? That is the only even moderately compelling argument against steroid use I've ever heard: that if some take it, all will feel pressure to take it, so they can keep their jobs. But being a professional athlete is not a Constitutional right: if they don't want to do what it takes to be at the highest levels- whether that's simply working out religiously during the off-season, or doing whatever you can to make your body as strong as it can be- then too bad. I think you can be, at least outside the NFL, just as good without steroids as with them (or rather, you can be an everyday major leaguer and all-star without juicing up, as all juicing will do is help you recover faster and to build muscle quicker). As for highschool/college athletes: well, if they're adults, again, it's their bodies. If you're a top-ranked athlete in a division 1 school, you should know it, and know you have a very good chance of making the pros in your sport. At that point, if you choose to use performance-enhancing drugs, you do so at your possible risk, but with likely rewards (since you're enhancing your chances at winning the pro sports lottery and becoming a millionaire by 25). I don't think the Div-III field hockey players will be juicing up any more than they did already, since they're not pursuing megabucks signing bonuses and first-round draft picks. I still say that if you asked Joe Schmoe on the street "Hey, would you take modern performance enhancing drugs under a doctor's supervision for 6 months, if we then paid you $20 million?" What's the over/under on the % that say yes- 90? 95? 99? These aren't your 1970's horse-hormone steroids, these are modern, and likely safer, steroids. How safe we won't know until

posted by hincandenza at 02:50 PM on March 20

I liked that article too. Thanks for posting it, but I must say I disagree with... Why do we even momentarily question how much impact they must have on a game built entirely on explosion and power? I get the point, but entirely... The writer got carried away. Proofread the next day please... no skill? no decision making? no poise? no... umm... coaching? waaaay off. I mean... The author mentions (read: bases the entire article on comparisons to...) a smaller tackle, and a slower reciever... then says this.... selective evidence is awesome. Best writer going?

posted by 2 time mvp of the shittiest team ever at 02:58 PM on March 20

These guys don't just fall off the athlete tree. AWESOME.... i think I finally have a line to shut my Bonds lovin, steroid defending friend up for life. Mucho Gracias... merci beacoup... kam sa ham nee da.... THANKS.

posted by 2 time mvp of the shittiest team ever at 03:02 PM on March 20

is it cheating if most people are doing it? No one else can answer that question for you. Had I the ability to make it to the top levels of competitive sports I would derive no happiness from chemically-assisted achievements. I know that seems hopelessly Pollyana-ish, and I realize the immediate counter-argument is "But what if you gotta do it to keep making the big money," but those questions are based on poor assumptions from my perspective: 1. That I'm interested in winning instead of testing myself. 2. That money is the point. </pollyana>

posted by yerfatma at 04:22 PM on March 20

Pete Rose bet on baseball. Baseball players and football players use steroids to enhance their performance. Both are against the rules. Will BB be kept out of Cooperstown or some football player kept out of Akron because they used steroids??? I think not. If the rules on steroids were enforced like the gambling rule all convicted players would be banned for life and not allowed into their respective Halls. Don't hold your breath............

posted by Ironhead at 05:59 PM on March 20

Okay, Hal, now you have the D-I major sports athletes doing 'roids. But what about the high school kids that want to be those D-I guys next year? So high school seniors have to use them. But since colleges know the top freshmen and sophomores, now they have use. And you have to make the JV squad so now you have 7th graders using.

posted by SummersEve at 06:09 PM on March 20

Christ, SummersEve, you're right! Why, pretty soon overly-ambitious parents will be doping their fetuses in vitro, because if you don't excel in pre-school gym jamboree, you'll never make the pros!

posted by hincandenza at 06:26 PM on March 20

You laugh, Hal. And yet.

posted by chicobangs at 06:42 PM on March 20

Both are against the rules. Will BB be kept out of Cooperstown or some football player kept out of Akron because they used steroids??? You make the mistake thinking that the rule against betting on baseball and the rule against using performance enhancing drugs are equal. They aren't.

posted by grum@work at 06:54 PM on March 20

Fantastic article. The Bonds hate for me is because the revered record he might break (please God no) belongs to Hank Aaron. Aaron broke an old white man's record during a time when being a black man was not exactly easy. He did it through adversity that we can only ponder. And he did it all at about 165 pounds, using the best wrists the game has ever and will ever see. His numbers mean more. Bonds is an asshole, and he doesn't get a pass like football players do. He's not fit to sniff Hank Aaron's sweaty jock.

posted by vito90 at 12:56 AM on March 21

Actually, Hal, I'm way ahead of you. I'm juicing my boys in the sack. That way they'll swim so damn fast the pro's will have to notice. Super Sperm.

posted by SummersEve at 03:29 AM on March 21

By the way, am I the only one that finds the imagery of 'roided up pre-schoolers flat out hilarious?

posted by SummersEve at 05:12 AM on March 21

Pete Rose bet on baseball. Baseball players and football players use steroids to enhance their performance. Both are against the rules. True, they may be both against the rules but what Pete Rose did was something that is the #1 rule that you do not break. Many athletes have used something to get thru the day as far as drugs/prescribed medication goes (aches & pains, deep bruises, lacerations and/or headaches, ect...) but the rules for PED and betting on baseball are two very different things and shouldn't even be tried to be compared. Most athletes know that if they use a PED and get caught, they'll more than likely be fined or suspended, or maybe both, but for someone to bet on baseball while they're involved in the sport in some capacity, that's just something you know you just don't do and if caught, you will be banned for life. I would never say that an athlete using some sort of PED is the best 'role model' or even the best all-around player but if the league that they play under has no problem letting them continue playing their respective sport if they're not found guilty of any wrong doing, then why should I have a problem with it?

posted by BornIcon at 07:14 AM on March 21

drugs are illegal mmkay

posted by chmurray at 07:25 AM on March 21

"vito90" So glad you know more about Barry Bonds than what you get from sportswriters!As a Giants employee,i'm telling you Barry is a nice man!Also you're wrong about Aaron having the best wrists,that distinction goes to the great Ernie Banks of Cubs fame!!!

posted by squirrelone at 08:10 AM on March 21

I'm not so sure about that. Hank Aaron learned how to swing cross-handed - which undoubtedly strengthened his wrists (try swinging like that). When a scout finally noticed this and corrected it - it was homerun city. This according to legend, of course. If Barry learns you're talking about him on the internets I fear he'll arrange for you to meet Greg Anderson and spend some quality time with him.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 09:57 AM on March 21

Barry is a nice man! I'm going to use this every time questions of my infidelity, drug use, seal clubbing, and gross misogyny come. "Sure I might have nailed your fugly sister while smoking base and wacking those hideous little critters that make such cute coats, but I am a nice man. A very nice man indeed." See how that works. Worst. Argument. Evah.

posted by HATER 187 at 10:30 AM on March 21

squirrelone, I went to the homepage in your profile and now my router is messed up. I blame Barry Bonds.

posted by yerfatma at 11:17 AM on March 21

What's going to happen down the road to all the sports players and evrybody in sports high school college etc..... they are all going to regret doing them one day when they are on their deathbed

posted by luther70 at 01:02 PM on March 21

"yerfatma"LOL!I'll see Barry on the 29th when we play Seattle.I'll tell him he owes you a router!"HATER"Clubbing seals?SHAME on you!The other behavior you mentioned sounds the norm for ya!But the seals?Oh No!!!

posted by squirrelone at 01:40 PM on March 21

I follow sport because I want to see meritocracy. I want to see those that work the hardest and those that are simply the best compete. Same for me...that's why the NBA and MLB has lost much of its luster to me. The NFL is next for me. I say this: there's more to life than winning. I understand the competitive drive for excellence and, within proper balance, respect it immensely. But, whatever happened to guys like Lou Gehrig showing appreciation for the sport by obeying the rules and being a gentleman? By the way, my hat's off to Jason Taylor's rebuff of Merriman. Hopefully more guys will follow him and stand up as positive role models. For those on this thread who deny the role model argument, you've obviously never coached little leagues or reached out to teens. And, if you are a little league coach I hope you're not my kid's coach. I wanna guy leading my kid whose got the guts to call a spade "a spade" and steroid users "cheaters." I mean my kid will probably never make it to the Majors (one can wish though!) but he'll still have real life to live. And in the real world there are rules we all have to live by. If we don't, we'll have a price to pay.

posted by ChiefsSuperFan at 01:55 PM on March 21

And in the real world there are rules we all have to live by. If we don't, we'll have a price to pay. In the real world people cheat, too. Lots and lots. And, they get ahead by cheating, too. College, business, everywhere. I think a meritocracy is just like democracy in that it works much better in theory than in reality.

posted by bperk at 02:16 PM on March 21

I think a meritocracy is just like democracy in that it works much better in theory than in reality. Except a democracy, by its very root word, requires multiple people. I can compete all by myself, regardless of what the Pope thinks or the hair on my hands. I will celebrate those that achieve through hard work and good fortune and quietly ignore those that cheat (as best I can discern them). They're of no interest to me; anyone can do it.

posted by yerfatma at 03:19 PM on March 21

In the real world people cheat, too. Lots and lots. And, they get ahead by cheating, too. I think we disagree on what it means to "get ahead." For me it means being a better person, living my life from the perspective that there is something more than what I can feel and touch, and raising my kids to reflect a similar worldview. If by "getting ahead" you mean make more money, have more success, enjoy more prestige, and etc. then I concede that you're right. Cheating can give you all those things...for a time. But ill-gotten gains is transitory at best. What goes around still comes around.

posted by ChiefsSuperFan at 04:21 PM on March 21

I will celebrate those that achieve through hard work and good fortune and quietly ignore those that cheat (as best I can discern them). That's the beauty of cheating. People don't get caught all that much. It is impossible to know whose achievements are legitimate and whose aren't. Your absolute favorite athlete could cheat regularly and you wouldn't know. So, all you could be celebrating are the people who are clever enough not to get caught cheating. I know it sounds jaded, but there is no point in thinking that athletes are any different than the people around you, with a great many of them having shifting moralities to suit their ends. I don't buy that ill-gotten gains thing. It doesn't happen. It is a waste of energy to wait around for it. Life isn't fair and I have yet to see any evidence of some cosmic balance.

posted by bperk at 04:41 PM on March 21

That's the beauty of cheating. People don't get caught all that much. Again, you're looking at bigger picture than me. Like normal, my photo is an ECU of me smiling away. And I always catch myself when I cheat. I always know and I have to lay awake overnight years later castigating myself about it. So it's easier not to.

posted by yerfatma at 06:59 PM on March 21

I don't buy that ill-gotten gains thing. It doesn't happen. Cheaters pay for their deceit. They may not get caught by superiors, but they do get caught by their own conscience. And they pay by having their conscience seared so that it is easier to do again the next time. The end result is loss of character. Hence, I think there are many Pete Rose's who in the Golden years of their life are untrustworthy and viewed as circus freaks. All of that because early on they exchanged a life of character for ill-gotten gains. What have they given up? What payment have they made? In my mind it is the biggest payment of all--the respect of those they leave behind.

posted by ChiefsSuperFan at 08:18 AM on March 22

Cheaters pay for their deceit. They may not get caught by superiors, but they do get caught by their own conscience. No, they don't. I don't believe this anymore, if I ever did.

posted by chicobangs at 11:57 PM on March 26

You're not logged in. Please log in or register.