Monday, January 11, 2010

Color me not surprised

Woo-hoo, look at me, up on the breaking news that Mark McGwire has admitted to taking steroids. Shocker. Seriously.

But even in admitting his deep regret and wishing he had never ever taken steroids, the heartfeltness of it all remains suspect--to me, anyway.
First of all is the naivete or the feigned naivete or the deliberate denial of the role and intent of his steroid use. He was injured so he wanted to take something to get better--he wasn't after strength!! So, yeah, definitely a substance (or substances) so suspect that it's illegal--that's what I would turn to to fix my injuries. And of course strength alone does not make a good hitter, McGwire still contends--it's all about the hand-eye coordination. Well, sure. But my guess is that everyone hitting in the major leagues has above average hand-eye coordination. What set him apart was STRENGTH. If he really believed that strength was not a huge factor in his successful hitting career he wouldn't be so understanding about returning the home run record to Roger Maris. (Well there's still that whole Barry Bonds situation to contend with. What's happening with that anyway? And with the investigation of Roger Clemens? Why do all these players get called out in public, make vehement denials and/or shady defenses which make news for about a week and then disappear? Marion Jones probably wishes she had been part of that investigation instead!)
And then there is the "everyone was doing it" defense where he mentions all the gyms where steroids were ubiquitous and use of them not exactly on covert. What did your parents ask you (rhetorically) when you were younger? Something about jumping off the bridge if everyone else was doing it...Not that I have ever been a big fan of that particular sentiment but it seems fitting here when talking about sport, a notoriously neoliberal institution where individuality and work ethic is prized--even in team sports.
He says not that he wishes he had never taken steroids; had never been part of the steroid era. But, since I am all about the cliches and other hackneyed lines today, hindsight is 20/20. And when he was celebrating breaking that home run record, there was no regret. And what if there had never been a congressional investigation and general crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs? Would there still be regret?
I just read Chris Evert's editorial in the latest issue of Tennis about Andre Agassi's admission of drug use (not performance enhancers which has quelled some of the debate) and she makes a good point: athletes are not held to the same standards as others. They get away with more. And consequently, they mature at a different (slower rate) if at all and with a entirely different sense of privilege. And this sense of privilege has to be a factor in the decision to take performance enhancers in the first place. He can claim the desire to be healthy (by taking something unhealthy) all he wants, but Mark McGwire clearly believed he deserved this. And maybe--even if he had never been exposed--he would still be regretful. Maybe we should look at (well look at further anyway) what it is about professional (or even collegiate these days) sport that seems to stymy development.

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