Enhancing the Team, or Just the Individual?
The earliest news item I can find that includes the term "performance-enhancing drugs" is a New York Times article from Oct. 27, 1982, the headline of which poses an interesting question: "Is Sportsmanship on the Decline?"
Sportsmanship means fairness.
PEDs provide athletes with an unfair advantage over their competition -- and their teammates. Widespread use of PEDs with minimal repercussions encourages the abuse and tacitly pressures non-users to turn to steroids just to keep up. (Some have argued that's all the more reason to open sports up to steroid use. I'm not convinced.)
Sportsmanship means taking losses graciously.
By not playing fair, PED-using athletes prove that they aren't good losers. Otherwise, why take such a win-at-any-cost approach?
Sportsmanship means being a team player.
Unnaturally beefing up (allegedly, that is) might be helpful to the team as a whole, but Barry Bonds's and Mark McGwire's home run records and Rafael Palmiero's 3000 hits/500 homers achievement suggest the primary reason for PED use is individual glory. Of course, when an athlete is caught and suspended, that loss hurts the whole team. It's also worth considering that with aggression and irritability likely side effects of anabolic steroids, that anger could adversely affect the user's teammates -- a possibility blogger John J Perricone would say is doubtful.
By these measures -- and please feel free to add any other criteria in the comments -- PED use is by no means sportsmanlike. But has the situation worsened since 1982? Because testing wasn't very prevalent then -- and still isn't as frequent as perhaps it should be -- we can't say for certain, as Joe Morgan emphasizes over at ESPN.
It would be a fair call to say that fans are more skeptical these days, particularly of those suddenly-strapping ball players. We'll talk a bit more about the effects of PED abuse on fans this afternoon.
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