Step Up to the Plate

Once again it seems that Major League Baseball is facing a doping scandal, although hopefully this time it will be a minor one. I would say I’m surprised, but then even I wouldn’t believe me. Doping scandals in professional sports have become more common than paternity tests, and I for one don’t really understand why when there seems to be a simple solution. Let ‘em dope.

Here’s how I see it. The great myth of professional sports these days is that these players are at the height of physical perfection, having worked for years to hone their bodies, their skills, and their natural talent all for love of the game. Does anyone even begin to believe that line of bullshit anymore? Even a little? That was the same line they sued to feed us about the Olympics, and that was back when people barely even watched them (as opposed to now, when people… oh, wait.) Then the Olympic Committee finally admitted that the Olympic athletes really were basically professional athletes (and some of them were professionals in fact as well as in theory) and finally changed the rules of the game. Maybe it’s time professional sports had a similar moment of self-realization.

Most people don’t watch professional sports because they want to see a well-executed play handled with grace and skill. They watch because they want to see a 100-MPH fastball or an out of the park homerun. Passing is passé; they thrill to see the perfect three-point shot or awesome slam dunk. Even golf isn’t immune. Talk all day about a great short game if you want, it’s the guy with the 425 yard drive who gets people excited. So why not give the people what they want?

I’m not suggesting that dopers should be let off the hook. They knew the rules going in, and they decided not to abide by them. For every doper in professional sports (whether or not they’ve been caught), there’s somebody who played fair that never got to go to the Big Show. But does it really make that much of a difference to kick them out for a half a season, or even an entire season, if they just get to come back? Does that really send the message “don’t do it”, or does it send the message “don’t get caught, and if you do make sure you have a good lawyer”?

Instead, how about having two separate leagues? One league can be just like the leagues we have now, where any sort of doping is forbidden, only in my vision of things if you get caught you get bounced. No suspensions, no probation, just one and done, you’re out, no exceptions. In the other league you can do any sort of artificial enhancement you and your conscience can agree to, as long as it’s legal in the country you had it done, and you also have to register with the league all the enhancements you’ve had done (and no, I don’t care if you think it’s not relevant to your performance. We’ll decide that.)

In this vision of sports, we’ll be able to sort out what the people really want. Do they truly care about “the height of physical perfection” and players’ “love of the game”? Or is it all just about the biggest, wildest spectacle possible? We might learn as much about ourselves as we do about our athletes.