“He’s up guys! Come on!!”
It was September 8, 1998. Steve Trachsel was pitching for the Cubs as they visited the St. Louis Cardinals late in the season. Mark McGwire was walking up to the plate and my dad wanted to make sure my brothers, my friends who were hanging out in my room, and anyone else in the house got a chance to witness history. I had informed him that any time McGwire came to bat, holler so we could watch.
The first time up, we had all gathered and watched Big Mac work the count to 3-0 before grounding out. This time up, there would be no such failure.
Joe Buck was announcing… “down the left field line, is it enough? GOOOOONNNEE!
We all cheered as we watched Mac, all 6’5” 250lbs of him trot around the bases and into history.
I get goosebumps just thinking about it. McGwire would go on to smash a record 70 home runs that season. I was lucky enough to be at Busch Stadium when he crushed a 462 foot mammoth for number 46.
Fast forward to October 6, 2001. I was living across the Bay in Oakland – and you could almost feel the crowd cheering as Barry Bonds walloped number 71 on his way to 73 and a new record in the wake of the attacks of 9/11.
2005, Lance Armstrong beats cancer to claim his record 7th Tour De France victory.
Three of my favorite athletes of all-time. Also on that list? Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco – you get it.
All of them used performance enhancing drugs. They are some of if not THE greatest players to ever compete in their respective sports. Watching them was inspiring. Their records are gaudy. They embodied everything I wanted to be as a kid - they were gods.
The first time I ever heard the word “steroids”, I was 7 years old. Sprinter Ben Johnson had just smashed his own world-record time in the 100 meter dash, winning gold in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and defeating America’s hero and race favorite Carl Lewis. I was in a grocery store with my mom and was reading the cover of the Sports Illustrated at the checkout aisle. “Scandal in Seoul” the top of the cover read. The word “BUSTED” in all caps ran across the bottom of a photo of Johnson cruising to the record.
“When and where Ben Johnson of Canada took steroids…and how drugs cost him his gold medal in the 100”. It was a “Special Report” by Sports Illustrated.
Johnson was the prototype of what a sprinter should look like. Muscles bulging out of his race suit, he looked like every guy in the gym wants to look.
But steroids were “cheating”, they were “bad”, they were “drugs”…right?
So why would all my dads friends joke around about how pitchers like Phil Niekro or Gaylord Perry used to scuff the ball or spit on it or use Vaseline to get an edge over hitters? Players like George Brett used pine-tar all the up the bat to help grip it better – all against the rules, but all accepted as part of the “if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin” part of sports. It’s a competition and competitors look for any edge right?
Every week in NASCAR drivers get points taken away for a bumper that was too close to the ground or some other mechanical cheat the teams try to use to get an edge.
Hell, if a judge in a crossfit competition is only looking up at the target when I'm repping out wall-balls, I't not gonna go to full-depth in my squat. I look for an edge and exploit it. When I train, I don't, but in competition, you seek the edge and use what is available to win.
If I told you I had a pill you could take that would increase your salary to 4 times what it is right now – and your boss didn’t test for it, would you take it? If your salary would be $10 million instead of $1 million would you take it? A lot of people would and did.
As a sports fan, I want to see people do things I can’t do. I want to see the best athletes in the world compete at the highest level in any sport. When I watch Ilya Ilyin clean and jerk a world-record 542 lbs, I don’t give a shit that he is probably doping. I LOVE watching him because he is the best in a sport where all the best athletes are using PED’s. He will probably go down as the greatest weightlifter in history. Who cares if he uses PED’s? He is the best, period – and people love watching him shatter records.
I love seeing records get smashed every year at the Crossfit Games. I love watching athletes nail PR’s and lift big weight…but let’s face it people, if athletes in baseball are using PED’s for an edge, do you really think athletes in a sport entirely about fitness, strength and endurance –aren’t? If you think that, I have some amazing oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.
Baseball experienced a comeback after a player’s strike because people LOVED watching Big Mac and Sammy Sosa smash home runs every night and break records. We got to see the best players on the best drugs, doing things nobody thought was possible. That’s what sports should be about. Forget all this “they are role models” bullshit. If your kids are so malleable they look to professional athletes as their moral compass – you are a shitty parent. I loved watching Big Mac and Canseco when I was growing up, but I wasn't jabbing a vein in little league so I could blast homers. I pretended I was them when I hit homers - that was enough for me.
Barry Bonds is the greatest player to ever put on cleats and pick up a bat. Any argument to the contrary is invalid - You are wrong and above that, you are an idiot. Lance Armstrong is the greatest cyclist to ever live – your argument to the contrary, well you get it, read above. Why would you want to watch anything but the best, compete at the highest level humanly possible?
PED’s are good for sports and even better for fans. Don’t tell me you are a baseball fan and then tell me you didn’t get goosebumps watching Big Mac make history. Don’t tell me you are a weightlifter and your jaw didn’t drop the first time you saw Ilya C&J that 542. You want to see these performances – you love what PED’s do – so just admit it and enjoy it.
As athletes age, they look for an edge. When I'm in the gym watching 20 somethings who drink every weekend and eat like shit, crush my times and outlift me, it's frustrating. I rarely drink, I eat clean and train hard, but sometimes that is not enough to achieve the goals you have set for yourself. Have I ever used PED's? No - but I understand the mentality of those who do. I'm not going to Regionals or the Games, but I understand why someone who is close to that goal would use any tools necessary to make it a reality.
I am not advocating people run out and start jabbing themselves with a needle to improve their lifts or metcon times. I am saying that if you do, more power to you. I understand the desire to be great - to be like Big Mac or Lance - to be viewed as a god - even if that hero worship is followed by the predictable disdain from those who don't understand the lifestyle.