Thursday August 5th, 2010

Let them do what they want. If it's legal and approved by the FDA, let professional athletes pop, inject, rub or otherwise ingest whatever they damned well please. So the next time someone in the media asks Floyd Landis what he's doing in Girona, Spain, Landis can say, "I'm babysitting the blood that Lance Armstrong plans to transfuse himself with in the Tour de France, of course. Why do you ask?''

We would shrug and move on.

We do, anyway. Don't we?

Truth: How much do you really care about what pro jocks put into their bodies?

Alex Rodriguez just hit his 600th career home run on Wednesday and he was celebrated. He has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs but so have many others.

We want to be on the right side of the moral street. But it's not a big priority. It interferes with the entertainment of winning. We cluck our tongues when it happens to a player on somebody else's team. We want to believe our heroes are clean. At the end of the day, we don't really care. Here's your award, Brian Cushing. Congratulations.

Now coaching hitting for your St. Louis Cardinals: (Unnaturally) Big Mac!

What if every pro athlete used performance-enhancing drugs, or at least had legal access to them? What if the use of performance enhancers were as accepted as Gatorade? Would it still be wrong? When everybody is wrong, is anybody wrong?

How different would it be than what we have now? Other than the lying, of course.

OK, OK. I hear you.

What about the health issues?

What about 'em? The dangers of steroid abuse have been known for years. So has the risk of inhaling tobacco smoke. Nobody smokes a cigarette and gets a 50-game suspension.

What about the children? They look up to these athletes.

Oh, the horror! Little Billy sees Manny Ramirez lash line drives to everywhere, and before you know it, he's hanging down at the corner mini-mart, waiting for his supply of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).

Come on, parents. Do your jobs. Athletes aren't role models. Athletes need role models.

The level playing field. It's what sports are all about. What about that?

You mean the level playing field occupied by the New York Yankees and the Kansas City Royals? That level playing field?

What's worse: The abuse that's been going on for years? Or the hypocrisy that surrounds it?

When asked about my idea of letting athletes use some performance-enhancing drugs, Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Cincinnati Reds' director said: "I agree 100 percent.'' Dr. Kremchek is an orthopedic surgeon and has operated on a number of ballplayers, from Brian Giles to Ken Griffey Jr. to Scott Rolen to Milton Bradley. "If it's a legal drug, why can't you take it? As long as the ramifications of taking it are totally understood, it's their life.''

Yes, it is. Which prompts another question: If there were something you could take legally that would make you better at your job, might you consider it? If I could take a shot of John Updike or drown a couple hits of Hemingway in a long, tall glass of water, I'd give it serious thought.

Why is it any different for athletes, other than the fact we hold them to a higher standard?

We made some noise after Cushing won the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award, twice. Maybe we didn't make enough. Cushing broke the league's substance abuse policy when he tested positive for HCG, a female fertility drug that's commonly used to stimulate ovulation. It was the same stuff that got Manny Ramirez suspended for 50 games

Once you get past the undeniable Yuck Factor in a man ingesting something like that, you see that, according to the 50 NFL media types who vote on the award, it was OK. According to the voters, there was nothing wrong with what Cushing did. He won the award before his test results were released. He won the re-vote. One voter even changed his ballot the second time around. For Cushing.

Here's how one scribe explained his decision to vote for Cushing, before and after:

"In good conscience, I couldn't not vote for him after voting for Julius Peppers in 2002, knowing he'd tested positive (and won the same award), and for Kevin Williams on the All-Pro team knowing he'd tested positive'', the Houston Chronicle's John McClain told the AP.

In good conscience?

"I also believe taking the award from Cushing would have opened up a Pandora's box when it came to players and awards," McClain said. In other words, lots of players use PEDs and we really don't want to complicate the awards process with small details such as that.

I agree. And the only way to eliminate that minor glitch is to welcome every player into the legal world of performance-enhancing drugs.

We've lost the war. The irony is the more athletes who are caught, the more obvious that becomes. It's almost like the fight against legalizing marijuana. We've been at that one for so long -- and lost it so thoroughly -- I don't even remember what we were fighting about.

We're numb to it. If you are under, say, 35, you've lived your entire family life with steroid stories. It's no big deal. I'll see your Barry Bonds and raise you a Roger Clemens. Who's pitching for us tonight?

It's time to be grown-ups about this. Time to stop holding pro athletes to a higher standard. Time to admit we'd do the same things they're doing. Because we like winning, too.

Make it OK to juice, legally. Educate the juicers. Then let them decide. It is their lives.

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