Our 'Performance-Enhancing' Culture

"The steroid culture...biceps bulging, chests shaven and buttocks tender." -- Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated.

Like Michael Vick, Barry Bonds may soon be trading in his uniform to suit up in a Yankee-esque prison pinstripe -- though, perhaps not without a small measure of vindication.

But I won't lie. As a former baller and faithful follower of the great American past time, it's sad to see players (workers) get Mitch-slapped by MLB's official report on The Steroid Era, while baseball execs get T-ball kid-glove treatment for their culpability in fostering a drug-friendly environment, kinda like the official Abu Ghraib investigation.

In fact, the Mitchell Report is reminiscent of another recent official disclosure -- the CIA's public unveiling of the "family jewels." At that time, I wrote about being left with the same dejected feeling I had when Geraldo cracked Al Capone's vault on live TV: That's it?! Like Yogi said: it's dAf(c)jAfA vu, all over again.

Of course, having been accused by some readers of playing the "race card" (whatever that means) for questioning the selective moral outrage being heaped on Barry Bonds enlarged head over the years, it'll be interesting to see the response of the millions of Bond-haters to the asterick-sizing of Roger Clemens.

As uncomfortable as it may for the "colorblind," sports analyst David Zirin hit a home run with his take on "The Rocket" science contained in the 409-page report.

"The Mitchell Report confirms not only suspicions about Clemens, but also the existence of an outrageous media bias and double standard. While seven time MVP Barry Bonds was raked over the conjecture coals for years, Clemens got a pass. Two players, both dominant into their 40s, one black and one white, with two entirely different ways of being treated. It doesn't take Al Sharpton to do the cultural calculus."

Phil Taylor of SI.com concedes the point: "The names in the Mitchell report confirm what Bonds' defenders have been saying all along, that if he did use performance-enhancing drugs, he had plenty of company, and that it's unfair to single out his accomplishments as tainted when so many of his fellow ballplayers also were users. Today, feeling the weight of those 80-plus names, it's hard to argue that point."

But I will say this for baseball puritans -- I mean, purists: their passion is admirable. In a Yeatsian world where "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity," it's nice to see that kind of passion for the integrity of a tradition.

Now, if only we can somehow inject that pathos into the body politic, we'd be getting somewhere. There's two other steroid scandals brewing and both of them are far more vital to the health of the nation.

Where's the no-cheating moral tsunami in the wake of the suit recently filed by the estates of Iraqis killed when Blackwater USA personnel opened fire on civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square on Sept. 16?

The First Amended Complaint filed two weeks ago alleges: "Blackwater routinely deploys heavily-armed 'shooters' in the streets of Baghdad with the knowledge that up to 25 percent of them are chemically influenced by steroids or other judgment-altering substances, and fails to take effective steps to stop and test for drug use."

Writing for Wired, Noah Shachtman brings the real 'roid picture into clear view, comparing MLB and the Pentagon's common problem: "Our military's use of the private military industry has become an addiction that parallels athletes' increasing turn to artificial substances to get ahead." Just as steroids give athletes the ability to hit the ball further, Shachtman contends, "so too has injecting more than 160,000 private military contractors into Iraq."

Shachtman also points out what should be obvious to even the casual observer: "short-term performance enhancement comes at a cost." The side-effects of outsourcing military operations "has led to such results as billions of dollars missing in taxpayer funds, soldiers poached away from a stretched thin military, and contractors 'Getting Away with Murder,' as one recent report on the industry was entitled."

"Do we just accept Bonds (Clemens) and Blackwater as the future? Or, are we going to put an 'asterisk' besides the recent era and reign back in our addictions?"

Then, on Pearl Harbor Day, the New York Daily News dropped this bombshell.

"NYPD brass is considering joining the ranks of pro sports and giving cops random tests for anabolic steroids...The proposal comes after 27 NYPD officers cropped up on the client lists of a Brooklyn pharmacy and three doctors linked to a pro sports steroid ring."

Similar reports are popping up across the country.

There may be "no crying in baseball," but when there's far more hue-and-cry about steroid-using sports stars on athletic fields then there is about juiced up cops and private mercenaries roaming real life battlefields in which the lives of spectators are more at risk than the participants, it's a sad day.

Sean Gonsalves is a syndicated columnist and assistant news editor with the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com

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