Is horse polenta different from deer antler spray?

Because Robin Van Persie openly admitted to trying it to heal his hamstring with it in 2009. Where do we draw the line between “innovative and bizarre remedies for injuries” and PEDs? Is there a difference between using PEDs for performance and using them for recovery?

When the venerable sports guy rants about PED use in the wake of Ray Lewis, I generally agree with him. But beyond using his personal hunch test to figure out who’s guilty and who’s not (he says Lewis is but Adrian Peterson isn’t despite his amazing recovery from ACL and MLS surgeries), he ought to be asking what constitutes the line between innocence and guilt. What counts as innovative, what counts as cheating? What is the line between 5 hour energy, horse polenta, deer antler spray, HGH, and Ray Allen sleeping in an air chamber?

It’s even harder to draw lines when we start comparing modern players to pre-modern players, as became the controversy over the Baseball hall of fame vote when no one was elected this year, despite arguably the best hitter and pitcher of a generation if not all time being on the ballot.  When Simmons complains that modern players using PEDS have “ruined one of (baseball’s) most sacred qualities: the wholly unique way that eight generations of players relate to one another through statistics and records,” does he want to suggest that if players weren’t using PEDS today, we could compare them with the old guys from the 1920s and 1930s? Is Babe Ruth really comparable in any form with Barry Bonds? Steroid use doesn’t prevent it, a zillion other things do. I don’t buy that the 1927 version of Babe Ruth (when at the age of 32 (which would equate him in the modern era as being 55), hit 60 home runs) is as good as the 2012 version of Miguel Cabrera. I don’t. Would a modern day Babe be in better shape and handle himself against the bigger and more racially and internationally diverse talent pool of today’s players? Maybe, but I don’t see why. I don’t see how you can compare him. Technology has changed, exercise has changed, the world has changed. All we can compare is how well Ruth did against his contemporaries versus how well Bonds did. And that isn’t fair either because Ruth didn’t have to compete against the 1930 version of Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, or Ichiro.

I don’t doubt Ray Lewis did something problematic–and if it’s listed as illegal, it does cross a line compared to something Robin Van Persie might have done in 2009.  I think.  Because, actually, wasn’t the stuff that Bonds was doing more in the gray area of legality when he did it? But it seems pretty obvious that all sorts of shit is going on in the NFL. Are all the head injuries really not related to the absurd strength of modern players? Brains are one of the few parts of the body that we can’t bulk up yet.

What I’ve learned from all of this is that cheating is rampant in sports, as it is in most other areas of society. Second, what counts as cheating is confusing to a lot of people, like the 50+ Harvard undergrads who were kicked out of school for cheating on an exam that they all claim was a result of studying together. In Babe Ruth’s time, did people study in groups and drink 5 hour energy and, at least at Harvard, grow up with constant tutoring and professional assistance? I bet not. But in fairness to the Harvard students, standards have changed.

Third, we don’t care about cheating when its embedded in economic inequality–no one gets upset that Alabama beats 95% of the NCAA football teams because of the sheer amount of money they have alone. No one gets upset that Harvard tends to get a lot more rich students than community colleges. No one says the Yankees cheated when they beat the Oakland A’s; or even that Man U. cheated when they beat QPR. No one says congressmembers cheat when they outspend their challengers by 10:1. And obviously, by avoiding the economic inequality, no one cares that a lot of the rules about what is legal and illegal are determined largely by rich people after all. Why can Harvard students get PEDS for the classroom prescribed to them by their doctor while poor people can get arrested for using the same stuff but with a different name? It’s for this reason that I love sports–I love the idea that it can be quasi-equal at least on the playing field. It’s why we all love seeing Alabama beat by Utah in a bowl game, or Bradford City beating Aston Villa, or even watching the A’s beat the Yankees. But it only goes so far, and my love for sports is like getting totally into a bad reality show–you have to leave your desire for ‘reality’ at the door and just go with it.

The fourth thing I’ve learned from all of this is that its better to be mediocre than be the greatest. Because if you are the greatest, you are scrutinized. And if you are mediocre, you can get away with all sorts of cheating because no one will even notice–you are doing what everyone else is doing, which is cheating in a mediocre way in order to remain mediocre.

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