Cheaters Never Prosper (except when they do)

Et tú, Melky?

In 2005, I fell out of love with baseball.  That was the year that Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for anabolic steroids after swearing – under oath – that he never used them.

I was probably more betrayed by the lying, than by whatever it is he actually did or took.   And, so I began a complete baseball boycott that lasted five seasons.

Here’s what Palmeiro said to Congress – under oath — in March 2005:

“Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.”

Five months later, Palmeiro was suspended for failing a drug test.

ESPN: Palmeiro Docked 10 Days For Steroids

And, so I fell out of love with baseball.  Not because Rafael Palmeiro was my favorite player.  He wasn’t, although I loved him as an Oriole.  Still, I was angry enough to quit baseball.

I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than this … I’m quite conflicted over performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Here’s the Yogic view.  Yoga includes the Yamas and Niyamas, limbs governing personal behavior and lifestyle.   One of the rules is Purity – often defined as not abusing the body with unhealthy food, drugs, or activities.  Clearly, Purity is at risk when you’re taking PEDs.  Another rule is Truthfulness.

From a Yogic perspective, PEDs destroy the body (and we already know that the body can be severely and permanently damaged by the use of many of these drugs).   Lying about it just compounds things.

Even Stevie, my cat, knows about my own Performance Enhancing Drug — my daily Diet Mountain Dew habit.

OK, full disclosure from me.  I use PEDs.   I’m using right now.  I have caffeine every day, even though I know it’s not good for my body.   Is it a PED?  You bet it is.  It makes me a better massage therapist and a better Yoga instructor.  It ensures that I can teach a Yoga class late in the evening and still be “on” and bright-eyed.

Maybe it’s just a mild stimulant.  But, it’s still a stimulant.  It’s a drug.  I use it.  And, I’m not the only one.  So, you see how quickly this issue can become complicated.

Many of us are guilty of using something that “enhances” our work or our play.  Maybe there are some in baseball who see their PEDs as simply their version of caffeine.

The difference is that in baseball – and other sports – the use of these drugs is forbidden.

And, some people get caught.

The more I read, the more people whisper, the more I hear that everyone in baseball is doing it; only the unlucky few get caught.

I guess I would argue that, if it is going to be banned, then Major League Baseball has a responsibility to work a little harder to find and punish as many “cheaters” as possible.

And, why are some of these drugs banned when others like cortisone – also a steroid – are not only approved, but, from my perspective, downright abused by pro sports?

My husband argues that PEDs skew baseball records – and part of what makes baseball so special is its love for tradition and statistics.  But, even before PEDs, there were amphetamines and who knows what kind of snake oil they were using before that. If Roger Maris deserved an asterisk on his homerun season (an asterisk that actually never existed), then shouldn’t those who broke records under the cloud of steroids?  (Although, to be fair, none of them actually tested positive for anything.  So, who’s to know?)

And, what about spitballs, pine tar, phantom tags, and myriad other forms of cheating?

(By the way, the Giants’ Melky Cabrera could even still win the NL batting title this year, despite his suspension this month.  I like the Giants and all, but still, that seems a bit unfair.)

I don’t like steroids.  I don’t like cheaters.  And, I don’t like liars.

I’m just trying to figure out why Melky Cabrera — or anyone — would risk it.  Maybe I need to look at it from another perspective.

When ballplayers hit .300 they’re considered superstars.  (My husband and I joke that the Orioles are unaware that batting averages are allowed to go that high.)

But, think about it, these guys who are batting .300 are “out” two out of three at bats.   And, they’re the BEST in the game.  In their world, taking a chance on a PED, knowing that you might — might — get caught, but probably won’t, is way better odds than their regular day at the plate.

The rewards far outweigh the risks.

Last night on ESPN, Orel Hershiser argued that until MLB takes the PED situation seriously – by making the penalty severe enough that a player would be foolish to risk it – then the problem will continue.

Major League Baseball will continue to nab the unfortunate few careless or unlucky enough to get caught and everyone else will breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them … and go back to what they were doing.

So, are we fans angry because they used drugs?   Or, because they got caught?

Are Giants’ and A’s fans angry because Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon used drugs or because they got caught leaving their pennant-chasing teams in the lurch?   (On the other hand, are Dodgers’ and Angels’ fans secretly gleeful?)

Are we sitting smug and self-righteous, secretly happy to see a rich superstar have a run of bad luck?  Or, are we hypocrites because we cut corners in our own lives, maybe even cheat from time to time, and take our own forms of performance enhancing drugs?

So, here I sit, my Diet Mountain Dew – my own PED — right next to me, trying to make sense of it all.  And, all I come back to is this.  I don’t know how to feel.  Betrayed?  Angry?  Or, just resigned to the fact that as long as a game offers such enormous rewards, it will be worth the risk for a player to be all he, or she, can be.

I just don’t know.

76 thoughts on “Cheaters Never Prosper (except when they do)

  1. I would fall into the category of people secretly gleeful that Melky got caught (I am a lifelong Dodgers fan haha) but you and your husband bring up some great thoughts. I think deep down every fan wants their team to win in the most exciting, ethical way possible, and many times we forget that these athletes are just people. They lie cheat and steal, just like regular people do. Sometimes they are honest wonderful and charitable like other regular people. And sometimes they are both (see lance armstrong) … I think most fans know a bunch of the players are using, so you hope it’s not your players and when your superstars get caught, its upsetting because it ruins your team’s chances.

    Specifically in Melky’s case, I think he did it for the money. One great season in baseball now will get you a huge guaranteed contract, setting his family up for life. He must have felt it was worth the risk.

    • I do give a wee bit of credit to Melky … and to Bartolo Colon of the A’s. At least once they got caught they admitted it and apologized. (Well, more or less, in Melky’s strange case.) Part of why I love baseball is because you can cocoon yourself away from the hard realities of the real world, if only for a few hours. It’s so hard when the ugliness of reality bursts our little bubble. Thank you for reading and commenting. Up until today, I think my husband was my only reader! ~ Jackie

      • you’re right, at least they ‘fessed up! and blogging is actually really hard when you are trying to think of interesting things to say and sometimes no one is reading! You got a ton of views I bet though now…nice job, baseball is really such a great sport!

  2. Very well-written post. Congrats on being FP! It is human nature that we will always look for an easier way to meet our goals. And our society picks and chooses the particular ways we will allow/condone, versus the ones we’ll demonize. Some countries we see as too liberal accept as legal behavior we criminalize (i.e., drug use, prostitution). Who knows in any absolute sense what’s right or wrong as there are always shades of gray. Thanks for an interesting read.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and respond! Like you, I just couldn’t see it as a clear-cut issue of what’s right, what’s wrong. Then I realized I had my own PED sitting right next to me — my trusty Diet Mtn Dew, which I felt quite guilty about. Yes, I do write about Yoga specifically … I have another blog for that: Yoga is a wonderful and transformational practice. I definitely encourage you to give it a try!

  3. I am a Braves fan. Constantly I hear other fans making statements about how player X is “a really good guy” based on nothing other than his ball playing. I was one of those people until one day when I was reminiscing on a high school memory.

    As a freshman my friend and I were picked on regularly by a senior. He would constantly make homophobic comments at us, throw our stuff around the locker room, etc. It was very frustrating, ultimately culminating in my friend lashing out and PEEING INTO HIS LOCKER when he left the locker room. That guy is now an MLB player.

    When I recognized him on TV, I looked up his profile. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe a line that said “was homophobic and a real ass in high school”. But it didn’t, there were only statements about how he was a dedicated family man, etc. It was then that I realized all those guys who acted like asses were the same guys I was watching and semi-idolizing on TV. Sports has never been as fun for me since then, and I privately wince when I hear “He’s such a good guy” statements. I guess nobody’s perfect, athletes included.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. Your experience in high school is the very thing that bothers me so about these kinds of issues. I feel that we (myself included) decide what athletes (and celebrities) we’re going to “like” based on very little information. We assume that athletes are “good guys” (or “good gals”) because we want them to be. When, in fact, they may be nothing more than just good athletes (and sometimes they’re not even that, because they’re cheating). We want them to fit into the perfect box of our own expectations. Then we’re disappointed when they don’t. I love baseball because it allows me to turn off the hard realities of the “real world”. But, as you know first-hand, it’s still the real world inside the game.

      I appreciate your thoughts. Up until today my husband was really the only person who read this blog. It’s nice to have your comments to think about. It’s not easy being a fan.

    • Thank you … that’s a very good point. And, of course, we all have different standards of what a “PED” is. And, clearly, a lot of athletes have their own standards about what is, or isn’t, ok. As for me, I cut back on caffeine dramatically in the past few years … not quite PED free, but I did make an effort!

  4. Perhaps, we are just plain frustrated because we don’t get the answers…and more notably, we don’t get the answers that we want. Just the painful truth of reality. I guess it’s okay to feel these things…anger, frustration, pain…the worst is when we stop asking the questions and stop feeling.

    • Thank you for your response. You are absolutely right. I look at baseball as an opportunity to turn off reality for awhile — a haven where the grass is always green, and the game plays on. Baseball games are simple and beautiful in their way. And, it’s always disappointing to find out that one’s haven is just as much part of the real world as anywhere else.

  5. I have mixed feelings about PEDs. Part of me says, if someone is willing to damage his body badly enough to use the drugs let him. After all, a player finishing a game with a broken ankle would probably be considered a hero at the end of the game, while screwing up his ankle for life. So it’s not really the danger, it’s the unfair edge. But then is a supermodel who removes two of her ribs to look thinner “cheating” to get an unfair edge? I’m conflicted on this. Great thoughtful post.

    • Thank you for your response. Conflicted is exactly the right word. I used to watch football but have boycotted it for these past few years because of how much permanent damage the sport can do via concussions, etc. And, I’m torn — as you say, shouldn’t an athlete have the right to destroy his/her body for his sport? I guess I think that the sport itself does have a responsibility to try to make the game safer (or more drug-free). But, I can’t tell someone not to play. So, I guess I’ll stick with my little football “boycott of 1”. And, I’ll hope that baseball just decides what it’s going to do — either punish ’em all, or just ignore it all. They need to decide.

  6. I just have a hard time caring about sports when this happens. It’s like watching animals in an aquarium at that point — aliens beyond humans moving in an environment where we can’t go and that have nothing to do with me. I kid myself by not thinking about it regarding my own favorite sport — hockey — but player salaries have skyrocketed enough there that there’s no WAY they aren’t taking the things.

    So it’s like, why should normal unenhanced little me give a damn about these creatures for? What possible connection do I have to their achievements? What lessons do they have for any of us? I already feel ambivalent about what’s nothing more than ritualized warfare — why not just build robots and let them play the damn sports at this point? Or instead of calling them the CityName Whatevers, just call them the PharmaCompany Whatevers instead. The GlaxoSmithKline Chargers versus the Eli Lilly Bears.

    • Thank you for your comments. It can be so discouraging. I gave up baseball for 5 seasons because Rafael Palmeiro lied about steroids. And, I came back last season because I missed it. I missed something about the game. But, I came back, I think, with a harder shell. And, a realization that, for me, anyway, it’s about the beauty of the game and not the individual athlete. I know that some athletes are honorable and honest and probably really good guys. And, far more probably are not. I try to just enjoy the innings. It’s hard to be a fan without being disappointed and betrayed by someone these days. I appreciate you taking the time to read … and share your thoughts.

  7. This post really made me think about my view on things. Also- I love that you including more than one point of view not the subject!! I first found myself judging the player- “Why would he do that” But when you brought up the risk-rewards thing I found myself understanding. Thanks for the point of view, and great post (:

    • Thank you so much for reading and for your comments. I am so conflicted over this issue as well. But, if it’s true that nearly everyone in baseball (and in other sports) use some form of PED, and nearly no one gets caught, I can certainly appreciate why so many of them take the risk. The unfortunate thing, of course, is that while the risk of getting caught might be small, the risk of long-term health damage is much greater. But, I think that’s a difficult reality to sell to a young, invincible athlete! Thank you again for your thoughts.

    • I can’t go so far as to say all PEDs are bad for you. I have a massage client who has struggled for many years with post-polio syndrome. PEDs — many of the same ones the ballplayers use — has vastly improved her quality of life. I don’t begrudge her a more comfortable, normal life. Many of these drugs do have real medicinal benefits — including caffeine. It’s simply being mindful of not abusing any drug — legal, illegal, even food! Thank you for your thoughts, I appreciate them!

  8. Oh the guilt associated with something we think might help us. I don’t judge. In fact, I sit here with my own cup of guilt (Starbucks coffee) while I write this. Thanks for the great post.

  9. I guess me having a coffee because I love it or it wakes me up, does not quite compare to a sportsman cheating using drugs. He is cheating because he wants to earn the big bucks…so it’s also like stealing. When I drink coffee I’m not promising anyone not to; there’s no rule against it for anything I do; and I don’t stand to earn bucks pretending I’m not drinking coffee. We have to have lines in the sand and if the rules are that drugs enhance and therefore it’s cheating then so be it. These drugs are dangerous and if we let our children feel it’s ok to harm yourself to win then what kind of a message are we sending…victory at all costs and never mind honesty, integrity and fair play. Thanks and congrats on FP

    • The biggest issue in baseball — and in many other sports — is that it’s only “sort of” illegal. Major league baseball doesn’t take the issue seriously and doesn’t punish the cheaters seriously. As long as they take a “ho-hum” view toward enforcement, I don’t think it’s really the players stealing. They know they’ll get away with it 99% of the time. You are correct — these drugs are dangerous, and they endanger the players’ future as well. I think the sports industry has a responsibility to enforce their PED rules, in order to protect the integrity of the game and the health of the players. Thank you for so much — you offered a good thought that is helping give me additional food for thought!

    • You are so right! That’s why I wish that major league baseball, and other sports, would be much tougher with enforcement. As long as they take a “ho-hum” view toward catching the cheaters, then the players will continue to take advantage. I think that MLB has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the game and the health of the players. I’m always discouraged when I hear of another “cheater” … and then what often comes next, “Well, they ALL do it, only he got caught.” Sigh.

  10. I love the coffee/steroid analogy BUT the difference is that the stimulant used by athletes is meant to enhance physical performance in a field that is essentially a contest of physical performance. That is a very direct form of cheating. Unless you are engaged in a contest of “who can stay awake the longest,” drinking coffee, Monster or popping No-Doz doesn’t violate any kind of ethical premise. I agree on the lying aspect, as well. When you hear somebody you admire so wholeheartedly protest accusation against him or her, you throw your support behind them because you believe in them. He didn’t just lie to Congress. He lied to YOU and all the fans that have supported him throughout his career.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. I know the caffeine analogy isn’t rock-solid. But, it does remind me to be a little more understanding of choices other people make.

      I’ve had Yoga students come up to me in the grocery store and look at the Diet Mtn Dew in my cart and say, “I never thought YOU would drink THAT.” I know that they viewed me as a role model of healthy living, and I disappointed them. (I have students who now give me Diet Mtn Dew as a gift they can tease me about.)

      Still, the reason I drink it is for the caffeine (and the delicious bubbles!) Yoga and massage require their own kind of physical energy and performance … and I admit it, the caffeine helps me do better.

      But, you are right … it’s not cheating in the same way that using a banned PED is cheating in sports. I just wish enforcement was stronger in the game.

  11. Very interesting point of view. I have never liked cheaters either, in sports or otherwise. It’s just do discouraging for those of us who work hard to get where we are, then someone gets the spotlight for either doing better than us (perhaps as the result of cheating) or simply because they cheated. It’s actually cheating US for the spotlight we work hard for.

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