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Can We Have A Real Dialogue, Please?

I don't mean to be a lone voice crying foul on this issue, and I would most certainly refrain from bringing it up in this space if we weren't in the midst of a ridiculous witch hunt that's grossly skewed public perception of the issue at stake. Both on this blog, as well as many other college football blogs, authors and reader commenters alike have galloped about on high horses condemning the wretched state of the game of baseball, it's one-time glory a distant memory to them because of the rampant abuse of performance enhancing drugs.

As this is not a professional sports blog, I'll do my best to not go on at too great a length, but there are a few key points that need to be made.

First, for the football crazy out there, be careful where you throw those stones. The football house is almost certainly one made of glass.

As noted in the Pro Football Talk Rumor Mill:

In response to reports that the NFL Players Association is opposed to blood testing for Human Growth Hormone, which currently can't be detected via urinalysis, a league source tells us that many NFL players are currently using HGH, have been using HGH since the early 1990s, and will continue to use HGH until there's a system in place for catching them...

Sorry, folks, but at a time when baseball is finally facing its long overdue day of reckoning for years of rampant abuses regarding performance enhancing drugs, the NFL should be taking aggressive steps to prevent the eventual embarrassment that might arise once it's revealed that players have rampantly been using HGH.

Then again, it's not as if the NFL ever took much of a black eye for its own history with steroids, primarily since the individual effects of using steroids or HGH or other prohibited substances aren't as noticeable as in the inherently one-on-one setting of pitcher versus a batter.

More relevant to our collegiate universe, you can bet with near certainty that if it's rampant in the NFL, it's rampant in the collegiate ranks, as well. Where is the storm of outrage at football players gaining extra edge? Where is John McCain when you really need him?

This goes beyond mere hypocrisy, though. Far too often the cries of outrage are cloaked in moralistic nostalgia for by-gone eras of purity in competition. In this case, I hand the mic to Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus:

Related to the "sanctity of the record book" shlock is the idea that players today are bad people for doing things that their predecessors never would have done. This is an utterly ridiculous point, crafted from the same stuff that credits pre-1974 players with being loyal in an environment that gave them no opportunity to be otherwise. We have no idea if Tris Speaker or Joe Gordon or Yogi Berra would have used steroids had they been available, and we damn sure don't know if their less-famous colleagues would have done so.

What we do know is that baseball has a long and celebrated history of cheating, from John McGraw through Whitey Ford. What we do know is that for many years, players used amphetamines like I use the [Delete] key. What we do know is that some of the game's best players have been highly competitive to the point of pathological.

There's no doubt in my mind that some percentage of players would have used PEDs in the 1920s, 1940s or 1960s had they been available, just as some percentage of players would have voluntarily switched teams if the rules had permitted them to do so. Pretending they wouldn't have done so is silly, and garnering quotes from old men in support of the idea is worthless.

Doesn't it strike anyone else as odd that baseball, despite having the most stringent steroid policy in American professional sports, is the sport that's being constantly belittled as a vast wasteland of cheaters and the morally bankrupt? As if competitors in other sports, or in other eras, simply played by the rules in some glorious honor to the spirit of fair competition? Players, coaches, and owners in every sport, from every era, have done whatever they can to get ahead. Only in baseball, though, has the maelstrom reached a boiling frenzy of outrage.

What I think about PEDs in baseball is beside the point. What you think of it is beside the point. It's how we talk about it that's important, and I've seen far too many otherwise rational and reasonable people devolve in to pompous, hypocritical moralists about this particular issue.

Put it in check. Take a deep breath. Get the proper perspective here. You can't have a dialogue when the entire conversation is one-sided condemnation.

Back to Joe Sheehan to conclude:

On its face, the goal of making sure MLB players do not use performance-enhancing drugs is a good one. No one likes the idea that a willingness to violate federal drug laws and risk long-term health problems would be a competitive advantage in the race for jobs, success, fame and money. A fairly negotiated policy that balances privacy, education, deterrence and punishment could be a win for everyone involved.

That's not where we are right now, though. Where we are is in the middle of a maelstrom of accusations, mistrust, grandstanding and denial. Whatever actual problem exists has taken a backseat to the perception that a dozen years of baseball can be labeled "The Steroid Era," a neat phrase that ignores almost everything we know about how the game was played in those years. Issues that should be debated across hours and days, in hushed tones and with plenty of time for reflection are instead hammered out in seconds and minutes, with time taken only for station breaks and bottom-of-the-hour score updates.

But the evidence that we have--the positive test results over the past four years--indicate that the problem of PEDs in baseball has been blown well out of proportion. Moreover, the level of outrage in the media's coverage of the issue has been out of step with the trends in attendance, ratings and general interest in baseball. The game didn't suffer over the past dozen years; it grew by virtually every measure, and continues to grow today.