In my first column in The Ithacan on Aug. 28, I called out Bill Ballou, a fellow columnist from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette near my hometown in Massachusetts, for saying summer college baseball is worthless.
It appears Ballou and I disagree again — this time on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
Ballou is not alone, as writers from Forbes, The Daily Beast and CBS Sports have argued that the game would be better with steroids, citing baseball’s popularity peak was during the “steroid era” during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
ESPN announcer Brent Musburger even told journalism students in 2010 at the University of Montana that negative press about steroids comes from “journalism youngsters out there covering sports [who] got too deeply involved in something they didn’t know too much about.”
I may be a young journalism student, but I know in order to have a serious discussion about steroids in baseball — and professional sports for that matter — we must realize professional athletes, contrary to popular belief, are human beings. And that’s something people like Musburger and Ballou don’t seem to understand.
In his column from Sept. 6, Ballou writes that requiring baseball players to play almost every day from March 1 to Oct. 1 or later is unsustainable for the human body.
“That’s inhuman,” Ballou said. “Nobody can take that kind of punishment without the aid of some supplement.”
Ballou is right that it’s physically unsustainable to play for that long year after year, but that doesn’t justify the right for players to inject testosterone-enhancing supplements at will. Sure, these athletes are adults and can make their own decisions, but taking steroids for the sake of sports doesn’t justify breaking the law.
Even if baseball’s popularity hit its peak in the 2000s, there was little to no integrity from Major League Baseball’s biggest stars, or its commissioner Bud Selig, who was turning a blind eye simply because of the record profits and sold out stadiums.
Now, fans and the aforementioned writers are claiming that baseball players need to take steroids like their predecessors to be as talented and entertaining. But that’s completely ignoring the real problems with baseball.
As I wrote last week, many people don’t have the time to play a full 18 holes of golf, and today, people don’t have the patience to watch a 3-plus hour baseball game where the players are wasting time. Like golf, there are plenty of changes the league can make to restore interest in the game.
MLB needs to speed up the game first if it wants to draw more interest. Implement a pitch clock of 15–20 seconds, limit catcher visits to the pitcher, open up the strike zone, tell batters they can step out once during an at bat — barring an injury or broken bat.
These are practical solutions for the game that don’t involve taking PEDs that completely expose players to decreased sperm count, organ failure and severe mood swings after their playing days.
It’s also an undeniable fact that professional athletes are role models and have an impact on young kids who want to play the game. Telling young kids it’s OK to take steroids as long as you’re a professional is simply the wrong message.
If we continue to tolerate and accept that entertainment is far more important than the well-being of the players and people around them, we are just as responsible for continuing to perpetuate that myth.