As sports fans we tend to have two forms of allegiances. We either root for our favorite teams or we root for our favorite players. We cheer either for the group or the individual. Often this is one in the same, as favorite players frequently play for favorite teams. Sometimes, of course, it is not that way.
Although we may be drawn to a player for a myriad of reasons (alma mater, intangibles, performance, potential, appearance, etc.), the player-fan relationship is far more fickle than the fan-team relationship. How often do we find ourselves admiring a player less because of a lack of on the field performance or, worse yet, an off-field incident?
Despite fan waffling based on in-game performances, one of the most serious offenses an athlete can be guilty of in the eyes of fans is to willingly cost his team his ability to contribute. Of course, injuries inhibit players from contributing, but these incidents are accidental. The most frequent way players reduce their ability to play outside of injuries is through misconduct and suspension, the lengthiest of which are often due to the use of illegal substances. In baseball, for example, the plight of steroids has forced teams to adapt without key personnel. Currently, the New York Mets are facing this predicament as they wait for the return of relief pitcher Guillermo Mota, suspended until mid-June for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs in November 2006.
Twenty years ago, the Mets faced a similar situation, forced to play without ace starting pitcher Dwight Gooden for the first quarter of the 1987 season. Gooden, found guilty of cocaine possession, was forced to attend drug rehabilitation until June 1987. The incident would be the first of many for Gooden, who would battle drug addiction for most of his career.
So which offense is worse: a suspension for growth hormone use or suspension due to cocaine or an other illegal narcotic use? As seen with the Mets, both similarly limit a player’s ability to contribute. Understandably, I am only comparing the first penalty for a steroid use – a second offense carries a 100 game suspension and a third offense receives a lifetime ban.
For a purist, a cocaine suspension may be the lesser of two evils. To my knowledge, cocaine does little if anything to enhance a player’s performance. Unlike steroids, cocaine is a recreational drug. The danger with cocaine, of course, is its addictive qualities. An addiction to cocaine increases a player’s ability only if the effects are felt during the course of the game. Otherwise, a player addicted to coke is a blemish on the league and the organization in so far as his recreational drug use is detrimental to the player’s health and a violation of the laws of society.
Steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), unlike steroids, have a definite impact on the user, especially in regards to their athletic performance. Players “under the influence” of steroids and other PEDs are stronger and recover quicker from physical activity. This means a steroid user is not only a threat to his own health, but also to the sanctity of the sport. Steroids give users an unfair advantage – perhaps not in basic skills, but in the physical conditioning intangibles that allow for the continuance of achievement.
So which is the greater offense? Personally, I believe steroids to be worse due to its effect on the greater game and not just the perpetrator. Whereas cocaine may rob fans of the ability to see the full ability and potential of a player, steroids, although we may never know to what extent, skewers the tradition of honesty of competition (corked bats and Vaseline balls aside).