Going for the gold

The news of late has been full of stories about athletes, and particular-ly baseball players, who use per-formance-enhancing drugs. It 's even hit close to home with Mariner pitcher Ryan Franklin being suspended for failing the drug test.

But is anyone really surprised that in a culture where the average medicine cabinet looks like a mini-pharmacy, professional athletesw ith millions of dollars on the line might consider using something that promises to boost their performance?

In defense of Ryan Franklin and Rafael Palmeiro, - at least until we know all the details - I think it's possible that they might have innocently taken some over-the-counter concoction, or a supplement pushed on them by a trainer, that contained a substance banned by baseball. The pharmaceutical industry's record for honesty has a few blemishes, and folks who are drawing huge salaries to help these athletes reach the pinnacle of success are motivated to give their guy, or gal, what they need to reach the top step on the awards podium.

That's not excusing the players for being just a tad dumb. If you know that the league is coming down on the use of substances, you damn well better know what you're taking, even if you personally have to pay to have it analyzed. You can afford it, after all; you're probably making a million or more a year.

But back to my original point: Why all the surprise and shock? We take vitamins, we suck down various liquids charged with caffeine, and we take prescription drugs for everything from facial pimples to manic depression. We buy every edible plant known to man and ingest them, along with sharkfin, oyster shells, cartilage from everything that flies, walks, swims or crawls, along with various roots and berries, all in search of the Fountain of Youth.

Speaking of performance-enhancing drugs, let's not forget Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. We have every manner of natural product to supposedly help with "enhancing our performance." An example label of what we ingest in pursuit of youthful sex is: Arginine l-arginine hydrochloride, Maca Powder root, Ashwagandha Powder root, Horny Goat Weed Extract leaf, Tibulus Terreestris Extract aerial, Yohimbe Bark Powder 0.5% Yohimbine, CDP-choline, Dimethylglycine DMG, Tyrosine l-tyrosine, Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide NADH, Bioperine Complex (Ginger root extract, Piper longum extract, Bioperine, Black Pepper extract). I don't know about you, but the only ingredient on that list I recognize is black pepper. I also suspect this blend of "natural ingredients" might even fail baseball's test.

OK, before you start accusing me of making excuses for drug use in sports, let me say I'm not. On the other hand, we have created a multibillion-dollar business. We demand that our professional athletes perform at a level unprecedented in the history of sports. We pay exorbitant prices to go seem them play in stadiums that look and cost like a Taj Mahal, and the owners dangle performance bonuses in front of players that run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Excuse me; most of us probably risk a fine, if not a jail sentence by cheating on our taxes for a lot less money. Don't try to tell me money is not an inducement to deceive.

So where does this leave us? First, I don't happen to believe you can turn the clock back. No matter how unhappy we are with traffic congestion and high gas prices, you'll never convince people to go back to riding horses, and you won't convince young people to give up their music, their sense of style, or their unique social values, and to go back to the early 20th century when selective recall suggests the world was a much better place. I don't care how much the President and the religious leaders rail from the pulpit, we are living in the 21st century, and we need to reach for 21st-century solutions to the issues of our time.

We've used technology to improve golf clubs, baseball bats and the aerodynamics of a football, all in the pursuit of better performance, and more excitement for the fans. We are on the verge of using genetic engineering to improve our lives on this planet, and that will eventually extend to the world of athletics.

It may be time to acknowledge that we've set the bar so high that professional athletes need something more than mom's cooking to compete. Perhaps baseball needs to work with the medical profession and define which substances can be used without harming the body, approving certain supplements. Then, at least, it would be an even playing field where everyone can excel, not just the cheaters. Of course, the cheaters will always be there, and they'll find other ways to circumvent the system, but that's the way the world works. I have to go work on my taxes now.

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