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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Notes on Alex Rodriquez:

Rodriquez is the sole custodian of his talent, and he is being reviled for the choices he has made about how to use that talent. I don't imagine he could be held in lower regard, by just about anyone, but really what is he guilty of? It seems to me that he has been trying to take the maximum advantage of his already substantial abilities, and isn't that what we expect from athletes? Hell, isn't that what we expect from everyone? If Rodriquez had a burning interest in theoretical physics, wouldn't we want him to do everything and everything he possibly could to explore the dimensions of the universe? Would we criticize him for taking Adderal? If he were a gifted artist, wouldn't we expect him to be driven to create blazingly great works of sublime insight? Wouldn't we be more inclined to regard him harshly if he failed to take the full advantage of his gifts? It seems to me that the opprobrium presently being heaped on this guy, who, along with Barry Bonds, deserves to be numbered among the greatest baseball players in history, and who, along with Barry Bonds, is instead regarded as some sort of combination of Darth Vader, Josef Stalin and Lex Luthor, is largely a product of two things. The first is jealousy. We know that athletes are better at sport than we are, but we expect them to be modest about it, because we secretly believe that we are superior people than they are. There is, of course, very little evidence of this, but if you think about the best athlete you ever competed against (mine was a high school classmate who went on to modest collegiate success as a decathlete), the chances are that whoever that was had a sort of arrogant confidence in his or her
own ability that grated. For those of us who have not been brilliant athletes (which is, of course, by definition, 99% of us) the work and the insecurity that the truly great experience is something completely foreign. We know how hard we worked, only to fall short, and it chafes at us that others succeed where we have not. They are just gifted, we think, like the fox who couldn't reach the grapes. Well, maybe. But maybe what we aren't understanding is that the gift isn't merely preternatural skill. Maybe it is a capacity for hard work that we lack. Because that's the second part: for the most part people think that performance enhancing drugs work like a comic book super-serum. "Drink Me," the bottle says, and suddenly, instead of steel claws popping out of our knuckles we'd be able to dunk a basketball. Of course that's not how it works. PEDs make it possible for guys like Alex Rodriguez, who already worked harder than anybody else to become better than anybody else to work even harder than that. "You're already great," people say, but the capacity for hard work has always been the thing that relieves a great athlete's insecurities. Better than any of us, a great athlete knows that a day lost to an injury, or an ache, or "just not feeling it today, coach" is a day that is lost forever. It is not a day that is spent improving-- it is a day that is spent declining. And you don't get those days back.

See, also:
People who haven't been banned by baseball.
David Brooks is an idiot.


| Comments:
You say a lot that I agree with. I'm frankly starting to lean toward "Take whatever you want, as long as you disclose it" as my position on steroids. I'm certainly not wedded to any lofty ideals about the "purity of competition" or some such bullshit. The playing field is never level, so why pretend that it is?
 
Would we even be interested in PEDs if they weren't so demonized? We don't care about the weight room, or the skinless chicken breasts and broccoli. How are PEDs different from Laser eye surgery, or Tommy John surgery, or arthroscopy, or anything else that an athlete, or anyone else does to acquire a competitive edge? The distinctions are artificial-- and unlike, say, gambling, all that PEDs tell us about an athlete is that he is working to improve. Gambling is the opposite: it tells us that we can't be sure of the effort being put out, and that transforms sport into something else. We know and accept that professional wrestling is a sham. It still entertains people, and its participants are athletic individuals who obviously worked hard to acquire their athleticism, but we place a different value on the exhibition because we know that the story arc has been determined before the completion takes place.
 

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