â‡¥Cuban was asked about [the NBA's steroid policy] Tuesday afternoon during a 52-minute question-and-answer session with Pitt students at the William Pitt Union in Oakland, and his response elicited a surprise reaction.â‡¥
â‡¥"I'm not so against steroids," Cuban said, pausing to a roomful of laughter, "if it's administered under the proper supervision."â‡¥â‡¥
â‡¥"We do performance-enhancing things all the time, just not steroids," Cuban said. "If you administer them properly and fairly and set the rules strictly, as long as in doing so we recognize there are no negative long-term health-impact issues. Sometimes, you just put blinders on because it came from underground. Rather than saying, 'what's the best way to do this and is there a positive out of it?' we just dismiss it."â‡¥
So, unpacking, it seems Cuban believes that 1) steroids aren't much different from other performance-enhancing practices and 2) there should not be any barriers to steroid use if there is a proven healthy way to use them. On this point, I think I actually agree, and I think it's partly because of perspective.
I'm so young that I do not remember pre-strike baseball. I don't know a world of sports without whispers about steroid use in baseball; though I fondly remember the Great Home Run Chase of 1998, I also recall reading about the Great Andro Use of Mark McGwire in the wake of that year. I'm not naive enough to think that there weren't (and aren't) players taking every measure, legal or illegal, permitted or prohibited by Major League Baseball, to raise the ceiling or postpone the expiration date on their careers. My problems, as a sports fan, have little to do with steroids cheapening the hallowed records of baseball and much to do with the cheaters' culture of cloak-and-dagger PED use trickling down. And that has to do with health.
When the issue of steroid use found its way to Capitol Hill, inevitably, the children were evoked, mostly because of some archaic notions about youngsters idolizing athletes that are easy to wrap in rhetoric. But I got the sense that people were concerned about teens copying Barry Bonds and slathering on the "cream" and "clear" not only because it was cheating but because it was dangerous, and especially so for the uninformed. Anabolic steroid use, we know now, has a slew of side effects. It's important to note, though, that many of those are dose-dependent, and that adolescence complicates steroid use in ways adulthood doesn't.
And it's always worth mentioning that there is no shortage of other legal non-steroid supplements that have been and will be used to augment the human body, and no lack of demand for them. (GNC revenue in 2003: $1.4 billion!) The tide of self-improvement through creatine-infused shakes cannot be stopped by Bud Selig or any other league.
So why not, as Cuban proposes, tackle the steroid problem instead of turning a blind eye to it? There's enough money and medical wherewithal combined in American pro sports to team up and investigate the possibility of monitored, low-risk steroid use, and the reasoning behind not doing such a thing has just produced a blind spot that gets paid lip service as a problem and ignored as a problem too large and complex to be solved easily. Perhaps, instead of the current tactic --essentially, wagging a finger and saying "Steroid use is bad! Do not do this!" -- MLB or NFL or NBA brass could coerce players and doctors to put together some sort of study of steroid use in high-level athletics.
It would be costly, and time-consuming, and difficult to coordinate, and would probably never happen for those reasons. But if a professional sports league were to accept that steroid and other PED use will exist for as long as million-dollar contracts do and try to understand and reasonably regulate it, that league would instantly become the most progressive, rational one in the world.
Sometimes, the people considered mavericks are just ahead of their time.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.