On Steroids and Professional Sports

The recent confession from Lance Armstrong about his steroid use in win seven consecutive Tour de France victories is another blow to professional sports.  A few years ago, Doug DeCinces and I discussed this issue in Bouncing Back: How to Recover When Life Knocks You Down.  That discussion is very relevant now and my comments as well. Here is how is appears in Bouncing Back.  The book is available in all format at amazon.com

 

Doug DeCinces and Steroids

The following discussion about the impact of steroids on baseball is very interesting.  It relates to several areas of our discussion: belief in yourself, spiritual awareness, individuation, and emotional maturity. I include it now, because anyone who chooses to use steroids has some doubt about his or her ability to fully compete and be successful based solely upon his or her God-given talent. We pay a price when we try to cut corners and find an edge.  It can be through performance-enhancing drugs or shady business practices. The results can be the same. Eventually the truth comes out, and we lose something. All along the way we have lost our integrity, which creates a gap in the heart and a wound to the soul.  Here is what Doug had to say about steroid use and my comments.I asked, “What do you think about the steroid problem in baseball?”

“I think if you’re talking about the mental approach, obviously the mental approach is that somebody’s taking steroids because it makes them physically stronger and play better. And they’re not thinking about tomorrow; they’re thinking about today. I think until Major League Baseball and everybody stepped up and said, ‘Hey, this is illegal,’ I don’t think you can really condemn those guys beforehand.   But frankly, I don’t think Rafael Palmeiro should go to the Hall of Fame. He’s accomplished a lot, but he accomplished it on illegal drugs that he knew he shouldn’t have been taking. I may be a little outspoken about that, but guys who took steroids, I mean, guys are hitting … Barry Bonds hitting seventy-plus home runs a year.  I said, ‘You know, that’s physically impossible.’ And yet they’re just blowing through record books after record, and just making a mockery of all the guys that played before that didn’t do that.  I don’t know, I just feel like—okay, I hit 240 in my career. Well, if I would have taken steroids, I can tell you I hit 240 balls to the warning track that probably would go out if I were taking steroids.

“So, where does that put me in the—or all my other peers that went out and played without it? I played with some guys I knew that were taking it, and it totally changed their physical abilities, 100 percent. So is that the right thing to do? I know when my son was in the Minor Leagues; we had numerous conversations because he said, ‘Dad, how am I supposed to compete? If I don’t take it, how am I supposed to compete?’

“And I said, ‘You compete on what God gave you. And if you can’t do it on that, then you need to do something else!’

“Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I drank coffees, and, you know, I did things that, you know, help you get up. That’s a long season and stuff like that.  But I never took any steroids or anything like that that would—you know, heck, when I was going through there, there was a huge cocaine problem. And I was the head of the Players’ Association at that time. We’re trying to take care of the Willie Wilsons and all the guys, the Norrises and guys like that who got busted for it all the time. But we had—it was more of a cocaine problem in the big leagues than steroids. And now you look at this, and I mean, you see players this year that the last three years, you look at them, and how did they get that good? You know? But the guys are sitting there, and they’re going, ‘Do I have a choice? I take them so I can stay in the big leagues and make my money and fulfill my dream. But if I don’t take them, that general manager is going to send me back down, because he’s going to bring up a kid that is taking them.’

“So I think baseball is more at error than the players. I mean, it’s a pressure-driven job, to go out and compete on 161, 162 games a year and to go against the greatest in the world, and somebody’s saying, ‘Hey, look at the results I get from taking this’—oh my gosh. Guys aren’t going think to—you know, their mindset is to take it. ‘Okay, let’s go take it.’

“But then there are others’ mindsets that say, ‘Hey, that’s not the right way to do it.’ And now how do they compete against the guys that are cheating? I mean, you look at Ivan Rodriguez this year [2006]. I mean, he’s not even the same person that’s been an All-Star every year as a catcher [13 years on All-Star team]. You look at—I mean, I’m just going to be glancing around, but, I mean, how do guys in their late forties throw ninety-plus miles an hour? Think they’re doing that all by themselves? I don’t think so. You know, I would say Nolan Ryan was one of those guys that was really unique. But he had a unique body. But he wasn’t all of a sudden twenty-five pounds heavier and—you know, looking all different. I mean, I look at that thing that happened with Roger Clemens and Piazza, you know. How do you go off like that? You know, steroids do some things to your brains and stuff like that, too.

“That’s just kind of the way I look at it. I mean, I think it’s wrong. And I think that Palmeiro, of all guys this year—you stand in front of Congress and point your finger at them, and then you go out and take it? And look at Sammy Sosa this year. He’s not taking steroids. You look at him, and he’s shrunk down enormously and his bat’s way back here. It’s not out in front, hitting home runs anymore. It’s back here. He can’t catch up to the ball. There’s a marked physical difference in their abilities, your quick twitch muscles and all those things that require you to hit a fastball further or to throw a ball harder. You see a lot of pitchers today, they all of a sudden—they were throwing ninety-three, throwing eighty-eight, eighty-nine. All those guys that are in the Hall of Fame back there, you know, all of them … first of all, all pitchers—I don’t want to say all—a lot of pitchers cut balls, use pine tar, use spit, use what else, you know? That’s kind of—how do you say it’s cheating? It is cheating. It’s part of the game, but it’s cheating, and if you can get away with it, I guess they’d do it. It’s like the guy that used corked bats. If you can get away with it, you do it. But, you know, I remember using a corked bat against Gaylord Perry in a game. And Gaylord Perry was just—I mean, it was a joke how much he was cheating on the mound. And so I borrowed somebody’s bat on my team, and I went up there—hit a double in right center. I’m standing on second base going, ‘Nobody pick up that bat. Oh my gosh.’ I was scared to death, you know, scared to death. And I never, ever used a cork bat. I used it one time, one at-bat, and got a double, and I don’t think it would have made a difference.”

Commentary

Steroids use in baseball is a rather complex economic, ethical, and spiritual issue. I believe it is unfair to only blame the individual players without taking into account the larger organization and cultural factors.  Individual players have tacitly been given permission by baseball to use drugs. At first, it was individuals who made the choice; but once the organization looked the other way, the culture became corrupted.  Individual players were trying to make a living and compete. They took the drug to remain competitive. That is the economic reality. Some may argue that if they wanted to remain in the majors, they had to do it.

However, there are also ethical issues. Does one allow himself to become corrupt because of financial gain and worldly success? In the American culture, the answer is often yes! Our culture is built around fame, power, and fortune. We often place money above anything else—especially in sports and the business world. Does it matter that historic records were being broken because players had the physical advantage of drug enhancement?  If the drug use was openly acknowledged, then the answer might be no.  But it becomes a much different ethical matter when players lie about the truth and still claim the victories.

Is there much difference here between lying about using performance enhancing drugs in sports and lying about the finances of a business? How about lying about the nature of low-interest loans? How about lying about investment programs that rob people of billons of dollars?  All this is based in greed—the desire to get more at any cost. The United States has paid a huge price for this type of ethic.

With regards to surviving during very difficult times, does it matter how we get there?  Are we only concerned about performance, about success, and about winning, or are we also interested in the process of victory and what that process does for the development of the individual?  The intent of this book is to look at the deeper character aspects among great athletes to see what we can learn about life, the human will, and the human spirit.  This book is not a cookbook about how to win and make a lot of money.  It is about finding your way through difficult times without losing your soul.

Peak performance has magical moments, like when Dick Fosbury is being lifted over the bar to win an Olympic gold medal. Those who believe in a spiritual reality believe that there is a relationship between the human will, the human spirit, and God. What resides in one’s heart is important. A pure heart can attract many wonderful and wondrous things. When a person takes a drug, then something is lost. The experience becomes, at best, a peak at a potential or possibility, but it does not become an integrated part of one’s being. What is lost is the real growth of human consciousness and human ability to move to the next level. Once you take away the drug, then you strip away the ability to actually perform at that level.

On might argue that life is an experience to learn something more about who we really are, not just to make a lot of money and gain power and prestige.  This learning process is most profound when we draw upon our natural inner resources that transcend our human condition and lift us to a high realm—a realm that clears the mind, opens the heart, and touches the soul.  Sports have the ability to do this.  The movie The Natural did such a thing. Real victory in the sports world inspires us all to greater hopes and greater accomplishments.

The spiritual loss with drug use in sports is that our children learn the wrong message.  They learn that wining at any cost is more important than honesty, integrity, and the evolution of the human will.  They become robbed of the deeper meaning of life and are sold a Madison Avenue marketing version of life’s meaning and purpose. While it is exciting to see a ball hit 400 yards and pitchers throwing in the nineties, baseball is about more than that—all sports are. The magic of peak performance is lost when success is only attributed to chemical means.  The magic of life is also lost when we turn to drugs and alcohol when life becomes too stressful.  Life will test us, and with the right methods, we can find the strength to overcome all adversity. While chemicals may help soften the pain and dull the senses, they do not provide a means for mastery.

The use of marijuana is a relevant issue here, especially as a way to cope with stress. While medical marijuana may have its place, daily use for stress release has its problems.  During my many years in clinical practice as a psychologist, I saw people when the complaint that their lives did not seem to be going anywhere.  These individuals were kind and loving and just did not seem to have the drive to accomplish what they desired.  These people were getting stoned every day!  Pain, frustration, and discomfort can be a great motivator for change. If you artificially take away the pain, all life is good.  The saying “no pain, no gain” may have some relevance here.

While the ethical discussion might seem beyond the scope of this book, I believe it is important, because my goal is to do more than just provide a roadmap for success. While honesty and integrity may not be necessary for peak performance—and in fact, it appears they are not—these qualities do matter in higher ethical realms.  Sports provide a model for young people of how live.  Professional sports are just a game. How one relates to friends, spouses, business partners, etc. is not a game. If the message becomes “win at any cost,” then the human spirit takes a hit. We lose trust and respect for each other and damage our ability relate as a society.  How we play the game is as important as whether or not we win! Golf is probably the one sport that maintains its commitment to this high ethical and moral standard.  It is the only sport where a player will call a penalty upon himself. The bottom line is that you do not have faith in yourself to come out the other side if you look to external, artificial supports to get you there. Don’t be seduced by the promise of “success” if you have to cheat, lie, or steal. Learn to develop the trust and faith in your inner core—your true self—and you will become stronger and enhance the essential values that mark a victorious life: integrity, honesty, perseverance, and faith.

© 2013 Copyright Ronald L. Mann, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

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