Given that this particular manifestation of the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs has resulted in another federal prosecution, this research by Eric Walker couldn’t be more essential. Joe Posnanski — whose discussion reminds us of why he’s not only the best mainstream sports journalist in America but one of the best journalists period — sums up the findings:
1. Walker contents steroids are not nearly as bad for responsible adults as people say and are significantly less dangerous than countless other things athletes do as a matter of course (he does say that steroids are extremely dangerous for adolescents).
2. Walker contends steroids do not help players hit more home runs.
3. Walker contends that other players are coerced to do MANY semi-dangerous and vaguely unnatural things to play high level sports … this is the price of playing sports at the highest level.
4. Walker contends kids absolutely do not take steroids because pro athletes do it.
As I’ve said before, rationalizations of the War on Steroids in professional sports based on health are transparently farcical. Essentially, I’ll take people who get hysterical about steroids because of the health effects seriously when they come out for banning tackle football, which has far more deleterious consequences on human health. (And this goes triple for journalists who worship the NFL in part because the owners reduced its union to cringing lickspittles — allowing the owners to keep more money is all about competitive balance doncha know.) If consenting adults are allowed to play football — and I think they should be, although they should be much better compensated — they sure as hell should be allowed to take steroids, and the extent to which steroid use is regulated should be between the league and the union.
But Walker has an even more valuable discussion about about the points raised by djw. Although steroid hysterics constantly issue confident proclamations on the subject, we simply have no idea what impact steroids had on the home run explosion (which, after all, started before steroid use seemed to become widespread) of the 90s. Even if we assume arguendo that steroids help power hitters, since pitchers used them to that tells us nothing about the net effects of steroids on offense, and it’s also impossible to disentangle steroid use from other important factors such as smaller ballparks and livelier baseballs. And as Walker notes, the evidence that steroids are a substantial asset to power hitters at all is in fact rather weak.
In short, the hysteria bout steroids is unjustifiable even by the standards of drug war hysterias, and the fact that it may keep players of the caliber of Bonds and Clemens out of the Hall of Fame for a while during a period in which supermajorities of the BBWAA consider Jim Rice a Hall of Famer is outrageous. At least I remain optimistic enough to think that this equilibrium won’t hold.