I've been thinking more and more on the steroids issue in the aftermath of the McGwire signing, and the subsequent cavalcade of nonsense that followed. Something hasn't quite seemed right about the whole thing. In fact, a lot of the self-righteousness in the steroid age has been confusing, at best, to me. i think I've finally figured out why. Follow me after the jump if you dare.I think the thing that has bothered me is how much attention has been given to the steroid issue, and how little of the arguments actually hold up if you consider them in a broader perspective. I'm not necessarily talking here about the people who are discussing competitive balance. I understand these arguments somewhat, at least. Sports, as a product, are about competitive balance. If you do something illegal to enhance your performance, (or gamble on the sport), you are endangering the competitive balance of the game. I can at least understand the argument that harsh penalties are necessary to prevent this. If the steroid arguments stopped here, I would be completely fine with it. But the thing is, this argument is typically the tip of the iceberg.
It seems that the harshest rhetoric about steroids seems to relate to various forms of morality--"it's illegal!", 'what a horrible example for kids!', or 'what a dishonour to players past!'. To me, these arguments are disingenous, at best. And the reason why? We routinely ignore OTHER illegal and immoral behaviour on the part of players. In particular, several players are either convicted of or have public record incidents of spousal abuse. Yet, there is very little controversy surrounding these players. You don't see people protesting Phillies games and throwing taunts at Brett Myers. Nor does Julio Lugo receive any abuse about this, either. It is just silently accepted by fans.
And the thing is, it is very easy to understand how players can fall for steroids--you're in a career where you have, at best a 20 year shelf life, and realistically, more like 5-10. Everything is super-competitive, and you are at constant threat of being discarded. It's very human to want to get every edge that you can, and you see others around you using it and succeeding, While it is not commendable to fall into this temptation, it's hardly incomprehensible, either.
Now, contrast the above with hitting your spouse, sometimes in repeated incidents. While THAT is a problem as old as time, too, it's not exactly like it's a completely understandable one. It is an entirely reprehensible one. Yet, when players do it, it is noticed on a small scale, and shuffled under the rug. It was not even discussed; in the recent Elijah Dukes thread here, for example.
In the end, baseball is baseball and morality is morality. But if we are going to direct moralistic arguments at baseball players, I would suggest that we keep a focus on things that are really important, and things that affect only baseball. When a player says 'yeah I did steroids, I don't think it helped me as much as people claim, but I was worried about being hurt and I made a bad decision.' and STILL gets condemned, it bothers me that you don't even have to force players who did far, far worse to say ANYTHING in public about it.
And that's about all of my opinion on that.