By Jon Felder
PEDs. Every sport has their athletes using them to get an advantage over their competition. The debate is not whether they have a positive impact on performance, because they do, or whether they make the sport more exciting to watch, because it does. The debate is how we should celebrate athletes who have been using or accused of using PEDs while achieving great feats.
This debate is just as controversial as ever in baseball where it seemed as if every player around the turn of the century was using PEDs. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire were the sport’s biggest stars in the late 90s and early 2000s, yet all of them have been accused of or proven to have been using PEDs. However, the PEDs they were using were not illegal in the MLB at the time. So the question remains, can we really accuse them of cheating when they were not doing anything illegal?
Of course there is the moral argument against using PEDs, that players who achieve great feats should achieve them because of their hard work and dedication to their work. And of course, there is plenty of truth in this argument. Everyone can respect a player who spends countless hours dedicated to their craft and reaps the benefits of working so diligently. This is why baseball legends like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and many others are still talked about in baseball culture to this day. They were the greatest players of their generation because of their talent and hard work alone, not because of any performance enhancing drugs that let them hit and throw the ball harder and farther. I, like many others, admire them for this and believe all players should take after them and become better players through practice and hard work.
However, I forgive the players of 15 years ago for taking PEDs. At the time, although morally wrong, it was completely understandable to do it. Because let’s be honest, if there were a drug that would make you the best in the world at your job, allow you to break records, put your name in the history books, and make more money, wouldn’t you take it? Wouldn’t we all? In a time where dozens of baseball players were on the juice, wouldn’t you also take PEDs if you were in their position for fear of underperforming and losing the starting role? As spectators of the sport I believe we have no right to judge these athletes for taking PEDs in a time where we all enjoyed seeing them set home run records year after year. While it is certainly wrong to take PEDs now in 2016, we have to admit we enjoyed seeing Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire compete against each other to see who can hit the most home runs in a season. And because of that, it is wrong and hypocritical to criticize former players who have used PEDs.
Because of their success on the baseball field, another controversial topic looms. Should players who have used PEDs be admitted into the hall of fame?
Again, this is a question that can be attacked at many angles. One could argue that clearly, these players had plenty of talent, to begin with, and probably would have incredible career statistics even if they did not take PEDs. You could also argue they cheated the game and because of it they should not be admitted. Another argument is they were not doing anything illegal at the time, and there have been plenty of rule changes in the MLB over the years, and there have been plenty of players in the hall of fame who used tactics that would now be illegal. Because of that, we should admit these players into the hall of fame.
Admittedly I favor arguments one and three. Obviously, not all players using PEDs were breaking records, but the superstars like Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, and others were obviously talented players who had won MVPs and Cy Young Awards before they were taking PEDs. Their career trajectory put them in a position where they were likely to be admitted into the hall of fame anyway. While it can be argued that this gave them less of a reason to take PEDs, I ask the question I asked before, wouldn’t you do the same if you were in their shoes?
There are plenty of players in the hall of fame who used tactics that would now be considered illegal and many players in the hall of fame are not these angelic specimens we make them out to be. Ed Walsh, who holds the record for the lowest career ERA, threw a spitball which is a pitch now deemed illegal by the MLB. He is in the hall of fame. Ty Cobb, one of the best players of the early 20th century and one of the first players admitted into the hall of fame, is notoriously known for being extremely racist and violent on the baseball field. These are just two examples of players in the hall of fame who are not the idols we make all hall of famers to be.
Whether you think it is right or wrong to take PEDs is irrelevant to players’ admittance to the hall of fame. Taking PEDs at the time was not illegal, and it was understandable for them to do it. Plenty of players in the hall of fame did things that would now be considered illegal or did things that would make them be hated by society. The hall of famers in Cooperstown are not perfect humans. So to vilify former PED users and act like all players in the hall of fame are these angelic icons simply wrong.? It is wrong to have enjoyed watching these former PED user break records and now despise them for it, and it is wrong to deny them admittance to the hall of fame for doing something that was not illegal.