Monday, March 31, 2008

A New Era?

Driving home from Trader Joe's (oh, white people..) our local public radio station (being good white people, we are members), was playing the Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" routine. Although I've heard it about a million times, I'm not embarrassed to say that I was laughing out loud all the way home.

I'm a bit of a covert baseball fan. I don't exactly watch games much, nor do I really follow the minutia. Come September I start paying attention, which I know drives real baseball fans nut. But to my credit, I am not a fair weather fan when it comes to teams. I have been a staunch supporter of the San Francisco Giants basically my entire life. I was a Giants fan even back in the 1980s, when I was growing up in a Bay Area overwhelmed by the unbeatable LaRussa/McGwire/Conseco A's. I stood by my beloved Giants. I am, after all, a third-generation San Franciscan. (Actually, am I? When do you start measuring generations? Do you start with the first generation to move somewhere, or the first born somewhere? My grandparents moved to SF, and my mother and I were born there. Does that make me second- or third-generation?) I've only been to PacBell park once; for me, the Giants were all about gale force winds blowing pitchers off the mound at Candlestick. My Giants, suffice it to say, are not the Giants of garlic fries and tech millionaires.

Although he is for me intimately identified with this new era of the Giants, I've nevertheless been something of a defender of Barry Bonds for the past decade. Loyal though I am, you can't argue with the success Bonds bought to the team. Even without any national championships, we've been automatic contenders nearly every single year, and that is a wonderful thing. Good enough for me. Yes, he was not a very nice man. But yes, race mattered in the media's representation of that unpleasantness.

Plus, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the steroids thing doesn't really bother me. I find it slightly strange how venomous people get. Let's face it: professional athletes are anything but natural, untainted bodies. The body of Barry Bonds taking steroids might have been a gigantic creature, but the body of Barry Bonds before steroids was no less mediated by a lifetime of corporeal modifications.

I just don't think there is any intrinsic problem with rational adults modifying their bodies as they choose. I have plenty of friends who take hormones and have had invasive surgeries performed so that their gendered bodies are more to their liking. Cattle veterinarians whose hands are freakishly strong after twenty years of prying into big animals. Musicians whose bodies become scarred and asymmetrical from a lifetime of holding a violin under their chin or pedaling a piano. Millions of people who diet and exercise their poor bodies into skinny oblivion. I myself am tattooed and pierced, not in any kind of radical way, but enough that I feel like I have left my own stamp on my body. How different is any of this from using a chemical to change your body to be better at sports? Sure, it's bad for you, but nothing in this list is particularly good for you.

I do think that steroids should be banned in sports, for the simple reason that there is so much money involved in sports that I'm not sure professional athletes could legitimately be called "consenting." Ban them, I say, and enforce that ban for real. But let's not pretend that it is some revolutionary act.

Anyways. Barry is gone, and that is a good thing. These past few years, the team spent way too much money and energy catering to his presence, much to the detriment of the other eight players, let alone the farm system. The home run chase became a distraction, and yes, so did the steroids. This year's team is bizarrely young, and by all accounts not very good. We just miserably lost our opening game to the Dodgers, 5-0. But it is a new beginning, and I for one am excited.


cpo said...

I have mixed feelings about steroids, just like I have mixed feelings about amphetamines (used to enhance performance in academics or on the job, for instance). In large part, I agree with you. Or, no, I want to agree with you, but I can't. (Partly because I don't actually understand many of your comparisons. Tattoos and big hands?)

1. Taking steroids, taking adderal to increase one's performance in X often doesn't lead to great success. Body still damaged.

This leads to...
2. This substances aren't available to everyone (unlike diet and practice) until legalized. If you're unwilling to break the law (or inept at it), does that mean you "want" to be Phi Beta Kappa less?

Even if legalized...
3. They don't work as well for everyone. I, for instance, can't even *drink coffee* for some extra intellectual stamina. My body doesn't work that way. True, our minds all work differently as well. But you can't say "this is an option available to everyone who wants to pitch a fast ball into their 40s."

4. Gender reassignment? The results are different, its an identity not a sport or a career. (Although I guess it could be argued that FtMs and MtFs experience their careers very differently?) True, not everyone who wants gender reassignment surgery can afford to get it. But I'm willing to fight for that in health care coverage. The right for overachievers to use speed? not so much.

I think about this a lot.

PMG said...

I see your points, and I definitely don't want to "fight" for steroids--as you point out the legality is a big issue. since they are prohibited for reasons other than cheating (I assume they are regulated by the FDA for health reasons), there would never be such a thing as fairness in their applicability.

For me, I think it's that there is such a range of things to modify our bodies, either for success or to be happier with them in some regard. I don't intrinsically have a problem with breast implants for the same reason. (the reasoning behind them, often, but not the surgical option itself.) And the line between weightlifting/nutritional supplements and steroids seems a bit arbitrary to me, and it least when it comes to being a source of moralizing outrage on the part of sports fans.