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Playing With Drugs

Michael Phelps takes a toke on a bong and plummets from American hero to pariah overnight. Alex Rodriguez becomes the latest scourge of Major League Baseball in what’s become an annual pre-season ritual. The public is outraged, families torn apart…okay, that’s an exaggeration, but my sister and I did have an email fight about it this morning. She thinks athletes live such privileged lives, they’re simply being assholes when they blow it by ingesting illegal substances. I think they’re human beings and the government has no business snooping around in their body fluids. That’s a severely truncated recap, of course; this issue has as many sides to it as immigration, or race, or any number of complicated social issues, and I find I can’t stick to one unwavering opinion about the thing the way my sister does. (The ability to hold contradictions is the sign of a great mind.)

Phelps and A-Rod are two very different situations, but of course the talking heads insist on conflating them. Some CNN pundit today expressed outrage that Phelps is being vilified while A-Rod’s “getting a free pass.” Huh? No baseball player who’s caught taking steroids gets a free pass in any way, shape or form, and Alex certainly isn’t. What he is getting that Michael Phelps isn’t is support from a loyal team and organization. Thejorge-posada-3 Yankees issued a statement that, while condemning drug use, ended by saying, “We support Alex, and we will do everything we can to help him deal with this challenge and prepare for the upcoming season.” Jorge Posada told the media, “Alex is my teammate and Alex is going to be my friend forever.” What a guy!

Phelps does have someone in his corner, though: The Marijuana Policy Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the Drug Policy Alliance are all outraged on his behalf, and are urging a boycott of Kellogg’s for cutting ties with him. Rob Kampia, director of The Marijuana Policy Project, points out that Kellogg’s had no problem with Phelps’ old drunk driving conviction, but is dropping him for “choosing to relax with a substance that’s safer than beer.”

Meanwhile, Barry Bonds goes on trial next month for perjury, and Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada, (member of the Oakland A’s Diaspora), is charged with lying to congressional investigators regarding steroids during an interview in a Baltimore hotel room. An interview in a hotel room? Can a person really be prosecuted for something they say in such a casual situation? Tejada is scheduled to appear in court today where he is expected to plead guilty.

The only thing that really bothers me about players on ‘roids is the record-breaking aspect: I think it’s unfair, for instance, that Barry Bonds gets credit for breaking Reggie Jackson’s home run record with chemical assistance, when Jackson set that record under his own steam. Then again, people are always pointing out that players have been taking substances since the birth of baseball—Babe Ruth drank the juice of crushed bulls’ testicles for a testosterone boost—so how do we know if past performances and records are “pure” or not? We don’t.

There are a lot worse things in this world than taking drugs. Selling pictures to the tabloids of a guy with a bong at a private party, for instance, is pretty low. Revealing a player’s drug-positive status on a test that was supposed to have been destroyed years ago is pretty snarky too. Then there’s torturing prisoners, lying in order to wage war, spying on citizens, and defying the Constitution—crimes of the Bush Administration that may or may not be investigated while the government’s busy busting athletes for drug use.

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