Steroids and Baseball: A Cheat is a Cheat is a Cheat is a Cheat, Except for When He’s Not

Will Leitch, editor of the great sports blog Deadspin, has a new book, God Save the Fan. I'm not here pimping the book, which despite some copy editing problems is rather good, but because I want to discuss something Leitch wrote.

For those of you who have never read Leitch’s blog, it is important to know he’s a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, so lots of his points are filtered through that bias. Like the story of how everyone considered then-Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen a huge hero for shooting up with cortisone prior to the 2006 World Series with the Detroit Tigers. The cortisone helped to ease the pain Rolen had from injuries that had kept him from playing effectively in the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets.

Rolen, Leitch reminds everyone, was a hero because he manned up and took the cortisone. Which is not a big deal, because thousands of athletes take cortisone shots in order to be able to play. Which is not that big a deal until you consider that, technically, cortisone is a steroid.

And as we have learned over the past several years, steroids are evil.

So how can Rolen be a hero for shooting up with steroids while Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the most evil and vilified men in sports? But, you say, Bonds and Clemens used steroids to artificially enhance their performance. They cheated. But wasn't Rolen, by taking the cortisone, also seeking to artificially enhance his performance?

Why is one form of steroid better than another?

Rolen used the steroid to enhance his performance, which, in turn helped his team. Bonds used the steroid to enhance his performance, which, in turn, helped his team. Aren't they both cheating?

And why are some forms of cheating better than other forms of cheating? Why is Gaylord Perry in the Hall of Fame, and why do people joke about his "spitters"? He cheated. The spitball is against the rules of baseball. As is using steroids. But there has been no outcry to remove Perry from the Hall of Fame. Perry is celebrated. Why not Bonds? Why not Clemens? Why the different treatment?

I've got no answers. But I, like Leitch, have found these questions interesting. Isn't cheating cheating? How can any form of cheating be good if it's against the rules? Why is the NFL's Shawne Merriman the star of a Nike commercial despite a steroid suspension, yet Jason Giambi's commercials were pulled? Why is it accepted in some sports, but not others?

Let's just say I'm curious. And let's just say it's a topic I'm always going to feel free to dwell on. And if any of you have any answers for me, I'd sure like to hear them. – John Royal

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