Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sports and "Artificial" Enhancements

This morning’s excellent episode of "Century City" was about a young man denied entrance into professional baseball because of an eye implant he had to correct a severe loss of vision in one eye. He sued to be allowed to play, and the legal issue was whether professional baseball’s rules against allowing players with unfair advantages to compete applied to him. His attorneys argued that his artificial eye was tuned to normal visual acuity, while opposing counsel argued that the implant’s bypassing the optic nerve and connecting directly to the brain gave the young man an unfair advantage in reaction time for hitting and fielding.

As I watched this, I thought about the baseball scandal involving steroid use and, more specifically, Barry Bonds. Many people are saying that Bonds’ achievements are tainted by his alleged steroid use. But if that’s so, how many other players’ achievements are also tainted, and who makes the call and how do they make it? And should steroids be banned because of the unfair advantage they give their users, or because of the harm they can do in conferring that advantage? Suppose steroids were perfectly safe. What would be wrong with everyone using them who wanted to? Because only those who could afford them could use them and gain a huge advantage over everyone else? How is this different from only those who can afford the best legal dietary supplements and state-of-the-art athletic training having a big advantage over those who can’t? It seems to me that the real issue is not the advantage the haves possess over the have-nots, but the dangers incurred by the haves to gain their advantage. If there are no significant dangers, why shouldn’t they gain every advantage they can, provided that advantage is available to a significant number of other people and not just to one or two?

Some might say that this would make it impossible to compare the stats of players of the modern era with those of earlier eras, such as Barry Bonds’ home run totals or slugging percentages with those of Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth. But it seems to me that we can’t legitimately compare these stats anyway, with or without steroids. For, even without using steroids, aren’t modern players in baseball and many other sports reaping the benefits of progress in dietary sciences and training methods that make them such significantly stronger and better athletes than their predecessors that no meaningful comparisons are possible between them and athletes of earlier eras?

No comments: