By Peter Richmond
When it becomes yawningly unsurprising that the first two early-morning sports-website headlines refer to alleged substance-abuse news of the previous day (Tuesday: Ryan Braun in first, followed by Von Miller's imminent suspension), it's time to put the cards on the table and move forward to the obvious.
In 1729 Jonathan Swift penned A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick (sic), in which the author proposed that the impoverished Irish plumpen their babies in their first year of life, then sell them off on the open market as cook-able delicious delicacies for wealthier Brits.
A Modest Proposal lives on in literary and academic (if not sportswriting) circles because Swift, a deft writer in the day, knew that to make his point -- that the Brit Empire class system was whacked -- the only effective arrow in his literary quiver would be satire.
And so, in the spirit of the Swiftest of satirists, I offer a less grotesque, but in the same spirit, proposal regarding the topic of the day:
That we stop pretending that Sport has the slightest chance in hell of eliminating PEDs … but, with an eye/ear toward those holier-than-thou shouting fans who still think that sport must be squeakier-clean than the rest of the entertainment and financial world (that is, the real world), we divide every professional sporting league into two divisions: the PED Division (NFL/PD, MLB/PD, etc.) and the Clean Division (NFL/CD, MLB/CD, etc.).
Now to address your first understandable, if archaic, argument: That because pro athletes earn millions of dollars more than you and I, they are somehow more obligated than the rest of us in their daily conduct to be, like, honest. I would suggest the opposite: That when you dangle a golden, seven-figure carrot in front of a kid from San Pedro de Macoris, D.R., whose dad earns a dollar a day, said kid having learned the game of baseball swatting a palm frond at a small stone lobbed to him by his younger brother in 124-degree heat, why would he not be inclined to game the system in San Francisco, US of A?
Incidentally: If you're still looking for statistical proof of the depths of American greed, a recently-published study of the financial business world revealed that, of all employees who've been in the finance biz 10 years or less, which would include the sub-prime-mortgage meltdown of 2008, given the chance to commit insider trading for a $10 million profit while guaranteed to not be caught, 38 percent said they'd cheat for the millions. And this does not include the traders who were lying to themselves when, in the anonymous survey, they answered "No."
No matter what the biz these days in the US of A, admit it: We are easily drawn to a pot of gold coins beckoning on the horizon, no matter what the moral cost. To deny our creative abilities to reach that pot is to deny the nature of our times.
Why should sports be excluded from that truism?
I haven't a clue.
How will the PD/CD League-Division work? Easy. Each Division will be the wholesale property of the already-existing league, otherwise we'd just have a handful of short-lived XFLs. MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL (and how cool would it be to see two goons in 'roid-rage go at it in Winnipeg?) will not lose money; they will actually gain in revenue, since stadia and arenas will sometimes be used twice as often as usual. Some leagues will make more money.
Now: As to, "What drug is allowed on the PD playing field?" That's easy: Anything the competitors can ingest, as long as they can afford to risk criminal or civil prosecution, which the PD Divisions sign off on, they're OK. Should an athlete choose to shoot up something that arrived via UPS in unmarked bottles from a country whose name ended in "'---stan"? His own risk to take.
But if the domestic legal system judges him un-punishable (giving new livelihoods to sketchy lawyers and doctors who earned their degrees in Grenada), then he can play.
Should he be using a derivative of the Stanazolol family, generally preferred by thoroughbred horses, but legally prescribed to him by a doctor because his fetlock as hurting? More power to him and his doc. Medicinal marijuana? Please. Assumedly, his mailing address is in Colorado or Washington, and he need not even worry about legalities.
Testing? Athletes in the PD Division, unless they hit 133 home runs or run for 4,027 yards in a single season (said judgmental Star Chamber having been chosen from the pharmaceutical industry), will not be tested.
The Clean Division? Well, of course they have to be tested -- which will soon result in significant defections.
Yes, at the beginning, attendance-wise, the PD of each league will draw flies, since the level of athleticism will be less than great -- owing, in part to the social stigma attached to the PD. In the first few years, PD athletes will be drawn from those 90-percent, never-heard-of, positive-test Triple-A baseball players who filled up George Mitchell's 2007 investigative report on PEDs in baseball: fringe pros who thought the Deca-Durabolin and HGH would boost them from the roster of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to the Phillies -- which would have happened, under my proposal. They'd be PD Phillies now.
But here's the truth: After a few years of PD/CD league acceptance, the Brauns and A-Rods and Giambis, seeing the bank account dwindling, will cross over. They would soon be followed by back-up DHs, and No. 4 wide receivers, who back in the day, with good hands but thin of morph, kept getting laid out on crossing patterns by 225-pound safeties. In the PD, unafraid at 217 and 'roid raged, they'd catch everything thrown their way.
In this glorious athletic future, more than enough gifted athletes will eventually take the Juice path, given that said choice potentially represents the difference between a hundred grand and $2.5 million.
Where's the money coming from? PD revenue will soon -- pardon the expression -- bulk up for all concerned (albeit at the cost of the Cleans; hence the need for intra-league revenue-sharing). Newly acquired rubbernecking fans from the NASCAR/air show crowd, for instance, will come on over, because, yes, in the PD sport world, on-field deaths will be routine: The heart attack of the guy on Furuzabol, dying smack in the middle of a potential-TD kickoff return. Or the sudden fatal stroke visiting a speedster who, spaced out of his mind, thinks he can steal home, only to collapse 10 feet short of the plate.
But such are the necessary prices we will pay for society to finally acknowledge the true nature of its sporting appetites.
Nor do I believe that, after the first few years of our division of Divisions, will fans, knowing the PD guys are "dirty," turn their back on the PDs, lest their kids be "corrupted about the morality of the playing field."
The WWE grossed $211 million in the first three months of this year.
And I doubt that the fans at the first Olympics (776 BC) minded that the javelin winner from the Peloponnesian Peninsula was stoked with weird, whatever-enhancing herbs that his sailor cousin brought across the Mediterranean from down in Alexandria, Egypt, the most wide-open city on earth, after a weekend trip to Ancient Egypt's Vegas.
As I also doubt that Roman fathers and their kids filled the Coliseum on Sundays (I'm not making this up) hoping for a good, fair fight between the Lions and the Christians.
Of course, marketing-wise at the start, each league's PD will be ostracized, relegated to Spike TV and Vice as they play for sparse crowds and low ratings. But before long, giving in to whiny, 12-year-old sons who want to see someone hit his 80th home run, fathers will take young Willie out to the park -- or subscribe to the cable channel -- to see the latest slugger, just up from Toledo, hit the ball 611 feet against a pitcher throwing a 113-mile-per-hour fastball. Or to watch a ripped, 260-pound running back plow into a 360-pound DT who possesses the balletic agility of the elephants in Fantasia.
After that it won't take long for the networks to hop on board, what with pharmaceutical companies lining up to buy advertising. Think of the on-screen graphics possibilities: A lower-left-hand corner box, brought to you by whatever drug company, labeled in neon: "PED of Choice;" and a meter on a semicircular speedometer on the right, using the outline of a real hypodermic needle as the needle, hovering from happy green to deadly red, labeled "Life Expectancy."
Money saved for you and I? With BALCO and Biogenesis no longer burning up our taxes in the halls of Congress with meaningless hearings? Priceless.
Not to mention that, within a decade, you'll be able to buy a walkup ticket at Marlins Park for $1.39.
At first, the media reaction will shout outrage at the decay of Sports' Moral Fiber … until the sportswriters who have oddly become medical correspondents start getting seven-figure deals from the networks to explain on-air that the negative side effects of PEDS are not as severe as once thought.
This is, I propose, nothing less than the logical future of the relationship between professional sports and The Colonies.
Now, excuse me. I have a baby in the oven.