Thursday, August 13, 2009
On the Morality of Chemical Consumption
"You think this country really cares about what ballplayers put in their bodies? If we really care, why are we pumping Coca-Cola in every kid's mouth, and McDonald's, and Burger King and KFC? That (stuff) is killing people."
--Reds' pitcher Bronson Arroyo, to USA Today
So maybe this is where we are today. Maybe we have finally plodded through our denial, and maybe we have vented our anger and completed our bargaining phase and endured a drawn-out depression, and maybe we have finally arrived at the point where we can speak honestly, without fear of recrimination. And maybe we can strip away the artifice and the moral outrage and the equivocation, and maybe we can acknowledge the layers and inherent complexities of the steroid era, and maybe we can all just come clean and let it all go. And maybe the Pirates will win the National League pennant, and maybe Vida Blue will come back to Oakland and win twenty games next season, and maybe Ray Kinsella's father will come strolling out of that cornfield wearing Shoeless Joe Jackson's glove, arm-in-arm with Barry Bonds...
But hey, at least this is something. In an extraordinary interview with USA Today's Bob Nightengale, Bronson Arroyo just kind of laid it all out there; at one point, as Deadspin's Dashiell Bennett points out, he actually utters the extraordinary phrase "I don't give a f---." It is, as far as I can tell, the first semi-rational case for the defense issued by someone who did not hit a home run with his own noggin, and while you can maybe even question's Arroyo's ignorance of one key question--the level-playing-field issue inherent to this argument--you cannot deny that he raises another crucial question, which is: Where do we draw the line with our moral outrage? If every supplement Arroyo takes was legal and sold over-the-counter at the time he took it, how is this somehow more sinister than the bowls of amphetamines that littered NFL locker rooms in the 1970's, or the bootleg Xanax I swallowed on my most recent cross-country flight (thereby permitting me to sleep, thereby permitting me to perform more effectively on my vacation than my fellow passengers), or the fine Colombian (bonus link, as I saw Steely Dan in concert last night) Gary McLain hoovered during the 1985 NCAA tournament*? For that matter, since Arroyo brought it up, here is the composition of McDonald's scrambled eggs:
Pasteurized whole eggs with sodium acid pyrophosphate, citric acid and monosodium phosphate (added to preserve color), nisin (preservative). Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid soybean oil, water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, soy lecithin, mono-and diglycerides, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives), artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color).
I don't pretend to know the answers, especially now that I'm nauseous; I haven't eaten a McMuffin since summer day camp in 1982, and while I certainly don't begrudge anyone an occasional fix of monosodium phosphate or freeze-dried hotcakes**, I think Arroyo should be at least be credited for questioning our assumptions, for reminding us, the fan, of our own inherent hypocrisy, and for pointing out that this issue is not as morally clear-cut as we would like it to be.
But then, it never is.
*Interesting things you learn while researching a book about the 1980's, Part XXXII: Less than one year after Len Bias' death from a cocaine overdose, his college coach, Lefty Driesell, said this at a conference in Rhode Island: "I'm a firm believer that if you know how to use cocaine and use it properly, it can make you play better." For obvious reasons, he "clarified" his anti-drug stance shortly after making this statement.
**I am still wondering if my copious consumption of Hot Pockets between the ages of 15-25 will result in the growth of a third eye at age fifty.
(Photo: Michael E. Keating, Cincinnati Enquirer)