Archive for Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Juicing’ athletes take thrill out of competition

July 11, 2006

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It was a hot summer day in a stifling gymnasium when I got into a one-on-one game with the 12th man on the Hillsboro High School basketball team.

This was the summer of 1990, right before a senior year in which the team would win the state championship, but I'd spent the first part of the summer watching the NBA playoffs and wishing I could jump and shoot and, well, be tall.

So when the 12th man came around, I challenged him to play. I wanted to see whether I had even a glimmer of undiscovered basketball talent, and the guy who got the least playing time on the varsity team seemed like a good test.

He destroyed me. I don't think I even scored a point.

As much as he overpowered me, though, he couldn't touch the talents of Hillsboro High's two best players, both of whom went on to play Division I ball. And as good as they were - and I followed their careers from afar - neither, as far as I know, ever had a shot at the NBA.

This knowledge - that I was at the very bottom of the athletic food chain - should've depressed me, but it didn't. Instead, it put me in awe of the people at the top; the gulf between their physical talents and mine was impressive.

All of which leaves me unsure how to react to the ongoing spate of revelations about steroids, human growth hormone, blood doping and the like.

We've all heard about the allegations against Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco. Last week, a slew of top bicyclists were tossed out of the Tour de France before it started. And it's not just the superstars who have juiced up; Jason Grimsley, who had a forgettable couple of years with the Kansas City Royals, apparently is now under investigation.

Part of me wants to ignore all this, to say that one of the thrills of sports is to see how far the human body can be pushed in pursuit of excellence.

But another part of me tells me that the juicers don't really qualify, then.

"Juicing" is an attempt to push the body where it wouldn't have gone on its own, no matter how much effort was brought to bear. The athlete who uses steroids or other methods has put themselves, in a sense, beyond human limits.

And that makes the world of sports less interesting to me. I want to watch people play, not mutants.

Even if I'd managed to get my hands on some secret formula, though, I doubt I would've won my one-on-one matchup with the 12th man. My jump shot is lousy. And I'll never be tall.

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