There is no hotter topic in sports right now than the circus that is surrounding Alex Rodriguez. From his appeal of the 211 game suspension that he was handed by Major League Baseball to him getting beaned by Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster in this past weekend's game, A-Rod is consistently the lead story on SportsCenter.
Why? Because people really love being entertained.
Sports, not unlike a television show or movie, is infinitely more entertaining when there is a great story-line. As much as MLB wants to punish A-Rod for his involvement with using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), they would be kidding themselves if they don't think he is main reason for the high ratings that the Yankees-Red Sox games got over the weekend. He is the villain. He is the heel. He is the guy everyone loves to hate. Most importantly, he provides great theater.
While I don't advocate the use of steroids in sports, I just think it's hard to deny that the topic is pretty entertaining to talk and argue about. In fact, I'd definitely say that PEDs kind of make sports more interesting. Hear me out.
Sports Don't Stop When the Buzzer Sounds
Sports never end. The game is just the main event. There is constant talk about the games, its players, and the stories that surround them. That is why there are countless sports-only television and radio stations, as well as newspapers who have staffs of writers whose only job is to follow certain sports or teams. Fans love it.
The games, though, only get you so far. They become monotonous. You need controversy to keep people's interest. And talk of PEDs have been the top controversy for more than a decade now. From Lance Armstrong to Alex Rodriguez, people love to watch a superstar fall from grace. There is a reason Oprah wanted to interview Lance Armstrong when he admitted to doping — it was going to get great ratings.
A-Rod single-handedly injected life back into a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry that has been dying over the past couple years. Fans of both teams have been arguing like it's 2004 all over again and that's great for baseball.
1997: McGwire vs. Sosa
At no point in the last 20 years has baseball enthralled fans more than in 1997, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa raced towards Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs. Every night people tuned in to watch the two seemingly trade home runs on a nightly basis. I remember watching with my mom the game when McGwire broke the record and being genuinely excited (despite the fact that I am a Red Sox fan and couldn't care less at the result of the game itself).
McGwire and Sosa saved baseball. Attendance was struggling due to a labor dispute a few years earlier, but the chase for the home run record changed all that.
Now we know that both players were aided by PEDs, but that doesn't really diminish the entertainment value from that chase. In fact, now people continue to talk and argue about it to this day, on whether there should be an asterisk next to the record or whether either player should go into the Hall of Fame. People love to argue about sports. That's part of what makes being a sports fan so fun.
Double Standard in Other Sports
Rarely do we hear anything about PED use in any of the other sports. Is it because no one other than baseball players use it? Of course not!
The biggest double standard in sports comes from the NFL. There is no bigger sports league in the U.S. than the NFL, with hundreds of millions of viewers tuning in every Sunday. NFL players are larger than life, ripped in muscle, and somehow recover relatively quickly from getting tackled viciously by equally large and ripped players. It stands to reason that at least as many players in the NFL are using PEDs as in MLB. The difference? Fans generally just don't care.
The entertainment value of having those players on the field outweighs the story of them being a PED user. Example A is former NFL safety Rodney Harrison. In 2007, Harrison was suspended by the NFL for four games for using human growth hormone to help him recover from injury (which I think should be allowed, see below). He went on that season to help the New England Patriots finish with an undefeated regular season record. It was barely a blip on the radar. Now he is a beloved figure in Patriots history, he is praised for his work as an analyst on NBC, and has the potential to go in the Pro Football Hall of Fame next year. Do you think any of the suspended baseball players have that future to look forward to? No way.
People loved watching Harrison play, so they made excuses for him when he got caught. He was, and still is, entertaining to watch.
Injuries are Not Entertaining
Pop quiz: Why is it more entertaining to watch professional sports than it is watching some pick-up game?
Easy. It's because pro athletes are the best in the world at what they do.
There is nothing worse than watching your team's best player go down with an injury and know your team's season is ruined. So, if there was something that could help these players recover more quickly and get back on the court or field faster, wouldn't that be a good thing? I think so.
If the use of a drug, monitored by a trained doctor, is safe and helps a player recover from an injury faster, then where is the real harm? If everyone in that respective league had the same options, and it was used strictly for injury recovery, then everyone wins. Specifically the fans, who pay good money to see the best players play.
What It All Means
No matter how you feel about the use of steroids or any other PEDs, you have to admit, the reason you watch, listen, or even read articles (including this one) about the subject is because it is entertaining. If all PEDs were eliminated tomorrow, fans and the media would just be on to the next big controversy.
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