January 19, 2004

Sports

These days, we're not watching people compete. We're watching lab animals.

But the Penn team has become acutely aware of a population impatient to see its research put into practice -- the already strong, seeking to get stronger still. Sweeney gets their e-mail messages. One came from a high-school football coach in western Pennsylvania not long after Sweeney first presented his findings at a meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. ''This coach wanted me to treat his whole team,'' he said. ''I told him it was not available for humans, and it may not be safe, and if I helped him we would all go to jail. I can only assume he didn't understand how investigational this is. Or maybe he wasn't winning, and his job was on the line.''

Other calls and e-mail messages have come from weight lifters and bodybuilders. This kind of thing happens often after researchers publish in even the most arcane medical and scientific journals. A whole subculture of athletes and the coaches and chemists who are in the business of improving their performances is eager for the latest medical advances.

Sweeney knows that what he is doing works. The remaining question, the one that will require years of further research to answer, is how safe his methods are. But many athletes don't care about that. They want an edge now. They want money and acclaim. They want a payoff for their years of sweat and sacrifice, at whatever the cost.

All this talk of steroids and genetic enhancements of athletes makes me wonder whether I might enjoy watching local, amateur sports more than professional sports on TV. If you're a steroid freak, I start to lose interest in what "you" can do. Can you hit 70 home runs? Who cares, if 30 of those home runs are attributable to the androstenedione you took.

Posted by Carey at January 19, 2004 11:14 AM
Comments

So the historical analogy I'm thinking of here has to do with the effect of photography on painting. At one point, accurate reproductions were highly valued. These days, accurate reproductions aren't highly valued at all, because we can mechanically reproduce them. The human spirit, according to some, thrills when it sees how far the human body can push itself--beyond the limits we imagined possible. What happens when those limits are lifted?

Maybe it'll end sports as a contest of pure physical strength. But somehow I don't think that will be a bad thing. Human artifice will replace what human ingenuity has rendered commonplace with something new.

Then again, I never liked football anyways, so who am I to guess?

Posted by: Heidi at January 19, 2004 01:16 PM

Sports were never contests of "pure" physical strength. If anything, the new steroids has made pure strength (and size) the dominant attribute of athletes in many sports where finesse, speed, endurance, coordination and other abilities used to reign supreme.

watch a clip of an old baseball, basketball, or even football game and you'll see what I mean

Posted by: Larry at January 21, 2004 05:01 PM

I believe that the pursuit of athletic excellence not only leaves room for, but requires each athlete to do whatever he or she can to become better. If that means taking steroids, then they should take steroids. We reward those who succeed above all others, and if success means taking steroids to beat the competition, then I believe athletes have a responsibility to take steroids.

Just kidding.

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