There’s very little some of us won’t do to get an edge. How many amateur golfers follow every rule of the game, or even know them? If there’s a racket or a club or a ball that will help us get more power and distance, we’re all over it. If we play rec-league basketball, we grab jerseys, throw elbows, do anything we can get away with to win.
To get through finals, we take pills that keep us awake. We lift passages off the Internet and stuff them in our term papers, conveniently forgetting to put quotation marks around them or to mention that the writing is not our own. We steal co-workers’ ideas and pawn them off as our own.
But, dammit, our athletic heroes better not cheat.
Does anyone detect a note of hypocrisy in this? Does anyone who reviles Barry Bonds as a cheater admit to even the tiniest flaw in his or her own personal code of ethics? Do any of us stop to consider that Bonds, who has never tested positive for any banned substance, isn’t doing anything that just about every one of us has done at one time or another?
Those are rhetorical questions, so don’t bother answering. We’re not very good at introspection, anyway. Our own flaws are never flaws, and even if they are, what the other guy is doing is a lot worse, and everything’s fair in love in war.
So we start our day with something to wake us up, brush our teeth with something to make them artificially brighter, maybe use a shampoo that makes the gray go away, spend a little extra time on the comb-over. If we’re women, we boost this, cinch that, wash, condition, blow-dry and spray our chemically-colored hair, spackle over the blemishes, climb up on miniature stilts and then go out to rail against the artificiality of everyone else.
Because, I keep hearing when I raise these perfectly valid points to those who claim that their faith in sports has been crushed by baseball’s drug scandal, steroids are illegal.
Well, what about all the pitchers who threw spit balls, shine balls, emery balls, cut balls and scuffballs? I ask. They broke the rules of the game. Any baseball player who was doing ’roids or HGH before 2002 didn’t break any of baseball’s rules, I say.
I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work. Illegal and immoral are no more synonyms than are legal and ethical. This isn’t about the law; it’s about what’s right.
If I were writing 100 years ago, I could climb up on my soap box and defend a lout who beat his wife and kids with a stick as having done nothing illegal — as long as the stick wasn’t too big. Fifty years before that, I could congratulate someone who turned in a runaway slave as a law-abiding patriot. And in Nazi Germany, if I had protected a Jew, I would have been a criminal.