Proof of my raging man crush on Chuck Klosterman: I eagerly devour even his columns about football—in this instance a meditation on our attitudes to steroids in football. (HT: Baylen) On the one hand, he notes, for all our hand-wringing about individual athletes who get caught juicing, the public manages to “regularly watch dozens of 272-pound men accelerate at speeds that would have made them Olympic sprinters during the 1960s” without thinking too hard about the only conceivable way to achieve that, or at least suffering any cognitive dissonance about it. Yet at the same time, we react as though the use of performance enhancers invalidates athletes achievements—a judgment it never occurs to us to make in the case of the caffeinated executive, the coked-up day trader, the Benzedrine-fueled beat novelist, or the pot-smoking musician. He concludes:
In 1982, I read a story about Herschel Walker in Sports Illustrated headlined “My Body’s Like an Army.” It explained how, at the time, Walker didn’t even lift weights; instead, he did 100,000 sit-ups and 100,000 push-ups a year, knocking out 25 of each every time a commercial came on the television. This information made me worship Herschel; it made him seem human and superhuman at the same time. “My Body’s Like an Army” simultaneously indicated that I could become Herschel Walker and that I could never become Herschel Walker. His physical perfection was self-generated and completely pure. He had made himself better than other mortals, and that made me love him.
But I was 10 years old.
There comes a point in every normal person’s life when they stop looking at athletes as models for living. Any thinking adult who follows pro sports understands that some people are corrupt and the games are just games and money drives everything. It would be strange if they did not realize these things. But what’s equally strange is the way so many fans (and sportswriters, myself included) revert back to their 10-year-old selves whenever an issue like steroids shatters the surface.
Most of the time, we don’t care what football players do when they’re not playing football. On any given Wednesday, we have only a passing interest in who they are as people or how they choose to live. But Sunday is different. On Sunday, we have wanted them to be superfast, superstrong, superentertaining and, weirdly, superethical. They are supposed to be pristine 272-pound men who run 40 yards in 4.61 seconds simply because they do sit-ups during commercial breaks for “Grey’s Anatomy.” Unlike everybody else in America, they cannot do whatever it takes to succeed; they have to fulfill the unrealistic expectations of 10-year-old kids who read magazines. And this is because football players have a job that doesn’t matter at all, except in those moments when it matters more than absolutely everything else.
It may be time to rethink some of this stuff.