Ever seen “Bigger, Stronger, Faster*“?
The 2008 documentary made waves at the Sundance Film Festival for its revealing look into why the United States has been obsessed with the three adjectives long before Vince McMahon met the federal government or Barry Bonds changed hat sizes. Chris Bell, the film’s creator and one of its subjects, gives the viewers part-history lesson, part-personal portrait in explaining how much performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and steroids have been a part of American society, and without question beyond the purview of the sports world.
(Note: Few sports media personalities will ever denote the difference between a PED and a steroid, assuming that the public doesn’t care about such details. In the film, Bell spends some time educating viewers on such, which goes a long way in reminding or introducing the reasons that the detection of PEDs and steroids is a non-stop game of cat-and-mouse for sports organizations.)
And so with Tuesday’s major stories regarding the use of said substances by prominent athletes – including a Cy Young candidate (Gio Gonzalez), an already-busted All-Star Game MVP (Melky Cabrera), an emerging featherweight boxer (Yuriorkis Gamboa), and two of the most divisive athletes in American sports history (Alex Rodriguez and Ray Lewis) – it was time to take on the bigger picture.
Though much of the focus on has been placed on Rodriguez and Lewis, what struck my own fancy has not been the details about their alleged uses, but how non-athletes continue to get away almost scot-free from the same scrutiny that sports figures are under.
Even as recently as this morning on ABC’s Good Morning America, the divide between athletes and everyone else, even within the entertainment world, was startling if you consume sports on a daily basis. One of the show’s segments discussed the extreme diets used by stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale and even Beyonce to cut weight and/or eventually bulk up for starring movie roles. With such rigorous schedules for film shoots, family demands and personal projects, these entertainers just somehow have the physiques that command top dollar and signature roles in our favorite films. They’re the lucky ones, right?
Despite that story following a segment about a strange new plastic surgery trend where women are trying to have the Kate Middleton nose, there’s no anger or indignation about what the brightest stars in entertainment are doing to their bodies.
This is nothing new. In fact, in Hollywood, actors are a bit more open about using enhancers in comparison to the clandestine ways of sports figures. Even 50 Cent, who strangely enough has become the promoter for the aforementioned Gamboa, was linked to a steroid/PED dealer back in 2008 (which might explain his entire career after “Get Rich or Die Tryin’“.)
The real question now, though, is not “how mad should everyone be at Alex Rodriguez?” but rather “since this keeps happening, how can we start talking about and dealing with PEDs in a more productive way?”
Span, like many of us of younger generations – those for whom the East Germany doping program was too complicated to understand as elementary school children – may not have the same vitriol as our elders. Since many of us came of age as doping investigations went side by side with home run chases, there tends to be a collective shrug of the shoulders not long after names and dates are connected to the suppliers.
And yet, with that Miami New Times report and the latest incarnation of the once-told deer antler story, there’s another question that isn’t being asked enough: Is it fair to become outraged at an athlete’s use of PEDs when we’re pretty ignorant about the use of the same by other entertainers? Better yet, what about the use of Botox, Viagra, Adderall, uppers, downers and more for us “regular” people?
Though we can place this same issue at the hands of other parts of this global society, the insatiable demand we Americans (and probably our Canadian friends) have to be better versions of ourselves is pretty damn hypocritical when you think about it. We ask to have it all without an ounce of the work elite athletes have to put in just to attempt to make a living out of their desired sports. And for some reason, we’re far less concerned, and far more amazed, about the body sculpting of those paid to amaze us on camera or on stage.
Maybe, just maybe, some day Americans will admit that this society has a drug problem. No, not the Barbara Bush “say no to drugs” issue, but an all-out obsession to be younger, fitter, leaner, stronger and unquestionably sexier in four weeks or less.
Let me know when people are ready to talk about it.