On his Miami radio show on Monday, Dan Le Batard closed his second segment by imitating Ray Lewis’s postgame interview with Sal Paolantonio.
You’ll notice that Le Batard only mocked Lewis’s personality in that sketch, that he did not venture into Lewis’s alleged PED use, of which either that or God (and it really is completely binary between the two) enabled him to return in 10 weeks from a torn tricep injury that has sidelined everybody else for six months.
This is because Le Batard wrote in his Miami Herald column on Sunday that Lewis’s alleged foray into deer antler spray represents a strange double standard in the attitudes of sports media and fans: why are some things OK, but some not? Le Batard writes:
It is a symbol of echoing strength in the gladiator arena for legend Ronnie Lott to demand his pinkie finger be cut off during a football game so he could keep playing. But it is a Super Bowl “scandal” for Lewis to rush back to punctuate a 17-year career by maybe — maybe! — using a deer antler spray any of us can buy at a local supplement store to speed healing. The judgments we rain down upon these athlete-entertainers are filled with selective moralities, but you’ll have a hard time finding an inconsistency more absurd than that one, though modern medicine keeps giving us more from which to choose.
We don’t seem to have an issue with Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning turning in age-defying performances after having their blood spun in Germany, but Lance Armstrong blood doping for endurance is a historic fraud. There is an ethical line between those two things, healing and cheating, banned and not banned, but it is blurrier than ever because of advances in medicine, about as thin as the one letter of difference between “immortality” and “immorality.” Ephedrine, you remember, was perfectly legal in baseball right up until Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler died on a spring training field.
There exists, as Le Batard says, a gray area in our hysteria over the morality and legality of performance enhancing drugs. It seems that the only thing that distinguishes the classification of one method of healing and/or training as cheating from another as TRUE WARRIOR status is that we say so. These distinctions may as well be decided by the economy roulette wheel from South Park:
It also reminds me of words that were written by the great philosopher Karl Welzein:
Dr. told us we couldn’t drink cold ones in the hospital. Is that some sort of “rule?” “Rules” have to make sense or they’re just “words.”
— Karl Welzein (@DadBoner) January 27, 2013
On Grantland, Bill Simmons made a similar point last Friday:
Let’s see what’s in everyone’s body, once and for all. I think you’d be surprised. You’d wonder if some were glorified junkies. You’d be confused about why we placed such a belated priority on concussion awareness while continuing to ignore HGH and steroids and painkillers. Why wasn’t the recent story about the NFL’s Toradol waiver a bigger deal? What’s the difference between taking HGH and Toradol, anyway? What does the word “performance enhancer” really mean? It’s OK to borrow a dead person’s ligament to regain your 95-mph fastball, but it’s not OK to boost your testosterone for those same results? It’s OK to travel to Germany to inject stem cells into your damaged knee to stimulate recovery and regeneration, but it’s not OK to replace your blood with better blood to increase your stamina?
How did we decide what’s right and wrong? Did we just arbitrarily make up a bunch of rules with no correlation to one another?
However, Simmons abruptly veered in the opposite direction:
Why won’t our favorite athletes help us out by pushing for more accountability within their sports? The goal should be simple: total transparency. Every American professional league should have the best possible testing. Period. And if athletes don’t think it’s fair … well, I don’t think it’s fair that some of them cheat. So there.
Hadn’t he just established that the rules of what do and don’t constitute cheating are arbitrary? Why, then, advocate for a sweeping drug testing policy that distinguishes cheating in black and white?
In 2007, Simmons wrote about Kevin McHale:
During Kevin McHale’s 13-year career in Boston, he helped the Celtics capture three championships, redefined the lost art of low-post play, defended everyone from Bernard King to Andrew Toney to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and peaked as the best power forward alive in 1986 and ’87. I loved watching him, I loved rooting for him and, most of all, I loved him for risking his career in the ’87 playoffs by playing on a broken foot. Boston ended up losing the NBA Finals in six and his career was never quite the same. To this day, he walks with a slight limp. To this day, he says he’d do it again.
Again: why do we believe that it is admirable to risk your career playing through an injury, but cheating to take advantage of modern medicine? Do PEDs really have more adverse health effects on players’ bodies than normal wear and tear from the sports themselves? How would Simmons have felt if Kevin McHale and Larry Bird had used banned, but untested for, supplements that would have elongated their careers and enabled the Celtics to win playoff series against the Bad Boy Pistons and Jordan Bulls en route to another championship or two or three? Does the “unfairness” of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and others’ steroid usage really tarnish his wonderful memories of the 2004 Red Sox, about whom he wrote a book entitled, “Now I Can Die in Peace”?
The answer is no, or perhaps only ever so slightly, because at this point the only reasonable conclusion is that professional athletes are cheating on a level playing field. The players associations lobby on behalf of athletes’ interests. If a majority of players felt strongly that the “cheaters” were unfairly implicating the innocent and clean ones, they would call for universal testing and transparency. If owners truly wanted this, they would have demanded these concessions to settle their recent lockouts. If fans actually cared, we would boycott.
The reality is that everyone secretly wants the best athletes to come back quicker from injuries and perform at elite levels longer into their careers. We just feel squeamish about admitting it because we are increasingly aware of what comes next. However, were we not all enriched by Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning’s miraculous comebacks this season? Wherever their recoveries fell in the gray areas of legality and morality, didn’t they make informed, personal decisions as adults to push themselves back in spite of potential long-term consequences to their well-being? Were innocent others harmed in the process? Wouldn’t the best way to ensure transparency be to allow the use of all legal supplements and treatment procedures and leave their administration in the hands of the world’s best doctors?
This was really a long-winded way of saying that, while there are certainly plenty of legitimate reasons to hate Ray Lewis, doing everything — deer antler spray, holographic stickers, faith in the Lord, and probably lots of other insane stuff — he could to get back on the field for his team’s Super Bowl run is something that probably should not be vilified.