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Performance Enhancement

At the Home Run Derby in July, Texas Rangers’ center fielder Josh Hamilton hit a record 28 first-round homers en route to a second-place finish.

The next morning, several of my coworkers talked about how great Hamilton’s story was and how inspirational it was that the guy had gone through so much adversity and climbed back to the top.

If you’ve never heard about him before, I’ll make a long story short. Hamilton was the No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. The Raleigh native was expected to be the Rays’ first great player but was sidetracked by drug and alcohol addiction. After three suspensions and several more chances with Tampa, he was released. He didn’t resurface again until the Cincinnati Reds signed him prior to the 2006 season.

Hamilton parlayed his second chance with the Reds into a trade to the Rangers before this season. As of right now, he leads the MLB in RBIs and is second in the American League in home runs.

Still—despite the made-for-Hollywood script Hamilton’s life seemed to be following—I remained skeptical. My argument was simple, “How can we trust that a man who has years of drug addiction in his past isn’t on HGH or any other number of performance enhancers?”

Then, I had an epiphany.

I really don’t care if he is on HGH. Or the cream. Or the clear.

Sport isn’t complicated. When I go to a baseball stadium or watch a game on television, I want to see baseballs fly into oblivion faster than MC Hammer’s fortune. On Sundays, I want to see a 6-foot-5, 250-pound linebacker who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds take on a mammoth 320-pound offensive lineman in the trenches. I like the awe of the moment. I like feeling so small when an athlete does something so big.

After all, sport is about performance right? If so, what’s so wrong with performance enhancers?

Besides, the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t is murky and ambiguous at best.

When Michael Phelps and the rest of his U.S. Olympic swimming team buddies suited up in Nebraska for the Olympic trials, they were sporting a new, sleek suit. The Speedo LZR RACER, created with the help of NASA experts, was introduced in February 2008 to make swimmers more aerodynamic and faster.

At the Olympic trials in July, the suit helped to yield nine world records, 21 American records and 47 meet records.

So, should the swimmers be locked up, tried and persecuted? It’s pretty clear their suit is a technological performance enhancer as the 2008 trials saw the most records ever broken at an individual trial.

Professionals—note that I’m only advocating the use of these for adults, who are paid to perform and can make choices for themselves—fully understand that the consequences may become dire down the road. But put yourself in the shoes of a professional athlete. You see someone else playing better than they ever have while you’re putting in the same amount of work and getting less results. This other athlete is getting more money, more endorsements, more fame and more notoriety.

I know I’d ask around and figure out what he was on. Maybe you wouldn’t. If not, you obviously subscribe to a higher moral and ethical code than I do.

In the end though, we all just want to be entertained.

Whether or not Hamilton has used something, at this point, is irrelevant to me. The larger point is that sport is supposed to be an entertaining escape, a respite from the grind of our ordinary, monotonous lives.

If someone taking or using performance enhancers helps break up that monotony then I’m all for it.

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