Removing the Taboo of Steroids

Baseball has always been a sport defined by the eras. It began with the dead ball era, which was most of the early 1900s, when the scores of games were low and homeruns were few and far between. This period ended soon after the emergence of the great slugger Babe Ruth. It was followed later by the integration era, a post-war time when baseball finally witnessed the racial integration of African-American players, as epitomized by the legendary Jackie Robinson. Baseball of the 1960s and 70s was dubbed the expansion era as it saw the emergence of an expanded 24 teams and a division of the American and National Leagues into east and west divisions. The free agent era was a seventeen-year period spanning across the early 80s and mid 90s; it produced the innovative new idea of free agency that led to the skyrocketing of player salaries and greatly increased movement of players between teams. The most recent baseball of the past twenty years has left us baseball fans with perhaps the most infamous and despised era in the history of our beloved sport, the steroid era.

The steroid era is a continuing time throughout baseball, beginning in perhaps the late 1980s (no one can be absolutely sure), in which players have taken performance-enhancing drugs to add more power to their game. Thus we have seen a game with exponentially more power hitting and overall offensive output. Homerun totals over the past twenty years have been unprecedented in their magnitude, alluding again to some kind of performance enhancing drug taken by the great homerun hitters of today.

Another hateful magazine cover after the widespread publication of Alex Rodriguez's (A-Rod) steroid use.
Another hateful magazine cover after the widespread publication of Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use.

The most recent case to consider is that of Alex Rodriguez, who was suspended for an entire season after the MLB convicted him of taking steroids during his illustrious time on the New York Yankees; a time where he reached the milestone of hitting over 600 homeruns in his career, a feat that only seven others have reached in baseball history. A once certain hall of famer, he is now more likely to only hold these records with a marring asterisk beside them.

Perhaps some of John Stuart Mill’s philosophies can help us with this moral and ethical dilemma plaguing the sport. Surprisingly, I think Mill would support the use of steroids in the MLB. First of all, Mill’s philosophy on customs states that he is not against the changing of traditions if there is consensus that they have no logical beginning. Steroid use has customarily not been a part of baseball history, but only because these drugs have just recently been put into production. Mill would argue that we haven’t given steroids a chance, and as a result it is a custom that can be changed in an effort to try something new. He often makes the point that we have to try living a certain way before we can decide if it’s detrimental to society or not.

Another point that Mill makes is his famous harm principle. It states that, “The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people”. In other words, as long as you are harming only yourself, the government (or in this case the MLB executives) cannot interfere to say otherwise. Since doping is more of a self-harm, Mill would say that it is an acceptable part of our society. Although many can make the argument that these players on steroids are “harming the game” it would not fit into Mill’s conventional definition of harm.

Maybe, if we believed Mill and his theories, then we would also believe that baseball is ready for a new era, for an era of accepted and promoted steroid use.


3 thoughts on “Removing the Taboo of Steroids

  1. You make very interesting points about what Mill’s outlook on the steroid situation in baseball may be. However, I am inclined to believe that Mill may not be particularly supportive, if not opposed to, the legality of steroids in professional baseball. You state in this post that Mill believes traditions with no logical beginning can be changed. I would argue that the illegality of steroids in the MLB is a rule and “tradition” with very logical beginnings. The reason steroid use has not been implemented into the game of baseball is because it would create a far less level playing field, and if steroids became permissible, that does not necessarily mean all players would use them. Many, if not most, would be opposed because of negative health effects, and, as a result, would be at an inherent disadvantage to those who are willing to risk negative, and possibly permanent, side effects of the use of steroids.


  2. I find your blog post about the steroid era and John Stuart Mill to be very interesting as an avid baseball fan and die hard Yankee fan. I think you make interesting connections to Mill’s writing but I disagree with your argument.

    I do not think that Mill would be open to the use of steroids. Although steroids are a relatively new practice for baseball players as they haven’t been around, they fall under a general category of cheating. the Custom at hand should not be steroids but rather cheating. I think Mill would agree that cheating is a customary practice that is looked at by society in a negative light and as a wrong. Furthermore, Mill would agree that it is something that should be considered harmful to others and therefore is a custom that should not be practice. There has been a history of cheating as a custom that is practiced and it is one that has been proven to not work and one that has been given a chance even when the act such as this one appears to only affect one person when in actuality it harms others.

    Furthermore I would disagree with your point that it is only affecting the individual. There are many harms that are done as a result of the use of steroids. The steroids give players an unfair advantage over others. They are able to play at a higher level without having the full natural talent or hard work necessary to improve one’s playing skills but rather they are taking banned substances that are not meant to be in the body in order to play at a higher level. The performance one has as a result of the steroids can include making a play that was the difference in winning a game and therefore lead to an unfair win by a team as a whole. The improvement also of overall individual statistics could hinder another player who is playing fairly from getting the credit they deserve for their natural talent and hard work, and also from getting the monetary compensation they deserve for performing at such a high level in a fair manner. Additionally, Mill says, “Finally, if by his vices or follies a person does no direct harm to others, he is nevertheless (it may be said) injurious by his example; and ought to be compelled to control himself, for the sake of those whom the sight or knowledge of his conduct might corrupt or mislead” Using steroids to advance one’s playing ability is injurious by example as it encourages people to take an easy, and harmful way to becoming better players. They are not putting in the hard work, effort, and natural ability that others do to achieve success and therefore using steroids is significantly harmful to the game, and to those players who do not use them.


  3. I think it is great that the MLB is really putting their foot down to get rid of steroids. Obviously, it’ll be around but it has dramatically decreased with the new drug enforcement policies and random drug testings. Sad to say, baseball during the steroid era (while it was cheating) was something crazy to watch. Bonds, Sosa, McGuire, A-Rod all hitting 500 foot mammo tanks was amazing to watch as a young kid. It is displeasing though that these kids saw them as role models and now their view on them will probably be skewed.


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