When it comes to sports fandom, we’re all kids. And kids love superheroes.
We don’t just want our sports heroes to win. We cheer them on because their abilities go beyond our own. In an idealistic sense they may represent, as Olympic officials and other sports boosters profess, the best that humanity can achieve. But in their physical feats they are superior to us, and thus, to us, superhuman – just like Spiderman, Buffy, or Harry Potter. We enjoy seeing a slugger break a home run record or a runner achieve a record time in a race in the same way we enjoy seeing Spidey vanquish a super-powered foe.
If just a few athletes are found guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs, fans’ sense of fairness will render harsh judgments upon them. This week’s New York City newspaper headlines excoriating Jason Giambi express this. But if many, most, or all the athletes in a sport are taking such drugs, now or in the future, there will be little if any outrage.
Today’s steroid drugs cause health problems, but in the future there will be better ones that don’t have adverse side effects. At that point there will be no medical disincentive to take them.
Get ready for a new world. This genie can’t be put back in the bottle.