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Bury Me Massive
A Journal Entry for May, 2005

This page was created on May 1, 2005
This page was last updated on May 22, 2005

 
By Mike Gunn   E-mail Mike
I remember the first time I ever heard of steroids was in high school while reading a muscle-magazine article that some behemoth wrote-an article by that same title. At the time, the only people I knew who would take steroids were such "Muscle Heads." But of course, I was reading muscle magazines because I was a skinny fifteen-year-old wanting to improve my mass so that I could be one of those muscle-heads!

Actually I was one of many kids in the country who played multiple sports in high school and wanted to succeed as an athlete. I wanted nothing more than to get a scholarship to play football at a decent college, and then take my shot in the NFL.

I didn't become a muscle-head, of course, but I did begin to develop physically, and I also began to have success on the football field. Sure enough, in my senior year, one of my dreams came true: I was offered a full scholarship to a Division I college and felt my career was about to take off. It was at Boston College that I became reintroduced to the topic of steroids.

This was the seventies and there wasn't much known about steroids (or much else) at the time. We just did what we felt like doing. There were rumors that steroids could cause baldness, acne and sterility, but what were such things to an eighteen-year-old kid whose dream was to play in the NFL? I began my college career as a starter and felt that it was only a matter of time until I was going to hear my name called on draft day in the National Football League.

Nice fantasy. After suffering one injury after another and failing to start as a sophomore, I watched many others on the team make huge advances in speed and strength while I nursed injuries and began to fall behind in my athletic progress. It was then

that I realized that the guys kicking my butt were shooting steroids into theirs. I was faced with a huge dilemma: do I sell out to reach for my dreams, or do I follow a conscience that kept telling me that "Real men do it clean"?

A lousy conscience; what up with that? It was seriously like the angel-and-the-devil-on-the-shoulder routine, the two arguing with one another, seemingly representing my id and ego or something like that. So what did I do? I stole a bottle of dianabol from my roommate.

Mind you, I am a pastor now, but I don't know what I was back then-desperate, I guess. As I began to take the steroid, my "inner Catholicism" won over. You know, some weird "super-ego" demanding that I put those evil blue pills away. I was doomed to conscience and sure-fire failure in the pursuit of my desires.

I say all that to set the stage to comment on what I would call severe moralizing and lack of understanding by sports writers, radio talk show hosts and the U.S. government. If you've been on life support for the past year, you may have missed the fact that

athletics (especially baseball) have been embroiled in a tendentious tug-of-war as to what to do about the "steroid problem." Personally I think it's a joke. Hasn't baseball simply been caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar?

Seriously, the sport has risen from the dead precisely because of the massive homeruns by the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. (The latter two pretty much saved the game a few years back when they both broke Roger Maris' long-time single-season home run record of 61.) And now these stars are vilified as immoral cheaters?

Shame on Major League Baseball! Are they going to give back the huge media contracts that these men have brought to MLB? I think not! But now, all of a sudden we're worried about the fact that these records are tainted; or, my favorite, we are now supposed to care about the poor high school kid who might follow his heroes into oblivion.

Since when? For every Lebron James or Maria Sharapova, there are hundreds of kids that give of their bodies and dreams to chase the carrot-only to be ruined by the unfulfilled promise of the big paycheck.

Hear me now: steroids are not the problem; greed

and money are. Athletes have always done what they can to be the best they can be. I'm not saying that all athletes would cheat, but I can speak first-hand regarding the pressure, and the greed of many who have no problem exploiting athletes for their own gain.

I'm sure many who read this will laugh at the notion of people who make millions of dollars for playing a game being exploited; but I would only say that exploitation comes in many different forms. What about the high school and college athletes who are not getting paid, yet are being used by their coaches and schools to make money?

Better yet: the most recent example of steroid abuse from the NFL. One of the culprits was a punter-not a player who makes a ton of money or figures to have massive needs for steroids. So why did he do it? The reason most of these athletes do, whether in high school or pro sports: to recover from nagging injuries, so they can get back on the field or court, track, and so on, before someone else takes their place-before their paycheck or career evaporates into oblivion.

You may think me a whiner, but athletes are consistently used for what they can do for someone else now, and then discarded when they are no longer useful. The average NFL career is 3 years, and most of these men do not make the millions that a few super stars do.

So what's baseball done to stop these villains? They got tough; they suspended little-used journeymen like Alex Sanchez. That'll show 'em! Baseball owners are hypocrites, and the only scapegoat ought to be the owners themselves, those who knew full well

what was going on in the 90s and didn't do a thing about it because they were making money, watching their sport soar to new attendance records (in spite of the worse attendance slump in baseball history due to the '94 strike).

Are the records tainted? No way! Every era has its issues. Equipment has changed, and the size and speed of the athletes have improved significantly due to better workout programs and the many legal supplements that athletes do take to enhance their ability. I believe we can appreciate what men like Bonds and Sosa have done in our era, and we can also appreciate what the legends did in their own. If we even begin to argue the "advantage" supplements and technological advances in sport, we would need to argue that Tiger Woods and Serena Williams should also have asterisks placed on their records since it is very well known that the clubs/rackets that they play with are far superior to those used by Byron Nelson and Arthur Ashe.

Are steroids themselves evil? No, but the pressure to perform and the promise of fame and fortune can cause a deadly addiction. As with the author of the article I read over thirty years ago, it is all too easy to get caught up in the desire for success at the expense of your own body-especially when you're fifteen years old.

Images courtesy of GeekPhilosopher.com.

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Response by Jenn Wright   E-mail Jenn

It does seem odd to me that after all these years they're finally "getting tough" on steroid abuse. But what's even more odd to me is that performance enhancement is not limited to athletics any more than "cheating" is; yet sports (for the moment) are the prime target. Academia, entertainment, modeling, celebrity, commercialism-just about anything that can put people in the spotlight demands outperforming the opponent.

But what drives the cheating? I think Mike makes a good point-it's not just about performance, but what the performance brings: money and recognition. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and all those heavy-hitting steroid users would very likely be less enticed by steroids if they didn't know that the world is watching them, and in a way that feeds their bank accounts. Likewise, other entertainers might be less likely to get nipped and tucked if they didn't think the entire nation were counting their wrinkles and age spots.

But whose fault is that?

There is no such thing as an un-worshiped idol. On the contrary; an idol, by definition, must be worshiped. Thus the responsibility of idol-making is in the hands of the worshipers, not the worshiped. It's the old Psychology 101 "Positive Reinforcement" scenario: if you reward what people do with something they want (money, fame, notoriety, etc.) they are more likely to repeat that behavior. So if we keep paying $75 a seat for the "good seats" at the billion dollar baseball stadiums so that Sammy and Mark can get their egos stroked and their wallets padded, who's to blame them for repeating the behavior that got them into that spotlight?

I'm in with Mike-greed and money are problems. But I think it goes a step further than that: we, the audience-the idol-makers-are buying the tickets, renting the videos, listening to the CDs, watching the sitcoms, buying the action figures for our kids, reading the books-WE, the ones who complain about over-the-top salaries and "spoiled" sports stars, are telling them that this is what we like, this is what we want to see, this is who we'd rather be. So how can we blame them? It's the ultimate double standard: we resent what you have and what you stand for, but we will still allow you to entertain us. What is up with that?

"American Idol" is the supreme example of this national mindset-an entire television series dedicated to the creation of the next pop music idol. Yet SOMEONE is watching, because the ratings are sky-high. SOMEONE is watching baseball and basketball and football, and buying the logo-laden paraphernalia. SOMEONE is paying ten bucks a pop to see the latest Star Wars movie. SOMEONE is paying people to become idols, then accusing them of unsavory methods of achieving such status.

SOMEONE is all of us-and, to a great extent, we have created the "monsters."

Would you like to comment on this article? Please stop in at the After Eden Forum on Hollywood Jesus. Click Here!
 
The Devil's Advocate Speaks   E-mail the DA

I love watching athletes do amazing things. The beauty and art of sports keep pulling me back-and for those who love sports, there are players who transcend the game. When Michael Jordan was playing, I would watch the Chicago Bulls as often as I could because you never knew when he was going to do something simply amazing.

Though watching sports can be very enjoyable, it is still just a pastime. And when the enjoyment is tainted with news about steroids we can either get all bent out of shape about it or take it in stride. I believe we should take it in stride, focusing more on other more positive aspects of sports. At the same time, I don't think we can sweep steroid use completely under the carpet-but due to moral/ethical issues, not issues of performance enhancement.

I agree with Mike that we tend to overemphasize the culpability of the athletes while downplaying the role of those who take advantage of the athletes. But I can't see going as far as Jenn in asserting that we are all in some way responsible. Yes, we want to see our teams win and watch athletes do amazing things, but we can hardly be blamed for that. Yes, there is a double standard working when we complain about athletes' salaries while forking out tons of dough to watch the sport, but that hardly amounts to making monsters out of them. I doubt that many people actually want athletes to use drugs illegally so that records can be broken.

So, all right; maybe there shouldn't be an asterisk by a player's name for using something to enhance performance. But shouldn't there be one for breaking the rules? We should all be answerable for the choices we make in life. A bad choice is a bad choice whether it is made under tremendous pressure or not.

And maybe making moral, ethical choices is what can really save a sport. Did Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire save baseball with home runs? Sure, attendance and interest had lagged. But who's to say that baseball was best saved in that way? If Sammy and Mark had not been in a homerun record-breaking derby maybe baseball owners and players would have had to reevaluate what was really important about baseball. Maybe they would have had to show us that love of the game is more important than big bucks and getting what you want. Ongoing low attendance might have been just the thing to shake it all up. Maybe what baseball really needed was to not be saved.

Okay, I have to admit that the mere suggestion that the players and owners could actually convince us that they love the game does make me want to giggle a bit-but come on, Mike and Jenn! There's gotta be something positive about sports besides pure competition and performance. Doesn't there?

 
About After Eden

In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul speaks of Christianity as "the ministry of reconciliation."5 By this, he means that the central story of the faith is the reconciliation of Man to God through the blood of His Son, Jesus. Christianity, then, is the ministry of reconciliation because all who claim the name of Christ are ministers—literally, servants in the Greek—of God's specific conciliatory purpose.

But Christianity is not only the ministry of reconciliation—it is the ministry of all things godly. One of the other theological terms applied to the act of Jesus' death on the cross is redemption. In conceiving Hollywood Jesus, David Bruce understood that Christianity is also the ministry of redemption—and in particular, it is the redemptive hope for our culture: not through legislation, stone-throwing or critical negativity, but through showing us the godly things already embedded in our culture. For God reveals Himself through all that He has created, even the things that we may not particularly like.

After Eden is dedicated to this redemptive vision. We believe, as G.K. Chesteron put it, that "humanity is not incidentally engaged, but eternally and systematically engaged, in throwing gold into the gutter and diamonds into the sea."6 That's not a reality we endorse. We'd like to help salvage the gold from the gutter, and rescue the diamonds from the sea.

Mike Gunn is a pastor at Harambee Church in Tukwila, Washington, and was cofounder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Jenn Wright is a writer with degrees in literature and theology. She is co-writing the Narnia coverage for Hollywood Jesus, which has debuted this fall in anticipation of the first movie's 2005 release.

Hollywood Jesus Senior Editor Greg Wright is a writer and ordained minister of the dramatic arts. He teaches English Literature at Puget Sound Christian College, and is author of Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema's The Lord of the Rings.

Editor Dave Stark is an ordained minister and former Microsoft manager. He is now a partner in Restoring Hope Construction.

The Devil's Advocate is a composite personality of our consultants and editorial staff. He may look like someone you know—and probably thinks like a lot of them.

Do you have comments or suggestions regarding the After Eden journal on Hollywood Jesus? Would you like to receive notification of new articles and updates?
Please email
Editor Greg Wright
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Billie Jean King
On Sports History

Sports is so transitory, so ephemeral. It just seems like so much nonsense comparing me to Helen Wills Moody or Suzanne Lenglen or anybody else from some other time. One lesson you learn from sports is that life goes on without you.1

 

FDR
On Competition

Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further...2

 

D.W. Griffith
On the Dark Side

We do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue.3

 

Henry Miller
On the Bright Side

Civilization is drugs, alcohol, engines of war, prostitution, machines and machine slaves, low wages, bad food, bad taste, prisons, reformatories, lunatic asylums, divorce, perversion, brutal sports, suicides...4

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chesterton
On Perception
It is a strange thing that many truly spiritual men... have actually spent some hours in speculating upon the precise location of the Garden of Eden. Most probably we are in Eden still. It is only our eyes that have changed.7

 
Notes

  1. Billie Jean King, Billie Jean, ch. 2 (1982).
  2. Franklin D. Roosevelt, quoted in Nathan Miller, F.D.R.: An Intimate History, p. 89 (1983).
  3. D.W. Griffith, "A Plea for the Art of the Motion Picture," prologue, released as The Birth of a Nation (1915).
  4. Henry Miller, "An Open Letter to Surrealists Everywhere," The Cosmological Eye (1939).
  5. 2 Corinthians 5:18, New International Version.
  6. G. K. Chesterton, The Defendant, J. M. Dent, 1901, p. 16.
  7. G. K. Chesterton, The Defendant, J. M. Dent, 1901, p. 13.