I've been a police officer most of my life and a Giants baseball fan even longer. Growing up in New York City, I sat in the bleachers and watched Willie Mays do his magic. For both of those reasons, I am dismayed to see that home-run king Barry Bonds' personal trainer has been charged with illegal-drug distribution, adding fuel to the rumors that Bonds has used anabolic steroids to bulk up his already muscular frame.
There are plenty of other bigger and stronger guys than Bonds who could spend a lifetime at home plate without ever banging a home run into San Francisco Bay. Bonds' incredible home-run hitting and athletic ability comes from his extraordinarily keen eyesight, superb reflexes, sense of balance, knowledge of the game and brain wiring that we can only guess at.
So the question is: Would we have unleashed the urine police, federal agents, prosecutors and a grand jury if a jock had been suspected of taking drugs to enhance his eyesight or other mental and physical abilities possessed by great athletes? The muddled answer that we get from the mother of all nannies, the Food and Drug Administration, is that anabolic steroids, synthetic versions of male hormone testosterone, may, in future years, be shown to be dangerous to health and should be "nipped in the bud."
Really? My cardiologist tells me that aspirin could be fatal for me, as it is for thousands of Americans, because it conflicts with other medications. If we're worrying about danger, shouldn't we also be outlawing skateboarding, surfing, downhill skiing, horseback riding, mountain climbing, skydiving, ice cream, chocolate and bacon cheeseburgers? There is no conclusive scientific proof that these particular steroids have killed or caused serious illnesses. The standard warnings on prescription and over-the-counter medicines are similar to the mumbo jumbo about steroids from the FDA. Indeed, the absence of class-action lawsuits suggests that the ever-alert class-action lawyers haven't even discovered this health crisis.
Nor do the nebulous claims from establishment guardians of virtuosity in youthful athletes that we must have a "level playing field" for all make sense. I have news for them. When Bonds and his fellow greats were born, only a handful of other humans were on a level playing field with them.
I'm no advocate for testosterone or other diet supplements. In fact, a couple of times a week, my senior-men's doubles group watches in envy as the slender youngsters on Stanford's women's tennis team hit balls 50 mph faster than we bulked men can. Their superior timing, technique and training would drive us off the court in five minutes.
As someone who spent most of his life as a police officer, I think the government should be spending its resources and our money finding bin Laden and destroying al Qaeda, instead of launching investigations into which jocks are using molecules determined to be immoral by the federal government.
Joseph D. McNamara, formerly the chief of police of San Jose, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.