With Alex Rodriguez of the NY Yankees just suspended by Major League Baseball for steroid use, it brings to mind a long, wonderful interview that former NBA star Charles Barkley gave last week with the Tom Waddle and Mark Silverman of ESPN radio.
I get their podcast every day, and they talk with Barkley regularly. They're always freewheeling, wide-ranging, open, opinionated and entertaining. In this one, from last week but I only got around to listening to it this morning, they eventually got around to the subject of Ryan Braun's suspension from baseball and the rumors about Rodriguez. Barkley made a very interesting point, which rarely gets talked about, as the media (and the sports themselves) focus on the big names.
He said that the top players are the ones who are so much more gifted than everyone else. Though some use PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) to increase their productivity, that's what they're doing -- adding to the great skill they already have. They don't need it, and that's why most at the top don't do it. Though some do. However, his point was that the bottom third to half of a major sport is filled with athletes who are fighting to keep their job every year -- "There are guys on the street who can do what they do, and they're out of work," is the way he put it -- and so they're the ones who are most looking for the competitive advantage.
He wasn't saying that players at the top don't use PEDs. They do. And he wasn't saying that all players in the bottom half do use PEDs. They don't. He was saying that the great problem is at the bottom, not at the top where so much attention is put.
He also had a hilarious, Charles-line.
They were talking about what do you say to parents who ask about how they talk to their children on the subject of why PEDs shouldn't be used, when it's been show that the reward is often greater than the risk, especially for people coming out of poverty. Barkley has long been outspoken about how he and other athletes shouldn't be treated as role models, but he acknowledged that it's a good and fair question, and one to which he doesn't have the answer, and doesn't want to be a hypocrite in saying that he does. Then he added --
"It's such a cop out when your kid does something wrong for you to blame it on other people. I always tell people, every time you see a kid who's an idiot, just follow him home. There's a parent there who's an idiot, too."
I have grown to love the guy.
(My favorite Barkley line is about the time he was arrested and in court, after a guy threw a glass of ice on him in a restaurant and Charles chased him and eventually caught him and threw him through a window. I believe I've subsequently heard Barkley say that the guy did more than that, perhaps spit on him or call him a particularly bad name. But Barkley has always said he's made clear "If you bother me, I'm going to whup you." And accept the consequences. Anyway, the judge asked if he had any regrets. Barkely said, "Yes. I regret that we weren't on the second floor.")
If you want to hear the whole interview, it's terrific, though about 40 minutes. (How's that for being gracious with your time...?) But the discussion about PEDs referred to here starts at the 32:50 mark.)
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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