Nonetheless a good man can at times do bad things.
That, in short, has been the defense of a string of major league baseball players, including several Orioles, who admitted occasional use of banned substances, apologized for it and moved on. The Oriole exception was Rafael Palmeiro, who told Congress in March 2005 that he never used steroids, then tested positive for them a few months later and was given a 10-day suspension by Major League Baseball.
Athletes are always looking for something that will give them an edge over competitors. Bobby Thomson , who died this month at the age of 86 and whose dramatic ninth-inning home run in 1951 vaulted the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers into the 1951 World Series, could have known what kind of pitch Ralph Branca was going to throw him. Mr. Thomson’s Giant teammates, using a spy with a centerfield telescope and an elaborate series of signals, were stealing signs from opposing catchers and telling the hitter what pitch was coming.
Until 2006, when baseball players were first tested for amphetamines, a coffee pot laced with "greenies" reportedly was standard locker room fare. Before he died this month in Catonsville at the age of 79, Harold Connolly, the winner of the hammer throw in the 1956 Olympics, told New York sportswriter Robert Lipsyte that in the days before drug testing and prohibition, he and his fellow hammer throwers regularly used steroids to help their bodies recover.
In private moments, away from prosecutors, athletes often argue that by taking performance-enhancing drugs, they are just following the normative behavior of their sport. In other words, since everybody else is doing it, they don’t really have an edge.
Does a batter on steroids have an advantage facing a pitcher on steroids? It is an argument that misses key points. Namely, that in most cases, taking performance-enhancing drugs is illegal and, knowing that, athletes try to cover up their behavior.
You can’t rely solely on the athletes to make the rules for a sport. Instead, a sport’s custodians, its commissioners and federations, must set the standards that athletes have to adhere to. These are moving targets, much like campaign finance rules, that have to be adjusted as conditions change and the cheaters maneuver.
Some of the answers to the issue of steroids in sports are not obvious. But one is: When asked if they use them or have used them, athletes must tell the truth.