In what remains the most viscerally popular post I’ve ever written on this blog, I decried the demonization of Barry Bonds. Patrick Hruby, at Sports on Earth, points out that Hollywood has gotten just as bad.
The Hollywood-sports parallel isn’t perfect, admittedly. The problem is that, for whatever reason, it is easier to separate actors as human beings and actors as actors than to do to the same for athletes. As superhero movies get more popular over time, this will only be accentuated. Tom Hardy’s quote in Hruby’s article was brilliant, in particular:
After bulking up for the role [of Bane in the Dark Knight Returns, Men’s Journal reports, Hardy was asked if he used performance-enhancing drugs.
“No, I took Smarties,” he said. “What do you f—king think?”
The article goes on to remark that there were zero negative consequences for Hardy as a result. Compare with this the treatment of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and company, and there’s no contest. Why not? Why are athletes pariahs and actors still, by and large, respected?
A significant part of this problem, in my opinion, is that exposure to athletes is more gradual and more relentless (in the sense that you are repeatedly seeing the same person do the same thing for a long time). This is even more true for baseball. It bears repeating that in every other sport (with the exception of the Olympic Games), steroids are either ignored entirely or cosmetic measures are taken to avoid the public relations nightmare that MLB experienced.
Every other sport, that is, but one. Pro wrestling, even more than MLB (and for a much longer period) has faced steroid allegations. Like baseball, people see wrestlers on a very regular basis. This means it’s easier to see change over time. Even a relatively ubiquitous actor might appear in six or seven movies a year (not counting voice actors). If we’re talking a TV series, that expands to 25 episodes, give or take. However, that doesn’t mean we see genuine change over time — some TV shows tape several episodes in the course of a week or two and then show them later. WWE does this for the holidays and for part of their weekly shows; Smackdown is taped on Tuesdays but shown on Fridays. This gives wrestlers a chance to participate in house shows, do media appearances, spend time with their families, what have you. WWE’s response — and so far a successful one — was a strict regimen of testing and a Wellness policy that requires frequent physicals.
The change over time factor is, I believe, coupled with the suspension of disbelief needed in fictional broadcasts, why actors are getting off the hook. The use of PEDs isn’t shoved down our throats the way that it is with athletes. Note that I’m not criticizing them for doing it. I still think PEDs are treated with insufficient knowledge and attention. We hate them in a Helen Lovejoy-esque “Won’t somebody think of the children?” way. Like any medications, the people with the worst reactions to steroids tend to be abusers. I still see nothing wrong with adult humans making an informed choice to use a medication to improve the quality of their lives. If monitored by health care professionals, I suspect that the ill effects of steroids could be very easily managed.
I do not want steroids sold over the counter. Continue to treat them as a controlled substance, by all means. However, treat them as we do cosmetic surgery, not as we do narcotics. Don’t demonize people for using them. Want to asterisk Bonds’ HR record, if that makes you feel better? Go for it. Then shut up, take your victory, and let the man alone.