A Note on George Carlin about Steroids and Sports from a Practical Idealist

Battle and competition have become not only endemic to the sports of our times but to how we see the world and how we teach our children.
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In his satiric, acerbic, jolting and irreverent wit, the late comedian George Carlin tended to be cynical about most things, though not all. About cynics themselves he said, "Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist."

Perhaps his cynicism about the hoopla he saw regarding the use of steroids in major league sports of all kind had as much to do with what he found to be the hyper critical attitude towards drugs in general; he tended to find hypocrisy always more harmful than any subject in and of itself. In When will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops Home?, Carlin laced into what he felt to be the exaggerated avidity with which various drug-related scandals of professional athletes were being handled. He wrote, "Consider the Greek Phidippides, a professional runner who, in 490 B.C., ran from Athens to Sparta and back (280 miles) to ask the Spartans for help against the Persians in an upcoming battle that threatened Athens. Don't you think his generals would have been happy to give him amphetamines if they had been available? Grow up, purists. The body is not a sacred vessel, it's a tool."

The last quote is what I woke up to on talk radio a couple of years ago, and as usual when I heard him or saw him, he jolted me into a different perspective, a different way of seeing things. At that time in the early morning I didn't know what I thought, but I'm fairly sure I do now.

I am only a tennis aficionado for the most part, but I also follow the news and do psychotherapy with both children and adults. I have observed the toll taken by the competition that fuels individual, social and educational existences. Battle and competition have become not only endemic to the sports of our times but to how we see the world and how we teach our children.

We teach them commandments more or less than the 10 Carlin ridiculed quite brilliantly, and usually we teach our children to do their best, that their valiant efforts are good enough. But can we really mean it when they see us competing through them on a constant basis? We tell our children to not be shy because shyness is something looked down upon in little children but insisted upon in the next few years when we warn them against serial rapists and predators lurking everywhere.

Perhaps there is some ground to stand on without being either prissy or purist, either moralistically religious, or entirely cynical. Perhaps we can include an idealism bound by practicality, which fights for integrity precisely because the effects of ignoring it can decay a culture and negate chances for fixing any problems. There is the reality of disappointment of seeing heroes fall, but we are better off if we can see we are the people who pay the advertisers to create those same heroes and that we have a choice in the matter.

While it is true we need heroes, and good entertainment, the price we pay is also an indicator of our desperation for diversion. Most people in this country turn on a sport or a recycled sitcom or reality show which demeans at least a few people in the plot. In this plot of performance-altering drugs in sport, we are being humiliated as much as anyone else, as we show our desperation to be fed our excitement no matter what the price.

Baseball players have gone on strike. Could we, the viewers, stomach a strike through the summer if these guys don't clean up their act? Could we face our addiction to the electricity of winning no matter the cost? Who knows, but it might begin a hugely encouraging epidemic of evaluating our addiction to the sports of humiliation we watch while we name them reality shows. We are ingesting huge doses of toxic chemicals that damage the brain, but with the baseball-drug connection we are dulling our judgment as we speak.

George Carlin woke me up in so many ways, also because he never stopped working on new material. I think he would find some right here -- not in the triteness of drug use, per se. The material might just as well contain bits about the addictions of a public, the rush at the speed of the greatest hit and pitch to the extent that we no longer care what message our children are receiving. This bit, every bit of it, would be about our addiction, the addiction of a public filled with the rush of the feeling of speed all the way to the end of the game and beyond.