The problem with the steroid backlash

By: Tom Westerholm

I enjoy working out.

I’m starting there because I hate starting with a disclaimer. So instead, I’ll follow with a disclaimer: I’m really not a very impressive physical specimen. When I arrive in the weight room, my first step is usually removing several pounds from the bench press of a much stronger man. My second step is lying down under that bar and pushing it upward, grunting like a warthog and spewing spit into the air like a tall, gangly Ol’ Faithful. Or I do my daily routine of wandering toward the pull-up bar and doing one (1) pull-up, then coming down and strutting away like I’m not mortally embarrassed of my one (1) pull-up. Thug life for me.

I tell you this because, like every other guy who has ever lifted a weight, I wish that I could bulk up immediately. I wish that there was a cheat code I could type in that would allow me to have the body I want immediately (and ideally, if I could maintain that body with a minimal amount of effort, that would be great).

Of course, that cheat code does actually exist, in all of its testicle-shrinking glory. Performance Enhancing Drugs (a blanket term for drugs that either are a form of steroids or mimic the effect a steroid has on the body) are once again coming under the microscope in professional sports. Lance Armstrong finally (and very publicly) confessed to using PEDs in all seven of his Tour De France wins. Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis may or may not have recovered from a torn tricep much too quickly to be legitimate. Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez has been named in several reports of extended PED use. Some of baseball’s greatest hitters from the late ’90s and early ’00s are being kept out of the Hall of Fame because they are suspected or proven steroid users. The sports world is littered with rumors of steroid use, as one might expect in a community of the most physically impressive human beings on Earth. And the backlash against steroid use is surprisingly, violently angry.

This, to me, is ridiculous. Steroid use, of course, is awful. As Christians, we are taught that our bodies are temples of God and we should respect that temple and every other thing that you heard and didn’t care about in any of your physical education classes. But even a non-Christian can recognize the addictive and dangerous nature of steroids.

But, as is so often the case, the backlash against steroids fails to empathize with the steroid user. If there was a cheat code that would allow you to achieve every single one of your goals, you would use it, right? Imagine if you could take a pill that would ENSURE you perfect grades? What if you could take a drug that would allow you to get the EXACT job you have wanted since you were a kid? What’s more: You will get paid like a rockstar. The only problem is that this pill has been proven to be dangerous to your health. What would you do? It’s possible that you would still abstain, but it’s a little more difficult to say no, right?

A lot of younger athletes would never take steroids, which is good. The problem is that it’s the mortally competitive, those who don’t care what happens to them as long as they win, who are the most likely to take a drug that could badly physically harm them. Then, when they are glorified on the field, they become role models. It’s a vicious circle, and unfortunately, it also doesn’t REALLY seem to have a solution.

Self-improvement and competitiveness can become idols in their own right. It’s sadly easy for women to develop body image issues, and it’s sadly easy for men to get caught up in staring at themselves in the mirror. Our body is a temple, but when we focus too much on the temple, we lose sight of God living inside that temple who actually deserves our worship.

I wouldn’t have the guts to take steroids, and frankly, I’m glad that I don’t. So if you are looking for me, I’ll be under the benchpress bar, spewing spit into the air and catching it with my face like an absurd fountain.

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