For $752,467, you could attend Cornell University for 43 semesters ...
Or you could buy the ball Barry Bonds hit to score his 756th homerun to break Hank Aaron’s previous record of 755.
On Sept.15, Mark Ecko, owner of the Ecko clothing line, purchased Bonds’s record-breaking ball for $752,467. Ecko then proceeded to create a website, www.vote756.com, to allow all baseball aficionados to democratically decide the fate of the ball.
For eight days, anyone could go onto the site and vote for one of three options; to “bestow [the ball] intact to Cooperstown,” “permanently brand it with an asterisk before sending to Cooperstown” or “launch it into space forever,” according to Mark Ecko’s website. The branded asterisk would serve as a reminder that Bonds’s record is tainted by alleged steroid use.
The polls were capped on Tuesday with a vote of 47 percent in favor of branding the ball. This means that Bonds’ record-setting ball will head to the Hall of Fame with a branded asterisk. Sending the ball to the Hall of Fame untouched came in second with a vote of 34 percent followed by launching it into space, with 19 percent of the vote. 10 million votes were recorded in total according to Ecko’s website.
“He’s stupid. He’s an idiot,” Bonds said of Mark Ecko to the San Francisco Chronicle last week. “He spent $750,000 on the ball, and that’s what he’s doing with it? What he’s doing is stupid.”
There is much debate as to whether Bonds achievement is tainted because of his alleged steroid use. In December 2003, Bonds originally testified at a hearing against the Bay-Area Laboratory Co-Operative, a sports nutrition center that allegedly created designer steroids. He stated at the hearing that he was clean. Last spring, a grand jury heard testimony in order to determine whether or not Bonds committed perjury at the hearing. He has since denied that he knowlingly used steroids. The above information was reported on by CNN.com.
“His achievement, nonetheless, cannot be completely ignored,” said Brian Kaufman ’08, a member of the Cornell varsity baseball team. “It is no small task to hit a 95 mile-an-hour fast ball over an outfield fence that’s 375-feet or more away.”
Alex Bluhm ’09, an avid baseball fan, compared Bonds’s steroid use to the Patriots’ recent “camera-gate” scandal: “As a Patriots fan, I see that it hurts to possibly have a legacy tarnished when cheating comes into play, and I think athletes see this, too, especially with Bonds.”
Bonds’s alleged steroid use has become a national controversy and the use of performance-enhancing drugs is an ethical question that not only applies to Bonds, but to athletes of all sports and calibers.
Athletes have several incentives to use steroids, among them to improve performance and mitigate injuries, according to Prof. Rachel Prentice, science and technology studies. Since steroids help build muscle faster, users can train harder, decrease recovery time and lengthen their careers, added Prentice.
“A $3 million contract is a huge incentive to do whatever it takes to perform and the threat of medical problems down the road seems very abstract in comparison,” Prentice said.
Although collegiate athletes receive no monetary compensation for their time on the field, Cornell varsity athletes must comply with NCAA regulations, which has its own list of banned substances including street drugs, stimulants and anabolic steroids. Additionally, caffeine is a banned substance if it exceeds 15 micrograms/ml in an athlete’s urine.
According to the 2007-2008 NCAA Drug Testing Program, any athlete found with a banned substance in their system may lose eligibility to compete in his or her respective sport. All student-athletes are subject to testing, and all Division I and Division II athletes are subject to year-round testing. The way in which student-athletes are chosen for testing “may be based on NCAA-approved random selection,” according to the NCAA Drug Testing Program.
But, at what point does a drug become performance enhancing, and who’s to judge its effects?
Recall Andreea Raducan, the 2000 Olympic Gold medal winner in the all-around gymnastics competition. Raducan was stripped of her 2000 Olympic gold medal in the all-around gymnastics competition because she tested positive for pseudoephedrine.
“For a long time steroid use in baseball, just like the use of speed, was quietly ignored because athletes performed better, thus helping the bottom line,” Prentice said. “In general, I don’t think athletes or others should be using steroids to improve performance, but if the system allows or even quietly encourages it, then we should punish both the athlete and the system.”
To further explain the ethical concerns of using steroids, Prentice compared the use of steroids to drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, that help students perform in the classroom.
“The effect is similar: Ritalin improves concentration. You still have to study, but that edge might just be the difference between getting into a top law school and a lesser one,” she said. “Down the road, that could translate into better internships, jobs or pay. Here, then, the ethical problems of unfair advantage and pressure to perform are clear.”