Our blissful ignorance was on peacock display again last week with the comical “scandal” involving Ray Lewis. We’ll get to that in a moment. But, first, as athletes and games and stakes grow as if on human growth hormone, let’s rewind 15 years for proper perspective — arriving at that utopian, pure football time when the old guy trying to block a young Ray Lewis had … a catheter in his penis.
Lomas Brown, an offensive lineman for 18 years, once played an NFL game with pooped uniform pants because there wasn’t time for the politeness of a bathroom break. Another time, in search of soothing, he slathered himself in a cream intended for horses, the awful stench oozing from his mouth and every pore for days. Each game his last seven seasons, in a sport we are seeing is not meant for the human body, he took a pregame injection in the butt that burned so much for 60 seconds that this giant man would close his eyes whenever that big needle approached — and that was the remedy. But nothing compared to what he endured while trying to pass a kidney stone during that game against Lewis.
“I had to crawl on the field,” he says.
Kidney stones are about the worst physical pain a human body can feel (aside from labor), but that wasn’t the worst part of Brown’s day. Throughout the game, he felt like he had to urinate every 15 seconds. Teammates would gather around him with towels on the sideline, shielding him as he tried to pass the stone in public. But that wasn’t the worst part.
“The most painful part was them taking the catheter out afterward,” Brown says. “Oh my God. So excruciating. They yank it out all at once. Horrible. Horrible. The doctor had pliers and counted to three and just yanked. They put a towel in my mouth [for the screaming]. Oh my God.”
We want our athletes to care so very, very deeply.
But we don’t want them to care too much?
It is a symbol of echoing strength in the gladiator arena for legend Ronnie Lott to demand his pinkie finger be cut off during a football game so he could keep playing. But it is a Super Bowl “scandal” for Lewis to rush back to punctuate a 17-year career by maybe — maybe! — using a deer antler spray any of us can buy at a local supplement store to speed healing. The judgments we rain down upon these athlete-entertainers are filled with selective moralities, but you’ll have a hard time finding an inconsistency more absurd than that one, though modern medicine keeps giving us more from which to choose.
We are OK with Kirk Gibson hitting one of the most famous home runs ever on one steroid (cortisone), but we slam the Hall of Fame door on the face of everybody else who might have used the anabolic kind. Granted, cortisone is not a banned performance enhancer, but it certainly enhanced Gibson’s performance, which wouldn’t have been possible without it. Lost in the shouting of “Cheater!” and “Fraud!” from a pill-popping America is how often athletes have to go through the pharmacy for the healing properties of hormones — not just to hit home runs but because what they do for a daily living really hurts.
We don’t seem to have an issue with Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning turning in age-defying performances after having their blood spun in Germany, but Lance Armstrong blood doping for endurance is a historic fraud. There is an ethical line between those two things, healing and cheating, banned and not banned, but it is blurrier than ever because of advances in medicine, about as thin as the one letter of difference between “immortality” and “immorality.” Ephedrine, you remember, was perfectly legal in baseball right up until Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler died on a spring training field.