Warning --- this is not an economics post, nor a post about Austrian economics. It is, however, a post of personal opinion concerning the Mitchell list.
First, the vast number of names on the list are "implicated", not caught testing positive, and in many instances there were admissions of use when substances were NOT banned. "Yes, Mom and Dad I went to a few bars when I was 18." Sorry, but if you remember it was legal to drink in NJ at 18 back then! Isn't "time travel justice" a violation of the rule of law?
Second, I have been coaching youth sports for close to 30 years in a full time or part time capacity. I would hate to see a young man get himself involved with HGH or steroids for no other reason than to strive to improve their size and strength. There are often legitimate medical reasons for these drugs, but that is not what we are talking about. Kids are naturally growing and peanut butter does a good enough job without the side effects of helping them get extra protein to help in building muscle mass. A healthy diet combined with appropriate technique in strength training and conditioning will do the job. But grown men are an entirely different issue. And professional athletes are an altogether different story.
Professional athletes are asked to stretch their bodies to the physical limits of what is humanly possible day in and day out. Most people who only watch sports on TV have no idea how special these athletes are. The players sitting at the end of the bench on an NBA team is most certainly the greatest player in the history of his town, perhaps state, and most likely his college and in many instances the conference he competed in during college. Heck just look at the Orlando Magic and the fate of JJ Redick --- the greatest scorer in the history of the ACC is averaging less than a quarter a game of playing time. NBA play (now with the international commitments) is pretty much 11 months out of the year, football same thing and same with baseball. We want to see the stars play in person, on TV, and read about them in the newspapers and magazines. Sports is big business. So what does it take to get an athlete who pushes his body to its limits day in and day out supposed to do? Are we willing to shorten the seasons --- NBA from December-April, rather than October-June; NFL from September to December, rather than August to February, and MLB from May-October, rather than April-November. Would we be willing to cut schedules by 25 or 30% and allow players to have a more extended "off-season"? No, we want to see our teams play and play at the highest level of competitive competence achievable every time they take the floor.
Professional tennis players have for years been making an argument for less tournaments and a more extended "dead period". McEnroe admitted to using steroids during his playing days to aid recovery from injuries. Borg quit because the ATP wouldn't allow him to scale back his tournament schedule.
Now to the science of "performance enhancing drugs". As far as I know nobody has proven that HGH or steroids actually improves hand-eye coordination (necessary for hitting a baseball), has the capacity to transform slow twitch muscles into fast twitch (determinant of explosive quickness), and leads to great gains in height on a margin that would matter for a professional athlete. Now I might be wrong, but it is my understanding that what the drugs we are talking about in themselves do not make you stronger, jump higher, run faster, have better balance, quicker reaction time, and see better. What these drugs do is allow the human body to recover faster, so an elite athlete can train more often and more intensely. It is this ability that enables an athlete to get bigger, stronger and faster. Training produces that, not the drugs. The drugs help the body recover from being pushed to its limits, and thus enable the individual to push that limit out continuously. I wonder if we did a random testing of ballet dancers if we would find out what remedies they used to help heal a body pushed to excruciating limits? Would we be upset if we found rampant steroid use?
So to sum up:
1. The Mitchell list seems particularly unsavory in naming not only those who tested positive, but those implicated by informants but who didn't test positive, and those who admitted to using drugs at a time when they were not banned.
2. I think the case of professional athletes is completely different from younger athletes and we can make that distinction clearly. Professional athletes rely on their bodies to earn their living --- they are exceptionally physcially gifted individual --- top 1% of 1% of the human population. We ask them to push their bodies to their limits and they are expected to recover and compete again and again at the highest level of professional competence.
3. The drugs in question do not on their own make an individual stronger, faster, and more athletic. What they do is reduce the recovery time between work outs and enable an elite athlete to work harder to make the most of their physical gifts. They also have legitimate medical reasons for members of the average population. But lets be clear, no average Joe took steroids and then all of sudden became the best in the field of his chosen athletic event. Barry Bonds has unique hand-eye coordination, amazing patience at the plate, and unbelievable bat speed. Just a beautiful swing. He had that at 18 and he had that at 40, but he learned to be more patient at the plate. In fact, Ted Williams wrote I believe that one could fit 160 baseballs inside the strike zone, but a hitter can only really hit about 40 or 50 of those balls solidly. The others will be either fouled off, or hit weakly. The problem for a pitcher is that it is very difficult to find the 100 ball spots in the strike zone consistently. Bonds learned to wait on the right pitch. He may or may not have used performance enhancing drugs, but in my opinion they are not the reason he hit so many home runs. Roger Clemens may or may not have taken drugs, but his skill in pitching shouldn't be questioned. We saw it at U of Texas, we saw it with the Red Soxs, and he was legendary for his work outs from an early age. Lets not let guys who never played the game (sports reporters) make examples of the best offensive and best defensive forces in the game of baseball during their careers.
I wouldn't take Marion Jones's medals and I wouldn't discredit the accmplishments of Bonds, Clemens, and all the others on that list great and not great on Mitchell's list. These guys are the 1% of 1% of the human population, and training techniques have improved drastically over the past 20 years; knowledge of diet and nuitrition has improved, etc. We are continually testing the limits of the human body and pushing it back. No one on the Mitchell list has a bionic arm, eye or leg. If Roger Clemens had gotten surgery to install a cannon for an arm and then shot balls out of it for his records, then I would be doubtful. But he threw the ball, he had to face down the best of the best in tough situations, and throw the ball. We called him the "rocket" because he had a live arm -- he was born with that arm --- that was the real performance enhancing roll of the genetic dice. He then trained his body and mind to compete and become the best of the best during a 20 year career. Same with Bonds.
I would argue that to allow Senator Mitchell to "name names" the way the report did does more to harm the integrity of sports as a "school of rules" more than anything an athelte has done to help his body recover and push it further to the limit of human potentiality. The last time we had a regime of "naming names" in the US is universally recognized as a blight on the historical record. Perhaps we will look back on this discussion someday with the same historical judgment on Senator Mitchell that we reserve now for Senator McCarthy ... "Have you no sense of decency."