Watching athletes get busted for steroids always feels like theatre, or film; and we got a pretty good one with the bizarre Melky Cabrera story. Beneath the manufactured plot are hidden truths about human nature, but we still smell the green wizard behind it all. Sure, people are guilty of certain crimes, but the thesis is prepackaged, and the insight obligatory.
The Mitchell Report, for example, was pure theatre. Baseball had a steroid problem, but instead of prudence, we got plot. Baseball laid the red carpet out for its actors, and its players auditioned for types. It let us point our fingers, but didn't give us a sense of any larger narrative. Was whether or not Jose Canseco personally injected Mark McGwire in the buttocks really as interesting as how Dominicans make up 10% of the Major League but account for 28% of the drug suspensions?
As Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim note in their Freakonomics inspired book, Scorecasting, "Overall, players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are more than four times more likely to test positive for banned performance-enhancing drugs than their U.S. counterparts in the minor leagues". Given the connection between the chances of a player getting caught, and their country or origin's wealth, there's an interesting story here: how socioeconomic factors bias steroid use in sports. But what we need is rarely what we get.
It's with this in mind that I can't be too harsh on Cyborg. She took her lumps in the media, and to be sure, it was taken a little too far. Ronda Rousey herself continues to fan the flames. And her manager, Darin Harvey, is all but saying it's unfair for women to fight her because it's like Kristen Stewart vs. Tom Hardy in a cage.
I understand that instinct: a female fighter guilty of steroid use in a sport where women get beat up for a living evokes a more primitive response in us, and for good reason. But that a woman was violently dispatched by a steroid user in a prizefight is undercut by the fact that said woman is routinely, and violently dispatched by fighters who don't use steroids*. Just like the men.
We've forgiven Vitor Belfort. Chris Leben. Royce Gracie. Sean Sherk. Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. Muhammed Lawal. Alistair Overeem (who fans would still love to see fight for the UFC HW Title). And Chael Sonnen (who is currently trying to talk his way into a LHW title fight). Why are observers still so reticent to forgive Cyborg?
This is the part where the sports enthusiast takes over, and the concerned citizen leaves.
Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Santos needs to happen.
Cyborg will have done her time, and paid her debt when she returns. Just like fans don't want to see Alistair Overeem vs. Junior dos Santos fall through just to belabor Overeem's indiscretion (or Sonnen versus whoever), fans shouldn't seek to belabor Santos' sins by making her jump through a ring of fire with her body coated in ethanol.
Keep in mind, I don't take issue with Rousey's behavior. Even though she was vocal in wanting to unify both women's titles before, it's not hypocrisy for Rousey to ignore her previous ambition: the title was meaningful because Cyborg was thought to be an honest champion, and she wasn't.
But I do think it's unnecessary. Steroid use is already confusing enough as a concern of ethics. The standard example I've used before: why is it cyclists can use a drug from filtered calf blood to stimulate oxygen uptake but not one that releases epinephrine to break down stored fat? Sometimes what we consider ‘performance enhancing' feels arbitrary. People's jobs are at stake amidst the hypocrisy. I'm not advocating steroid use except to point out that morale outrage is not an argument in and of itself.
Ronda Rousey wants an honest fight, and along with her manager, this is the narrative they're selling to get female MMA's biggest fight. But it seems morally odd to presume that an honest fight only occurs when two fighters are not found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs. After all, no one actually believes a fighter not getting caught for doping implies innocence.
It's impossible to know in this day and age. Rousey may or may not be right about Cyborg having ever fought a fair fight. Perhaps the concept of "fair" can't be part of any equation involving a fighter busted for steroids against a fighter not busted for steroids.
But there is such a thing as a fair outcome. And I can think of no outcome fairer than someone with an artificial advantage losing to someone without**.