I like to bet on sports. Having a stake in the game, even if it’s just five bucks, makes it more exciting. I also like playing poker. “Unacceptable!” say politicians in much of America. “Gambling sometimes leads to ‘addiction,’ destitute families!”
Well, it can.
So politicians ban it. It’s why we no longer see a poker game in the back of bars. Half the states even ban poker between friends -- though they rarely enforce that.
After banning things, politicians’ second favorite activity is granting special privileges to a few people who do those same things -- so big casinos flourish, and most states run their own lotteries. Running lotteries is one of the more horrible things our governments do. The poor buy the most tickets, and states offer them terrible odds. The government entered the lottery business promising to end the “criminal numbers racket.” Now states do what the “criminals” did but offer much worse odds. Adding insult to their scam, politicians also spend our tax money promoting lotteries with disgusting commercials that trash hard work, implying that happiness comes from hedonism.
Politicians also ban some medical innovations that might enhance athletes’ performances. Teams buy high-tech equipment to get better results. Doctors prescribe all sorts of special medications if an athlete is injured. Competitors try dubious vitamins and “natural” food supplements.
But they better not use steroids.
The public supports this ban, but they rarely think it through. Why are steroids bad but eye surgery is OK? (Tiger Woods did that to improve his vision.) Athletes will constantly try new ways to maximize their strength and endurance. Why is government even involved?
Don’t get me wrong. If players promise not to use steroids but then use, that’s wrong. Lance Armstrong is despicable not because he injected drugs like testosterone or did blood-doping, but because he proclaimed that he didn’t, then did, then lied and bullied people, and threatened to sue them, to wreck their lives, for telling the truth. That’s evil. Steroids themselves are just another form of eye surgery or better shoes.
If the NFL or Tour de France or the Big Ten wants a no-steroid rule, fine. But in America, if an athlete uses steroids, it’s not just a violation of a private organization’s rules, it’s a federal issue. Congress has held nine -- that’s right, nine -- hearings on the “problem” of steroids in sports. The pols know that yelling at baseball stars will get the pols face time on TV. There they are, bravely solving America’s problems! But clumsy federal law doesn’t even stop the cheating.
Politicians blithely ban this and that -- at the expense of their own constituents. Billions of dollars in banned Internet poker profits move offshore -- to countries with sensible rules.
A final stupid sports ban: Connecticut and New York will not allow MMA, mixed martial arts competitions. This booming sport is called “mixed” martial arts because it’s more than just wrestling or judo or boxing, it’s ... fighting. To win, one must excel at all martial arts. Yes, it’s violent, but so are boxing and football. Mixed martial arts is actually safer than boxing, because the athletes don’t spend 12 rounds getting hit on the head.
I can go to Madison Square Garden to watch boxers smash each other in the face. I can take little kids there to watch fake wrestling, which looks even more violent.
But Sen. John McCain called mixed martial arts “human cockfighting” and demanded it be banned. When he couldn’t pass a national ban, he sent letters to governors of all 50 U.S. states asking them to ban MMA events in each state.
Fortunately, governors ignored him, and now in most of America, a new sport that brings in millions of dollars in business, opportunity and tax revenues blossoms. But not in New York or Connecticut. There, politicians wait for the lobbyists to kiss their rings. If they contribute enough to their campaigns, maybe they’ll relent.
Gambling, steroid use and violent sports ought to be choices that consenting adults are free to make.
Politicians should butt out of sports.
John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed." Click here for more information on John Stossel.