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If Oscar Pistorius Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Compete, Should Steven Strasburg?

The debate over Oscar Pistorius and his Olympic eligibility has and will continue to rage on as long as he competes in these Olympic Games. If you’re unaware of the debate, it is whether or not Pistorius’ prosthetic legs give him an unfair advantage over those who run on full “natural” human legs.

Photo by Julia Vynokurova/Getty Images

Now, I’m not going to tune up my tiny violin for the South African runner and say how all the hardships he’s had to overcome makes it fair, nor am I going to clamor about how he’s half-bionic and that his running isn’t legitimate. To be perfectly honest, I have no clue if Pistorius’ carbon-fiber legs give him an advantage or not. What I do know is that if Pistorius shouldn’t be allowed to compete then neither should many of America’s most prominent professional athletes.

Before I get to my main point, let me first dispel the “Casey Martin argument.” The argument against Oscar is that his ailment provides and unfair advantage over his competition, just as Casey Martin’s need to ride in a cart, a practice banned by the PGA, provided him with an unfair advantage on the tour. The key difference here is that riding a golf cart is against the rules, and in order to compete Martin needed to be granted an exception to the rule; an exception that no one else on tour received. Pistorius is able to get to and fro on his own, and he needs no special accommodations to participate in his events. Pistorius is functioning completely within the rules of his sport; the only question is whether or not he should be allowed to do so.

If you believe that “The Blade Runner” and his potentially enhanced legs are illegal, let me ask you this: should Steven Strasburg be allowed to pitch in major league baseball? What about Brian Wilson, Joba Chamberlain, Chris Carpenter, Mike Pelfrey, Ben Sheets or any of the countless other pitchers and players who have undergone Tommy John Surgery? When an athlete undergoes Tommy John Surgery the surgeon takes a ligament- a stronger ligament– from another part of the body (often the hip, hamstring, or forearm) to replace the damaged one. In other words, they are using scientifically enhanced elbows.

Ten to fifteen years or so ago, Tommy John Surgery meant your career was most likely over. The technology was new and the results left pitchers with significantly diminished velocity and an increased chance of additional injury. But, just like with prosthesis, the science and technology behind the surgery has grown so much that not only are pitchers now expected to make full recoveries from the procedure, many come back with stronger arms than they had before. As a matter of fact, there are numerous documented incidents where ill-advised parents have attempted to have their sons undergo the surgery without having sustained an injury just to improve their draft prospects. If enhancing your draft value can be achieved through surgically swapping your ligaments, then you simply cannot say that it is not an unnatural advantage.

Again, I’m not saying that Pistorius should or shouldn’t be banned, nor do I have any idea as to whether or not he truly has an advantage. All that I’m saying is that science has helped heal and improve athletes for years, and with the rapid advancements over the last 5-10 years, there are more and more athletes that are finding their way back onto the field stronger than ever following major procedures. Pistorius’ modification may be visually shocking, but at the end of the day it is simply a scientific advancement designed to help an athlete, no different than Tommy John Surgery.

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