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Narcompetition

In a recent article in the Brit- ish newspaper The Observer, a Cambridge University neuropsychologist called for reform in test-taking practices. The easy availability of cognition- enhancing drugs is, according to the expert, threatening the university system by making the students, in psychiatric terms, crazy freakin’ smart.

The professor called for random dope testing to prevent, one can only assume, a Ritalin-high brainiac getting the edge on a last-night’s-Guinness-inhibited test subject, more commonly referred to as a “student.”

To the extent that the article is about drug abuse by the young, it’s perfectly understandable. No one wants students getting the drop on us older folks, cognitively. But to the extent that it’s about “unfair advantage” within a demographic, it raises questions. For example, where, how and by whom would the line be drawn determining acceptable consumables?

Ritalin and modafinil, the article points out, are “used to increase the brain’s alertness.” Right. So’s coffee and—hello, Great Britain—tea. Would caffeine be on a list of prohibited drugs? Or tobacco? If the issue is fairness, is it acceptable for a test-taker in the midst of a crushing caffeine low or nicotine fit to have to compete with an abstinent freak? Er, sorry, I mean, a, uh, you know—whatever you call ’em. A bubble boy.

In the States, we have not yet seen such headlines focused on the world of academia; though we may well when we are someday concerned about producing smart people. In the meanwhile, though, we have our own concerns about unfair advantage, and it’s gone to the federal level. We’ve seen an activist Congress tackling the issue of an inequity that absolutely hobbles the proper functioning of our civic body. I’m talking, of course, about campaign-finance reform.

Ha! Not really! I’m talking about the steroid scandal. (Sheesh, campaign-finance reform. BOOOORrrring!)

When it became clear that the players of Major League Baseball—who had, over the span of 36 months, collectively gained a muscle mass 113 times that of World Wrestling Entertainment and Jersey Shore combined—were on something other than yogurt smoothies, America’s elected officials pounced! Like coiled, blue-suited springs of justice! Not since Congress made game shows safe and pure again has the American viewing public been so ably served by its representative champions! But, I think, they will prove to be on the wrong side of history.

As evidenced by The Observer’s report, in every field of competition the players are looking for an edge. So, the demand is there. And we spectators, we like drama. We like for them to knock it out of the park, whether it’s by solving Fermat’s last theorem or by, well, actually hitting a small ball a great distance, over a fence, even, with a bat.

Trying to eradicate this problem by seeking to establish a “level playing field” is the long way around; and it skimps on entertainment value. Here’s what they have gotten right in their ongoing struggle with drugs in competition: the word “random.”

At the beginning of each contest—athletic or academic—officials and medical professionals will introduce a randomly selected and strictly regulated psychoactive drug to the competitor: stimulant, depressant, hallucinogen, hypnotic, narcotic, placebo, who knows? What could be fairer?

The ages-old complaint about the unfair advantage wealthy teams like the Yankees enjoy is reduced to rubble—or, at least, to a grinning shortstop hugging everyone who rounds second—by this plan.

A soccer goalie on ether would be as insane, and as popular, as a Looney Tunes classic; which would give us the added benefit of ended the moaning of American soccer fans who feel their sport has been shortchanged at home.

And Shaun White . . . oh, well, nevermind. No real difference, there.

But cricket? You think cricket is baffling now? Wait till the batsman’s datura kicks in. It’d be like a ballet choreographed by David Lynch. Run the instant replays backward and you’ve got an art-house phenomenon.

The benefits are not limited to sport. Who could complain if the Harvard legacy applicant’s chances are compromised by his Crispin Glover-like performance during the interview; or if the Provigil-jacked single mom nails the Double Jeopardy question?

Though generally unattractive, ’roid rage would get those spelling bees TV audiences and commercial sponsorships such that, not only would no child be left behind, but no child would have to drive a crappy compact car.

And a little MDMA would go a long way in the next presidential debates.

It’s anybody’s ball game, now, folks.

—John Rodat


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