Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Spreading Taint

The current state of sport, in America especially, has hit a very critical point in my eyes. Almost every major sport, and even some of the minor ones, are being hit with various scandals involving illegal or performance enhancing drugs. As baseball fans eagerly await the mysterious Mitchell Report to see who will be named or implicated as cheaters, numerous others violations surface across all of sports.

Marion Jones, America's darling at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where she won 5 medals, admitted recently that she was using steroids during that time period. IOC officials are deliberating at this time (I believe) on whether or not to strip her of all her medals, including the the ones of her relay teammates. All records broken by her, awards won and money earned during a period of several years dating back to late 1999 will effectively be erased at Track & Field tries to recover some dignity in the wake of yet another doping scandal. Numerous other athletes in the sport have been linked to steroids and other performance enhancers from way back to the days of Ben Johnson. Marion Jones herself always seemed to be linked up with shady characters from her ex-husband to her former coach and former boyfriend. We always gave her the benefit of the doubt though because we wanted to believe that her marvelous accomplishments were legitimate and that her child-like smile was genuine every time she took the podium. Star athletes have that power over us, to confuse us with catch phrases like "false positive" and excuses such as: "it was my asthma/baldness/ADD etc. medication" that triggered the test. For so long we have wanted to believe that our sports heroes were telling the truth and were the victim of lab error or a horrible conspiracy by someone else. Sadly, this is rarely, if ever the case.

Athletes need to be responsible for what goes into their bodies, who they are working with and what types of treatments they are undergoing. Testing is real, there are many banned substances that show up in everyday products that they must be mindful of. Sports is getting to the point where you wonder every time something amazing happens - is this for real? Each towering home run, lowered world record, grueling and gritty mountain climb you celebrate or watch in awe as it is happening, but after it is over you begin to question what just happened. The spreading of steroids, HGH, testosterone, EPO and other forms of cheating into sports has put a mental asterisk next to each new great achievement and that's a shame.

Even sports like tennis, which most people don't really care about anyway has been hit by plenty of scandal. Take for instance the Martina Hingis cocaine debacle which led to her denying using it and then retiring. Even tennis can't shake this crap. The Tour de France was marred by scandal each of the last few years with this year having a ludicrous amount of individuals and TEAMS withdrawing from the race amid allegations of wrongdoing. XC skiing has also long been haunted by blood doping and other shady accusations. Rodney Harrison of the New England Patriots was suspended the first 4 games of the season for HGH use, and there wasn't even much in the way of public outcry. That's how prevalent this whole spreading taint has become; the media saturation has made the public apathetic about cheaters and rule breakers to the point where many people just shrug their shoulders and move on.

It's a sad state of affairs that is threatening the very core of sports the world over and someone needs to step up and enforce the rules, including mandate more stringent testing for athletes. We need to clean up the image of sports so that every time I see an amazing performance and triumph of human will and preparation I don't automatically assume: "what's this guy on?"

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