Sports are dope
Posted by Euroranger on January 18, 2013
I like sports. I enjoy watching hockey, football, auto racing and a couple of others. When I was younger I played baseball and football and would have loved to have played hockey except that when you arrive in Canada at age 13 (from Florida via West Virginia no less), you’re already behind the other kids by…oh…12 years or so. I did learn to skate and did enjoy playing pick up games on the local park’s tennis courts that the city of Mississauga parks and rec flooded each winter. Point is, worldwide, sport is a big deal. It’s a socially unifying force. People who wouldn’t normally have anything to do with one another will sit in the stands next to each other and cheer for their common team. Being a fan gives people a sense of belonging to a larger group and athletes are elevated to the status of heroes and gods for their accomplishments and mastery of their arena of competition. Sport, via record keeping, allows us to compare ourselves to our predecessors. Rushing touchdowns, passing yards, strikeouts, home runs, 100 meter dash times, weightlifting records…they allow us to compare today’s athletes to those of bygone eras. But you know what?
Professional sports these days is an utter fraud
Amongst all the accomplishments of athletes around the world, one that seemed like it was the most amazing of them all, revealed itself yesterday as the total and complete lie that a lot of people suspected that it was. Lance Armstrong, the seven time winner of the Tour de France, finally admitted that all of his Tour titles (of which he had already been stripped previously via an investigation) were due to cheating. Now, let’s be clear, cheating in sports is wrong but there are “levels” of cheating that are wrong-er than others. Take baseball for instance. For many years I was a huge baseball fan. I played. I watched it on TV. I’d go with my friends down to Exhibition stadium in Toronto with my $2 left field general admission ticket I’d buy at Dominion and watch the Blue Jays when they were still an awful expansion franchise. I’d wait in the players’ parking lot for an hour after the game ended and meet the players. I had a friend who babysat one of the Blue Jays player’s kids. I got a ride home one time from one of the third basemen even. Back in those days (the early 1980’s), baseball indeed had cheating. Spitballs, scuffballs, and corked bats. Players on base would steal signs from the catcher and relay them to the batter. If you got caught, the most severe penalty for cheating was to be ejected from the game. Football, hockey, basketball, soccer also had cheating but cheating there was in the form of holding or offside in football, interference, tripping, and so on in hockey and similar things in other sports. Those instances of cheating is why referees exist and referees hand out penalties for cheating. 5, 10, or 15 yards field position is awarded to the opposing team in football. 2, 5, or 10 minutes (or even, GASP, game misconduct ejections) in the penalty box are handed out to the offending players in hockey. Free or corner kicks in soccer and so on. Sport was born, evolved and long ago recognized that players will always try to find an advantage over their opponents and some will circumvent the rules to do so. The common thing all cheating in sport had in common back then was that it was something you could witness happening or be able to detect. You can see a player getting held in football. You can see a skater getting hauled to the ice in hockey and you can check the ball and detect Vaseline or pine tar or see that it’s been scuffed in baseball. The offense can be discerned, the penalty for it imposed and the game resumes. In other words, sports adapted to handle cheating and incorporated it’s own mini judicial system to manage it.
However, there is a form of cheating that has always been difficult if not impossible to detect and it has now grown to such a degree that it nearly renders the things that make sports compelling, useless. That is, of course, the explosion of athletes using performance enhancing drugs. Now, let’s be clear here for a moment: the use of ingested substances isn’t a new thing. It’s as old as sport itself. Even the Greeks back in the BC days of the early Olympics would use things like opium juice, various hallucinogens and herbal concoctions to try and gain a competitive edge. The early 1900’s saw Olympic athletes using things like strychnine, heroin, cocaine, and caffeine to try and boost the performance of athletes. And starting in the mid 1950s amphetamines began to make an appearance in the amateur cycling world. I would think that amongst most sports fans these represent a range of what most would call “minor” substances. Herbs, alcohol and things like cocaine, amphetamines and heroin all exist but for other purposes (clearly some of them are illegal for those other purposes as well) but none of those were specifically created for athletes. But then, in the late 1950s, that all changed with the introduction of anabolic steroids. Steroids, in general, synthesize the strength-building properties of testosterone while minimizing the negative health effects. Testosterone is a natural steroid found in everyone (men more than women) and promotes the building of muscle amongst other things. However, the human body only produces a limited amount of testosterone. Anabolic steroids are used to blow right past that natural restriction and allow athletes to build larger, stronger and faster muscles which will give them a strength and endurance edge in some sports. All the substances I mentioned above are cheating…but steroids have that quality that seems to go over the line for most sports fans.
Which brings me back to baseball and ultimately Lance Armstrong. I mentioned earlier that I was a huge baseball fan. WAS. I quit caring about baseball around the same time the Oakland A’s had “the Bash Brothers” Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Major league baseball has had tandems of home run hitters before but there was just something about those two that pretty much everyone in baseball suspected wasn’t right. For me, it was that baseball, more than any other sport I can think of, relies upon its history and stats. When some of baseball’s longest standing records started falling in the late 1980s and at an ever increasing pace, it seemed obvious to me that baseball was allowing the abuse of performance enhancing drugs to sully their rich legacy. Today if you look at the record books you see the name Barry Bonds has replaced both Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron in some important categories, Roger Clemens in a few others. Both players, whether actually admitting guilt or not, used anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to erase the names of players who didn’t. In fact, my original suspicions about McGwire and Canseco were eventually proved correct. Both admitted to using steroids back then. Today, I don’t know or even care about baseball records as they have no meaning. Who cares how many home runs Barry Bonds hit in a season if the reason he hit them (at THIRTY SEVEN YEARS OLD!) was because it wasn’t him at all but because he was a muscular freak of nature due to rampant cheating? Baseball does apparently because he’s still the official single season and career home run king…even after he was convicted of obstruction of justice during a government investigation of illegal steroid use. He couldn’t even properly deny (he never knowingly took any illegal steroids) that was cheating because he had also already been indicted on perjury charges and probably feared that evidence would eventually surface that would fully expose his cheating. But Lance Armstrong…
What can you say about this guy? In a sport (competitive cycling) that practically INVENTED cheating via substance abuse we have a guy who, at age 34 won his final of SEVEN Tour de France titles after having survived cancer and the loss of one of his testicles. Against a field of other athletes, where you can be reasonably assured the vast majority are abusing PEDs and who are years younger, here you have a guy who is missing half his testosterone production and yet not just competing in but dominating his sport. If you ever needed a living illustration of the old saw “if it seems too good to be true” well, you have it in spades with Lance. After retiring in 2005 the allegations, suspicions and investigations didn’t stop and eventually enough of his former teammates and enablers had fessed up leaving Lance practically alone in proclaiming his innocence. Investigations finally determined there was enough evidence of cheating that professional cycling and finally the sanctioning body that governs the Tour stripped Armstrong of his 7 Tour titles in October of this past year…so 4 months later, Lance finally confessed to a long history of using EPO, testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone, blood doping and transfusions. And this brings me to the point of why I wrote this:
He admitted doing these things over a period of more than 20 YEARS!
Think on that admission a moment and let it digest. He admits he started cheating like this in the mid 1990’s. He was suspected from the very beginning and was tested almost continuously and constantly during his competitive years right up through his retirement in 2005…and he never once, not a single time, tested positive for any of those substances. To a fan of cycling that means one thing but consider that cycling has access to all the same testing apparatus, methods and techniques that every other sport does. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that competitive cycling is a pioneer (right up there with the Olympics) in the field of detecting use of performance enhancing drugs by their competitors. And yet, despite all that and despite the fact that Lance Armstrong was probably rivalled only by Barry Bonds as being the most obvious abuser of such substances in the history of sports, no test ever actually detected his cheating. If athletes like Bonds, Armstrong, Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and a raft of others too lengthy to list here can cheat like this and not get caught, do you think that any professional athlete today is “clean”? I mean, if you play a sport and someone will pay you to play it and then pay you a whole hell of a lot more to be one of the premiere athletes in that sport and you know that the agencies that exist to catch your perfidy are unlikely to do so…do you think an athlete will pass on that opportunity to make themselves rich, famous and adored by legions of fans?
Until professional sports starts taking an extremely hard line on athletes, it’s clear they’ll never get the upper hand on this kind of cheating. In my opinion, you need to admit to yourself that you will not catch the majority of cheaters. You therefore need to make the consequences for ever getting caught so severe that athletes won’t even start to consider doing it in the first place. For one, a positive test that is verified by a follow up test should mean you’re suspended for one year from competing. Once you return, testing is compulsory on a frequent and unannounced basis. Missing a subsequent test or failing it gets you banned for life. Period. Further, all contracts for that sport should include a clause that the athlete will forfeit and refund all salary and other compensation to their team should they fail a test and any subsequent contract must be at the sport minimum the first year they’re back from their suspension. Finally, for sports with a Hall of Fame, all star game or other recognition that you’re an elite athlete…yeah, you’re banned from that too.
My name is Euroranger and I approved this message.