I’ve tried my best to stay away from this topic for a while – drugs in sport. Primarily because it seems to result in a no win situation for the sport of track and field because the only time it’s discussed is on those occasions when high profile athletes are either caught using PED’s or are suspected of their use.
However, the news is full of drug talk these days, and none of it is centered around track and field! So what better time to put the topic on the table? Can’t be accused of pointing fingers at anyone in the sport, so perhaps we can actually look at possible solutions – or at the very least look at charting direction for the sport.
Let’s start with what’s already out there. The biggest story is Lance Armstrong "coming clean". After denying for well over a decade that he had any involvement with performance enhancing drugs, he finally admitted to doping throughout his career – including during his 7 Tour de France victories. Like so many others, the phrase "I never failed a drug test" was true in spite of his regular use of testosterone, EPO, and human growth hormones!
We’ve also recently watched Major League Baseball hold its annual Hall of Fame voting, which resulted in ZERO inductees – as everyone on the ballot was either implicated in a doping scandal, or heavily suspected of drug use! Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa among others were told NO to the Hall of Fame, in spite of putting up the greatest numbers ever seen in the sport.
And just this past week, as we prepare for this weekend’s Super Bowl game, Ray Lewis was accused of using deer antler spray to rehab from an early season injury. Who had even heard of deer antler spray before this week? Yet apparently it contains a banned performance enhancer – IGF-1. So now we have animal parts being used to provide substances to aid in the improvement of athletic performance. Obviously no stone is left unturned when it comes to the attempt to improve one’s athletic prowess!
Finally, a couple of weeks a ago I came across an article about a new dietary supplement developed by Russian sports scientists – "Monster Mix" – that contains naturally occurring "metabolic intermediates". Reportedly the results of its use include marked increases in muscle protein synthesis; muscle growth; coordination; and improved recovery ability among other things. The kicker? The substance is considered to be a legal supplement – and is replacing creatine as the muscle/strength builder of choice for many!
What does all this mean? It means that science is well ahead of sports administrators/administration, and the war against drug use in sport has been lost – because the scientists employed by the athletes and their teams/camps are light years ahead of those administering sports. Whereas Ben Johnson/Charlie Francis were concerned about merely "masking" drug use, Tim Montgomery/Marion Jones/Victor Conte taught us that the real key is to use substances for which tests do not exist – be they natural like HGH, or synthetic like Tetrahydrogestrinone (The Clear)! After all, passing the test is all that matters in sport. Pass the test and you’re good to go – and clearly (pun intended) athletes have become exceedingly sophisticated at ensuring that tests are passed! And sports administrators are doing little to make testing more "fail safe".
Admitting defeat, what do we do? Because defeat is where we are in this fight. Well, we could continue to fight, but that would only continue they infliction of injury, wounds and death – metaphorically speaking. Because the ONLY outcome that currently exists when it comes to drug testing in sport is Negative Publicity – and no sport needs that. So, instead of continuing to "fight" we could attempt to save face by negotiating terms for a mutual peace. Personally I prefer the latter, because if done right we could actually come out ahead – which is nearly as good as victory.
The best example I can think of in this regard is that of Prohibition – the attempt to ban alcohol consumption here in the United States. Try as it might to prohibit the use of alcohol, the government’s attempts were met with even greater resistance as a series of cottage industries arose whose sole purpose was the creation and transportation of "moonshine" – sound familiar. As a matter of fact the sport of Auto Racing and NASCAR was born from Prohibition!
The final result was the legalization of alcohol – with strict guidelines for its use, cost controls and taxation. Creating a safer product; reducing the crime previously associated with the use of alcohol; and developing a revenue stream for the administering agency – in this case the government. Hey, sometimes if you can’t beat em, join em!
After years of watching the futile battle that is being waged by sports acronyms and doping agencies against athletes, I’ve come to the conclusion that if sport, all sports, aren’t going to seriously try to fight this war – and they aren’t because unsaid is the fact that sport really does like the results that PED’S produce – then sport should simply look to better control their use. In effect try to address the "problems" that are seen with PED use – which I’m going to assume are unleveled playing field and health concerns – instead of trying to ban them altogether. In short, try to make their use equitable and safe.
So, let’s legalize them. That will bring PED’s out of the shadows and onto store/pharmacy shelves. It would create the ability to control both the type and volume of substances that are used. Now the medical industry will be inserted into the mix, which should hopefully make the products "on the shelf" safer. And It would also help to level that playing field that everyone says they want leveled as "legal" PED’s would be available to EVERYONE and in regulated dosages available to all. PED’s on the shelf can be taxed, and some of that money can in turn be funneled back into sport for research into making better/safer "enhancers".
The biggest plus to me however, is that legalization would make it easier to finally implement a Zero Tolerance policy across the board for anyone found outside the parameters of legalized use! With athletes having the ability to be prescribed legal enhancing supplements, there would no longer be an excuse for using back room/underground drugs! These "legalized" PED’s would fall under the category of "supplements" and be overseen as such. No excuse to say I wasn’t aware that "x" could be found in "y", because there should be no need to be dabbling in "y". And if you are found using deer antler spray you’re instantly done – forever. Because a full compliment of "legal" substances will already be on the table. Given that there should now be "supplements" available to help develop whatever it is you want developed, there can be Zero Tolerance for going "off script"!
You see, now everyone WILL be using performance enhancers – isn’t that what athletes have been saying all along? So you will truly be aiming to "cheat" should you use anything not condoned by the governing bodies. Of course there will be those that will attempt to cheat – haters gonna hate, and cheaters gonna cheat – but the "death penalty" should prove an adequate deterrent given that legal PED’s will actually be available.
Testing should also improve with the legalization of PED’s because with the regular involvement of the pharmaceutical companies we should have better chemical profiles to draw from when setting up our testing parameters.
So that’s where I am on the topic today as things stand. We have to do something to get a better handle on the whole issue of drugs in sport – because as I said in the beginning, the only outcome we currently have is negative publicity and perception. We need to flip the script so that we can lend credence to outstanding performances instead of having them forever shrouded under a cloud of suspicion and negativity.
And really, how long will baseball keep Bonds, Clement, and Sosa out of the Hall? At some point baseball, and all sports, will have to admit that drugs have been used by many of it’s best performers and have been an integral part of athletics for decades. So we might as well get out in front now and control the story/issue rather than constantly being controlled by the story. Some battles are just never won – Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq – you just have to realize when it’s time to go; cut your losses; and try to move forward in a better manner.
And now it’s time to enjoy this weekend’s action!