Cheaters Ever Prosper
I am not taking steroids to enhance my word-processing prowess. This is unsubstantiated by drug-testing before and after my sermons as no one would look at me and think mine is a body made possible by illegal chemistry. Yet, I need to make this anti-steroid statement up front as practically everyone these days is being accused of taking drugs to “enhance” their performance.
You have no doubt heard of the problems in the Tour de France, in which drug testing claimed more riders than the mountainous roads of France. But this is no surprise as the performance-enhancing drug-plagued race is just one example in a world where athletes in every sport seem to look for that edge that will make his or her body better than the best.
I can’t pick on steroids however as archery competitions have to look out for the use of relaxants that help keep aim steady; wrestlers use diuretics to keep their weight down to wrestle in a given class; painkillers keep players on the field when their bodies are screaming that it’s time to call it a night; and in blood-doping you use a pint or two of your own blood to spike your red blood cell count before competing. You almost can’t call it cheating anymore as it seems like practically every athlete in every sport is doing it.
I saw an article this week in which a 16-year old Indian movie star is accused of using steroids to make her look older for a role. What’s next, performance-enhancing drugs for a checkers championship at the Cracker Barrel?
The problem has grown faster than Barry Bonds’ biceps. Since Ben Johnson being stripped of his 100-meter medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, sports authorities have been in a sprint to stay ahead of drug makers. Testing has often lagged a year or two behind manufacturing as designer drugs makers create new ways to enhance performance while passing drug tests.
A 1995 survey quoted in Sports Illustrated asked America’s 198 Olympic athletes if they would take illegal drugs if they were guaranteed both winning and not getting caught; 99 percent said they would cheat under those conditions. A follow-up question asked if the drug use gave the Olympian five years at the top and then killed them, 58 percent said they would use the drugs.
It’s naïve to think that the athletes caught are the only ones using illegal substances, just as you are kidding yourself to assume it’s a professional problem and doesn’t effect high school as well as college athletes. Steroid use among sports-star wanabees as young as 10 is documented by the University of Connecticut Health Center.
For a state of the sports world update, just look at the past month’s headlines in which athletes have been accused of everything but global warming. In an article for the San Jose Mercury News, sociologist Harry Edwards was quoted as saying, “The month of July 2007 will go down as one of the most disastrous months in American sports history.” This was thanks to Falcon Michael Vick’s dog fighting allegations and an NBA referee being accused of point shaving as well as the ongoing performance enhancing drug issues, which included a testosterone overdosing Chris Benoit’s murder-suicide.
Edwards went on to say, “Sport is the canary in the mine shaft. And all of this tells us that something is very wrong with our moral and ethical compasses in American society.”
I think Edwards is on to not just the problem, but the solution. What if Barry Bonds breaks the batting record he’s chasing and no one cares? He’s working on that now as his late-career gain in muscle mass make drug-testing pointless. Many fans seem ho-hum over his ongoing slugfest.
This fan response is the best answer to the drug problem in sports for as long as there is a pot of gold at the end of the performance-enhancing drug rainbow, then athletes will risk their lives to get the edge needed to win.
When I was a boy, I went to the Braves games to watch Hank Aaron chase the home-run record. It was exciting, watching his home-run count rise game by game and none of it was tainted by drug use. If Bonds breaks the home-run record to fanfare like I recall for Hank Aaron, then we will have damned the next generation of athletes to pharmaceutical hell.
I don’t want to cobble on scripture to what is up until now an opinion piece, but Job 15:31-33, seems to have been written with performance enhancing athletes in mind. It was actually written about what happens to those who practice evil, but try it on with people who get rich through steroid use in mind. The New Living Translation gives the text as,
Let them no longer trust in empty riches. They are only fooling themselves, for emptiness will be their only reward. They will be cut down in the prime of life, and all they counted on will disappear. They will be like a vine whose grapes are harvested before they are ripe, like an olive tree that sheds its blossoms so the fruit cannot form.But we already know from the survey quoted earlier that many athletes would choose to be cut down in the prime of life if it came with a gold-medal guarantee. So, Edwards is right, this is an ethical issue. But the dilemma is not just for those chasing a yellow jersey in the Tour de France or a world record run or swim. The dilemma is ours as well. For as long as we the fans flock to tainted sports events and follow every drug-boosted pitch at every performance-enhanced batter, then sponsors will give their money and sporting officials will try less than perfect means of ending the drug problem.
I know the genie is out of the bottle. Illegal means of winning have always beleaguered sporting events. It is our financial support of sports that sends the parents of little leaguers searching for the drug that will give their son that big-league break later in life. As long as cheaters prosper, we will be teaching future athletes to do whatever it takes to win.
The problem is not theirs alone. It is yours and mine. We are not responsible for their behavior, but we are responsible for our response. Competitors seem powerless to stop the rise of drug use in sports, because the real power is in the stands.
(The above post is my column in today's issue of the Tribune & Georgian).
I know it is naïve to suggest we will change our whole culture away from entertainment idol worship, including sports idol worship, but I think changing the fans is much more likely than changing the competitors. What do you think?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor
Labels: newspaper column