July 25, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 14

Doping in sports really does affect us all, one way or another

Crunch Time

I don’t know about you but I watched a lot of the Tour de France this year. I watch a lot every year, but this year I think more so.

Why? I don’t know, I just did. It was worth it as this year’s Tour was one of the most exciting in a while.

The leader’s yellow jersey switched hands several times until England’s Chris Froome grabbed it about a week into the race on an amazing breakaway in the last portion of a climbing stage in the Pyrenees Mountains. He never relinquished it, despite being challenged by a couple of newcomers to the Tour: Columbia’s Nairo Quintana and Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez.

It was fun sport to watch, and that’s why I hope Froome is telling the truth when he said, “This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time.” Meaning, he is clean when it comes to using performance enhancing drugs.

Indeed neither Froome, Quintana or Rodriquez – second and third respectively – has ever tested positive for drugs. I hope that holds up post-Tour because like many sports today cycling’s crown jewel has taken a hit from drug use recently.

We all know that Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven consecutive titles, 1999-20005, because of testing positive for PEDs. In 2006, Floyd Landis won the Tour on the final day, but was found to have used synthetic testosterone during a stage and was disqualified, giving the title to Spain’s Oscar Pereiro. Alberto Contador won in 2007 but could not defend his title in 2008 because his team, Astana, was banned because of doping.

In 2010, Contador did wear the maillot jaune the last day, but was found to have used clenbuterol and was subsequently – you got it – stripped of his title. Denmark’s Bjarne Riis won the Tour in 1996, but eventually admitted to using PEDs and while Tour organizers no longer consider him the winner, the sports governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale has refused to strip him of his title because so much time had passed.

The list is exhausting, but then again, so is Major League Baseball’s with the recent suspension of Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, and likely suspensions for others like Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez for their involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. That’s just the latest.

Football’s not exempt either: the most recent being Monday’s announcement of a four-game suspension for Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller for violating the NFL’s drug policy. NBA? Yep, PEDs are there too, as they are in track and field, swimming, other Olympic sports, you name it.

It’s getting so prevalent in sports that you don’t know what to think anymore when someone turns in an outstanding individual or season performance, breaking records and setting new standards. In the past we would herald these individuals and trumpet their successes with pride.

Not today. The first thing that pops up to many fans is the question, “Are they using PEDs?” Often that’s more a statement, as in, “well you know they’re probably using…”

It makes heroes hard to come by in the world of sports. I had mine growing up: Bob Gibson, Joe Torre (I was/am a Cardinals fan), Fran Tarkenton, Pete Maravich, Mark Spitz and a couple of others.

I don’t know how I’d feel if those heroes suddenly were implicated for using PEDs. I wonder sometimes how young fans feel today when someone they look up to is fingered for cheating. It’s got to be crushing.

But are they really cheating? In some cases maybe not. Many of these drugs have therapeutic value to help promote and speed up healing. It’s hard to fault an athlete for wanting to get back in the game, back to the sport they love as quick as possible.

And what about the rest of society? Who among us isn’t guilty of using something to stimulate a little energy, create a little happiness and relaxation or heal a little faster?

It’s a complex question, one I can’t answer. The only thing I know right now is I do hope Froome is right.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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