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The myth of sports purity

February 1, 2013

There was once a time when no one knew the name of a professional cyclist except the elitists of our society. The sport of cycling was a European sport similar to what fútbol was thirty years ago. However, Lance Armstrong, by virtue of beating cancer and excelling in the sport, changed all of that. The public loved Armstrong because he was a hero who defied the odds to be the best at his sport.

That has now been fundamentally changed with Armstrong admitting to using PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs). Armstrong was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France championships. Interestingly enough, according to the New York Times on Oct. 23, they suggested cycling would be unable to give any of his wins to a runner-up due to the prevalence of PED use. During Armstrong’s interview with Oprah, he did not believe he was cheating because it did not give him an unfair advantage over his competitors.  Maybe he has a point? If everyone else was using, then isn’t Armstrong still the guy who beat cancer and dominated his sport?

In a timely coincidence, Major League Baseball decided to elect no players to the Baseball Hall of Fame because the majority of players up for vote were from the “steroid era.” Like Armstrong, most of these men had never failed a drug test given by their sport, including baseball legends Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Armstrong brought cycling to the American attention and the McGwire/Sosa homerun race brought the MLB back from the brink. There was a time where America was pissed off at baseball. The players went on strike, and the fan based moved to the NFL, NHL or NBA. Three years after the strike, the homerun race between McGwire and Sosa helped bring baseball back from that disaster. McGwire would later admit to taking Androstenedione, which was not against MLB rules. Sosa was reported to have failed a 2003 (before MLB drug testing or drug policy) drug test, but the documentation of said test has never been produced for the public. These two men not being acknowledged for their achievements is ridiculous.

The United States Congress has even wasted time and money on this issue. Why? Simple: we are afraid that little Billy is going to start using Anabolic Steroids. We have begun excluding rightful players their place in sports’ halls of fame. We aren’t, however, going into those halls and ripping out every single person, because in reality, there are people who used PEDs in every hall of fame. I don’t see the NFL ripping out of the hall those with major performances before 1987 (when they started testing). NFL Coach Jim Haslett has said that from 1979-1987, an estimated 50 percent of all players in the NFL were using steroids.

Why not use? Human Growth Hormones (HGH) are not illegal when used as directed by a physician. In the new era of concern over post-career health, especially in the NFL, why do we not allow players to use HGH when it will allow them to heal quicker, heal better and have a better chance of not being a cripple after their careers are over? We allow Tommy John surgery in baseball when it is starting to be believed that it improves performance. Are we not going to allow pitchers to pitch again who have their elbows rebuilt? As sports medicine improves, where are we going to draw the line?
Having been a high school sports player and coach, I understand the concern of PED use by minors. However, even if the professionals completely weed it out (which will never happen), children will still try to find ways to boost performance through artificial means. Athletes are competitive. Keeping Mac and Sosa out of the hall or defaming Armstrong won’t change that one iota. The only thing that can hold that line is involved parents. Let the professionals be professionals and let amateurs remember that even with PEDs, the vast majority will never be professionals.

Elisha French
Contributing Writer

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