|Copyright CBS Sports|
Sport can be a great thing. It promotes a healthy lifestyle. It promotes teamwork, a good work ethic and it also produces good role models for aspiring athletes and children. Unfortunately, sport and its participants have an unhealthy habit of shooting themselves in the foot. Occasionally one might get caught gambling on the outcome of a game they themselves are participating in. The most infamous example of this is the Chicago ‘Black Sox’ scandal of 1919, where several members of baseball’s White Sox bet on their own team to lose that year’s World Series. A more contemporary example is the spot-fixing scandal than engulfed cricket in 2010, when three members of the Pakistan team took illegal payments to bowl no-balls at a specific time during the match. However this article isn’t about gambling, nor is it about money. It’s about the recent rash of professional athletes across a variety of sports falling foul of illegal substance regulations and dragging themselves and their fellow professionals into disrepute.
Substance abuse within sport isn’t a new phenomenon. Baseball players commonly used amphetamines during the seventies and eighties, while anabolic steroids led to the downfall of many a track and field athlete during the 1990’s. More recently blood doping, human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone enhancers have become the performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) of choice, and while cycling may have reached its nadir earlier this year when Lance Armstrong confessed to taking part in a sophisticated doping program the last few weeks have seen a number of other sports come under the spotlight for very much the wrong reasons.
Denver Broncos star linebacker Von Miller received a six game suspension just yesterday for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Details on Miller’s offence have been vague so far, and while the league has acknowledged he did not fail a drugs test the severity of the punishment (players usually receive a four game ban for their first offence, which this is for Miller) suggests that Miller may have tampered with or attempted to tamper with a sample he gave to testers. Of course there is no good reason for this behaviour if you were certain the sample would come back negative, which implies that Miller feared a positive test. Because Miller has not been cited for a positive test he’s received a certain amount of sympathy from supporters and the media, as opposed to the usual vilification drug cheats receive. NFL Network host Rich Eisen tweeted that Miller is “a good guy”, adding that it’s a shame Miller will be suspended for the Broncos game against his hometown Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, I think Eisen completely misses the point here and fails to appreciate the impact that drug cheats, and in the eyes of league regulations Miller is one, have on an enormous amount of people. Miller has cheated his teammates, whose achievements with him in the line-up will now come into question over their authenticity. Miller has cheated his opponents and fellow professionals, who may have lost because of a play PEDs helped him make. But perhaps worst of all, Miller has cheated and influenced the millions of young (and old) NFL fans who look up to him. Hopefully those people don’t now think that it is ok to take illegal substances, or to lie and cheat in an effort to cover their tracks.
The other recent drugs scandal that has engulfed American sport concerns the Biogenesis clinic which supplied illegal substances to a number of Major League Baseball players. The two biggest names connected with Biogenesis were Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, both sluggers who have made their money and earned accolades because of their ability to hit the ball out of the park. Some of you will remember Braun also tested positive for abnormal testosterone levels after a 2011 play-off game. On that occasion Braun got off on a technicality, as his sample was not handled properly according to protocol and his positive test was wiped. Braun vehemently protested his innocence, going so far as to allegedly call Dino Laurenzi Jr. – the man who mishandled his urine sample – an anti-Semite and a Cubs fan. While I can laugh the second allegation off, the first is completely outrageous and following Braun accepting a 65-game suspension two weeks ago (in relation to Biogenesis) the 29 year-old’s credibility is now shot. Again, what will Braun’s opponents in the 2011 play-offs be thinking now that they know he was juiced up at the time? The same goes for those who have competed against Alex Rodriguez over the past two decades, but it would take a whole other article for me to vent my feelings on his shamefully desperate situation.
One tweet that gained national attention concerning Biogenesis was made by former Major League pitcher Dan Meyer, who competed for a bullpen job with Antonio Bastardo back in 2011 with the Philadelphia Phillies. Bastardo was part of the Biogenesis investigation and received a 50-game suspension for his involvement with the clinic. Meyer tweeted “Hey Antonio Bastardo. Remember when we competed for a job in 2011. Thx (sic) alot. #ahole”. Meyer is now out of professional baseball, he’s playing in the Independent Leagues, and although he was and is an inferior pitcher to Bastardo (a fact which Meyer himself acknowledges) who’s to say that had Bastardo been clean in 2011, and whenever else he was juiced up, he wouldn’t have possessed the necessary juice on his fastball to get major league hitters out? The saying goes that cheats never prosper, but next spring it’s almost certain that Meyer will be grafting to earn a living while Bastardo, fresh off of his suspension, will be earning millions of dollars in the Majors.
As you can see, the collateral from PED use in professional sports is vast and potentially life altering. How many people didn’t win the Tour De France because Lance Armstrong was winning it at a HGH assisted canter? And how many pitchers suffered at the hands of a roided up Barry Bonds? The damage also extends beyond those competing against athletes convicted of using PEDs. Bradley Wiggins, Britain’s first ever Tour De France winner in 2012, wrote an entire chapter in his book “My Time” (2012) about the contempt in which he holds Armstrong and other cycling cheats such as Alberto Contador because his and other cyclists achievements since then will always come under a drug laden cloud. Unfortunately that is a stigma which all cyclists, athletes, baseball and American football players will have to live with for a few years yet – or until the positive tests cease – and it’s all because of their selfish fellow professionals. Armstrong was stripped of his Tour titles. Barry Bonds will never make it into baseball’s Hall of Fame. But Dan Meyer will never get that job opportunity back, and the vilification Dino Laurenzi Jr. received after he made a mistake with Braun’s test sample still took place. Many athletes pay a price for their misdemeanours. But next time you think that a six game ban is a bit steep, pause to consider the bigger picture.