The wheels keep coming off the Tour de France, as juiced up cyclists are unmasked with increasing frequency just before the tour reaches its climax. Michael Rasmussen, the Dane who won the 16th stage, was dismissed by his team, Rabobank, for misleading his bosses that he was training in Mexico, while actually training in Italy, a hotbed of “blood doping,” (use of the hormone erythropoieten, EPO, to artificially raise the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.) Rasmussen was not alone. Patrik Sinkewitz was dismissed from the T-mobile team after he failed a blood test in June. The Astana team, sponsored by companies from Kazakhstan pulled out after one of its stars tested positive for blood doping, and the Italian team Codis withdrew after one of its riders, tested positive for testosterone. For cycling there is a long history of doping. Tyler Hamilton, an Olympic champion Gold Medalist was fired from his team in 2004, and Floyd Landis, last year’s Tour winner is currently in official limbo for doping violations. Even Lance Armstrong is still under suspicion, at least in France, because people wonder how a cyclist can win 7 Tours after recovering from cancer. His case still has not been “finalized,” according to some. This is just the tip of the sports “iceberg.” There’s the still unfinished story of baseball’s home run “king,” Barry Bonds.
And don’t forget the NFL. Three of the five starting offensive linemen from the Charlotte, North Carolina Panthers’ 2004 Super Bowl team were in a report used by prosecutors in the case against Dr. James Shortt, who was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to illegally distributing steroids and human growth hormone (HGH).
I could go on, but there’s not enough room here to document the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional and college sports for several decades. There is a good discussion of the issue at this site.
I tend to agree with sports lawyer Michelle Gallen that the pursuit of doping athletes has turned into a modern day witch hunt. New laws are being passed by the states and the Federal Government every other month to criminalize enhancing drug use in professional, even amateur sports. (Alcohol and caffeine, by the way, are legal). Certainly use of anabolic and androgenic steroid hormones, blood transfusions, EPO, and a spectrum of pharmaceuticals carries severe short and long-term risks for athletes who are willing to sacrifice their health, if not their very lives on the altar of competitive success. Winning is equivalent to fame and money, the bottom line in sportsdom.
The dangerous game of using performance enhancing drugs in sports competition lead us into a philosophical and ethical morass. But is there indeed some way to achieve competitive fairness without making cheating athletes into criminals?
Here is a modest proposal, serious enough to ponder at least: Would it be feasible to have a two tier level of sports competition, one for the performance enhanced, the dopers, the other for the “straights” who reject drug use? Obviously, there would be logistics problems; you’d have to test everybody, but how frequently? How many negative tests would get you into the “straights”? One advantage for the athletes would be achieving competitive fairness, and no pressure to risk life and liver for fear of losing fame and paycheck.
And think of the enormous economic and social benefits. Two NFL’s, two, NBA’s, two NHL’s, six baseball divisions, even two world Olympics, two Wimbledons, etc. Multiply All the games in All the sports by two, and what do you have: Twice as much ad and other revenue, twice the athletes, double the number of fans, not to speak of amplified media coverage, and double the number of TV sports channels. The possibilities are staggering.