As most people know at this point it has been a big week in the world of accusations of PED use by pro athletes. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was connected to the banned substance IGF-1. The substance is banned by all professional sports, and according to a story set to run in Sports Illustrated next week was obtained by Lewis in the form of deer antler spray, which he was given to help recover from a torn triceps injury this fall. Christopher Key, co-owner of SWATS, (the company who supplied Lewis with the spray) says he also supplied the spray to about 20 university of Alabama football players prior to the 2012 BCS title game against LSU (source). Lewis has denied using the substance, and has used the tried and true defense that he has never failed a test. Lewis was supported by Ravens vice president of communications, Kevin Byrne, who released the following statement on behalf of the team: ”Ray has been randomly tested for banned substances and has never failed a test. We have never been notified of a failed test. He has never been notified of a failed test” (source). Of course the great thing about IGF-1, and similar substances such as HGH is that there is no test in place to determine their presence in an athletes system. Turns out its pretty easy to never fail a test for a substance they don’t test for, Lance Armstrong managed to dope through seven Tour de France titles with this method.
The second major PED story of the week involved a number of baseball players (including the always popular Alex Rodriguez) appearing on a list of people who received PED’s from a Miami anti-aging clinic according to a story from the Miami New Times. The Miami New Times conducted a three-month investigation before releasing their story earlier this week, in which they found the clinic sold PED’s such as HGH, testosterone, and anabolic steroids. (source). Anthony Bosch, the head of the clinic, was previously tied to Manny Ramirez during his 2009 suspension for violating the MLB drug policy. Bosch kept a detailed notebook of his famous clients, (Bosch used nicknames for the athletes, but rather foolishly often had their actual name written next to the nickname) and the products they were to receive from his company. In addition to Rodriguez other players on the list include, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera, and Bartolo Colon (the last two were both suspended 50 games by the MLB this past season for violating the drug policy). Rodriguez previously admitted in 2009 to using PEDs during his time with the Texas Rangers, but has claimed to be clean from performance enhancers since that time. Gio Gonzalez issued the following statement in reaction to the article: ”I’ve never used performance-enhancing drugs of any kind, and I never will…I’ve never met or spoken with Tony Bosch or used any substances provided by him. Anything said to the contrary is a lie.” (source) Additionally, Gonzalez’s father Max, also mentioned in the article, has been quoted as saying his son is ”as clean as apple pie.”
So the question now is where do we go from here. In the wake of Lance Armstrong finally admitting to using PEDs during his run of Tour de France victories we have two new scandals involving performance enhancing drugs. While many people are still outraged at the notion of athletes “cheating” to get ahead, I personally feel its time the public stopped worrying so much about PED use. The use of currently undetectable substances, such as IGF-1, goes to prove what many have been saying for years, the cheaters will always be far ahead of the testers. People are constantly developing new ways to beat the system, possibly in part to the fact the system doesn’t necessarily want to catch them. A great article by Dan Levy earlier this week illustrates the fact that the “steroid era” in baseball will never be over, despite the leagues claims to the contrary (article). Ultimately professional sports are a business, and it is in the greatest interest of those in charge to make sure their premiere athletes remain on the field. Cycling, for all its flaws, is the only sport they actually pursued and punished its premiere athletes. Professional baseball and football on the other hand have only punished role players, such as Cabrera, Colon, Jermaine Cunningham (Patriots DE) and Brandon Browner (Seahawks CB). MLB stars such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGwire were all given a virtual pass for their involvement with steroids, with a punishment that consisted of little more than a public shaming and not being allowed in the Hall of Fame. Manny Ramirez is the only legitimate star to receive a significant suspension from the MLB, (he retired in 2011 after failing a second test resulting in a 100 game ban) but Ramirez was well past his prime when he started receiving suspensions. It has been suggested by many that at the peak of the “steroid era” around 80 percent of major league baseball players were using banned substances (and that a large percentage still are). I say rather than having professional sports continue to pay lip-service to the fans by suspending a few token athletes here and there they should move on to more pressing issues in sports. Traumatic brain injuries are increasingly prevalent in the NFL and NHL, and the results have been catastrophic in several instances. As a fan I would much rather see the leagues work on ensuring the health and safety of the athletes while putting on the best possible product than have them focus on hunting down people who may be seeking an advantage over their competitors. What if it turned out that Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson used deer antler spray to recover more quickly from their injuries? While I have no evidence they did, how would we ever know? Barry Petchesky from Deadspin points out in an article (link) that Ray Lewis “would be professionally negligent if he didn’t use certain untestable banned substances to get strong and hurry back from injury, since there’s nearly no way he could be suspended for it.” As fans I think it’s time to stop worrying about who is “cheating” in professional sports. As Lance Armstrong point out in his interview with Oprah, cheating is gaining an unfair advantage your opponent over your opponent, there is no cheating if everyone has the same advantage. I, for one, have no interest in watching watered-down sports where stars are sitting at home for ‘cheating.’ And don’t worry about the record books either, some form of ‘cheating’ has always existed, people have also sought a way to get an advantage (baseball players famously used ‘greenies’ or amphetamines for years before they were banned in 2006). Instead of forcing leagues to focus resources on trying to fix a problem that will never completely go away lets let the leagues work on fixing problems that really matter. And as fans, lets stop worrying about who might be ‘cheating’ and focus on enjoying the sports we love.