The truth is that it's the lies. The biggest problem with the steroid era in sports is not the steroids, it's the dishonesty. It can be no more apparent than it has been in the past week with the startling revelations about drug use in baseball and bicycling, which come at a time when we are led to believe that sports have turned the corner on performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and are cleaning themselves up. It's not true.
A pair of Major League Baseball players have been served with 50-game suspensions in the past two weeks after testing positive for synthetic testosterone in their systems. This came on top of a report that 38 minor league players have tested positive for illegal substance use as of halfway through this season.
This came after a statement by Barry Bonds' former trainer that current drug tests are ridiculously easy to beat so that only the stupid and unlucky ones get caught, and that perhaps more than half of all big league players are still using synthesized steroids that are currently nearly impossible to detect.
Then there's the mess with Lance. The man who has never given up on so much as a game of checkers, gave up on protecting his honor. He lost his seven Tour de France yellow jerseys, a rainbow's pot of prize money, and pushed clouds over his sun so that one has to look very closely to see the shadow of a doubt. Sport officials propose to give three of his jerseys to Jan Ulrich, his Champs Elysees bridesmaid that number of times, who has officially failed a PED test (although not in Le Tour), is an admitted drug cheat, and has stated that he doesn't deserve or want the coveted jerseys.
Such are but two examples of the trashed yet more popular than ever modern era of sports. All except the diehard deniers understand and accept that today's top performers are taking advantage of modern science illegally in their events. Most of us don't like it, but we go along with it ... until somebody gets busted. Then we become indignant. The sin is getting caught. It makes us look bad for supporting the culture that encourages drug use to make it the competition we love to watch.
But, what is it that really bothers us about this? It's probably not the drug use. Maybe a decade ago it was. Most of us knew little about steroids then. They were what the East Germans and Russians injected into their scientifically selected athletically gifted children so they could clobber us in the Olympics.
Now, hormone therapy is common in the mainstream bloodstream. Women use it for menopause, men for "low T." You watch the ads on TV. A growing body of evidence suggests that using them under proper supervision has proven to be far less dangerous than anticipated. In many cases, steroids in athletes are less harmful to their health than the sports they are playing. Concussion anyone?
So, it's not about the drugs anymore. It's the lying. That's the deal killer. In sports, an "unbelievable" achievement, ironically, must be believable for us to marvel at it. Drug-aided achievement can be incredible, too, but we have to know if drugs were involved so we can judge it fairly.
In the steroid era we have not correctly identified the problem or the solution. We know this is indisputably true since what we are doing is completely ineffective. It's an arms race now; who can spend money the fastest, the cheats or the testers ... or the arbitrators and lawyers. The faster we spin our wheels the deeper we sink into the muck. We have to do something differently.
We have to consider that the punishments we dole out do not fit the crimes. Yes, it is still cheating to use drugs in sports, but is getting caught for using them, especially when many competitors are easily getting away with it, grounds for ending careers and ruining reputations? We are punishing the careless, so being lazy and/or stupid have become the crimes.
Using a corked bat in baseball will produce as large an increase in homerun production as using steroids, maybe more, yet how many bat corkers have been called to testify before congress for their transgressions?
Accepting that modern chemistry will keep advancing and be a permanent part of sports and reducing the penalties for those caught taking advantage of it against the rules will reduce the vicious lies to conspiratorial winks, turn the volume up from backroom silence to locker room murmurs so we get more information for research, and it will save millions upon millions of dollars spent kidding ourselves.
Roger Marolt guesses it is as easy to get a prescription for steroids now as it is to get a hit
of medical marijuana ... and even more legal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.