Braunholtz: Upside to sports scandals
Vail CO, Colorado
The ridiculous attention we pay to professional sports occasionally can, in a backhand way, actually achieve some real good.
Thanks to Mr. Vick’s ability to throw and run around we now know a lot more about the brutal practice of dog fighting and hopefully this attention will make it harder to do. It might even deter a few participants because he may go to jail. Regardless of what some hip-hop lyrics imply that’s not a cool place to be.
The Tour de France raises lots of interesting questions about cheating. My big one is, why do it when they know they’ll be tested and caught? I’m guessing the answer is that they usually don’t get caught and it’s only when the race is large and long that some make a dosing mistake and cross a threshold in their sample that triggers a more intense look at their blood and urine.
Either that or it’s another conspiracy theory where Borat allies with the French to discredit Kazakhstan just for the hell of it.
If they’re getting away with doping they’re getting help from doctors and trainers. Their team must be turning a blind eye; winning is what counts most. The Spanish police investigation that caught many of the top cyclists relied on seized bags of blood and records. All these cyclists had passed their in competition tests, which shows it’s possible to test and cheat if you time it right.
Cycling might finally start coming to grips with its long culture of doping because it’s now too embarrassing for the team sponsors and fans. If no one cares about your sport then winning becomes meaningless to a professional athlete. More and more teams are committing to weekly and comprehensive in-house testing to catch strange changes in blood properties. These teams see racing clean as ‘cool’ and more attractive to fans and sponsors than merely winning. Being the best you can be is sometimes better than being the best.
The U.S. Slipstream team run by J. Vaughters from Boulder is one committed to clean racing (though their unique argyle-patterned cycling jersey sports a “Powered by Chipotle” logo, which seems an unfair advantage for carbo loading). But buying the shirt would show support for clean cycling, if not fashion sense.
One reason cycling gets hammered for doping is they test more than most sports. Every Olympics some unheard of and therefore untested athlete appears from some dubious country with world-beating performances. What do you think the NFL or baseball leagues would look like with year-round testing for steroids, growth hormones etc. and two-year bans for positive tests? Currently the NFL allows players who test positive to play in the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl. Barry Bonds is about to break baseball’s most famous record with his team and fans cheering him on ” despite the fact that it’s been all but confirmed that he has used steriods.
It’s this ambivalence to cheating that hurts us. A referee’s bad call is still a bad call even if it favors your team. Giants fan should be embarrassed by Bonds instead of excusing him. Until we are we shouldn’t be shocked when players cheat when all we’ve ever cared about is if they’re winners or losers.
My preferred solution is for us to simply stop caring and following professional sports. Instead spend that time actually doing some or following the local high school team or investing that knowledge into public policy, politics and other areas that will actually affect your and your children’s lives. If you can recite the batting averages of all-star games and manage a fantasy team then you can follow the basics of global warming and see how cheaters of logic artificially enhance the arguments against evolution.
This’ll never happen, I know. Sports, like soap operas, are addictive. Strange that we insist on a level playing field in sports while ignoring all the lop-sided arenas, rule-bending and outright cheating that surrounds us in the rest of society. Better schools, better health care, better lawyers, bigger campaign contributions etc., all tilt the playing field.
The easiest way to make sports fair would be to allow anything and everything then step aside for some superhuman performances. Still, if you want sports to be clean and fair it’ll need the invasive year-round testing that a few of the cycling teams are now implementing. Professional athletes will give up their right to privacy for the privilege of being well-paid heroes.
A trade-off, but if it sends the message you can’t drug your way to the top then it’s worth it.
Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a biweekly column for the Daily.