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There is a simple explanation for drugs and sports

Chris Freud
KRISTIN ANDERSON |

OK, to review, the Olympic drug-testing center in Rio de Janeiro has been shut down. The Russian track team has been banned from competing in Rio. The latest in the NFL is that Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and James Harrison are being linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

That’s not a very cheery sports report, yet it is the reality of our day.

Alan Alda and sports



The first rule of any scandal, sports or not, is follow the money.

While a lot of people, myself included, would like to see teachers and fire fighters paid like athletes, the bottom line is that money is tumbling into sports. It’s the result of a fractured media, which does not draw large audiences like in the past.



Simply judging by my social media feed on Sundays, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is an immensely popular show on television. By more objective standards, Variety.com, the industry’s standards on such measurements, reports that roughly 23 million viewers per week, which is a tremendous draw.

Of course, Tyrion, Daenerys and John Snow are on premium TV, and so it’s hard to compare viewership numbers to TV shows of years past, but it was a different world in the 1970s when “All in the Family” or “M*A*S*H” absolutely dominated the airwaves. The 1982 finale of the latter attracted 105 million sets of eyes.

That’s Super Bowl country. In fact, 114.5 million people watched the Broncos beat the Panthers earlier this year.



In a time when basic cable has 100 channels and satellite packages offer somewhere near 500 different offerings, not to mention DVR devices and internet streaming, live sporting events are the only vehicle left on conventional television which deliver big ratings.

All about the Benjamins

And thus the advertising dollars have gushed into professional and college sports. Want to know why the Rockies stink and ownership doesn’t care? The Rockies get $20 million per year for their games from television, and that, by comparison to most other baseball teams, is a paltry deal.

The Arizona Diamondbacks will be making $1.5 billion during the next 20 years on local TV. And we haven’t gotten to big markets like Los Angeles ($300 million-plus per year for the Dodgers) and New York (the Yankees pocket $350 million per season).

The current NFL TV deal through 2022 is worth $27 billion. NBA? $24 billion. NBC is paying $7.65 billion for the assorted Olympics from 2022-2032 alone. The network paid $4.3 billion for the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 games already.

As the TV money rises so do player salaries. And with more money on the line comes the natural inclination to cheat.

Football careers are short, and athletes need to cash in when they can. And seriously, if you think that Matthews, Peppers and Harrison are the exception to the rule, just look at how much bigger and faster players are than in the 1970s. Yes, there’s human evolution, but that only takes one so far.

Baseball’s PED saga is well-documented, dating back to Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds and it would be naive to think that those problems stopped with them.

Track and field? Obviously, it’s happening there.

Cycling? Who isn’t?

Why not cheat?

The users are always ahead of the testers, people.

And this is the kicker — what disincentive is there for athletes not to cheat?

Baseball contracts are guaranteed even if a player fails a PED test. (See Ryan Braun and Dee Gordon.)

The NFL treats marijuana (Josh Gordon, year-long ban) more seriously than PEDs (usually a four-game suspension).

Sure, every governing body and their brother and Oprah threw the book at Lance Armstrong, but the man is worth $50 million (down from $125 million). Instead of drying his tears of shame with a yellow jersey, Lance can do it with $100 bills.

With Rio’s drug-testing system in clear disarray, why would prospective track and field athletes not consider PEDs? This Olympiad is setting up to look like a clown show.

Until sports organizations get serious about the monetary penalty and accompanying bans for using PEDs, the story will not change.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.


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