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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The appropriate penalty for PED's

Performance enhancing drugs are never far from the headlines these days. A couple weeks ago Lance Armstrong was in the news for his "confession." Last week, A-Rod was linked to a shady doctor and journalists questioned Ray Lewis's remarkably speedy recovery from a torn triceps.

The past four decades are replete with dopers who never tested positive, no matter how flagrantly they cheated: Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Marion Jones, Michelle Smith, and many more. Over time the dopers have made the testing agencies look like the Keystone Kops. 

So what to do? 

Obviously, they need to tighten up the testing procedures, and take blood passports (samples to be tested in the future, when detection methods are more sophisticated). But the penalties also need to be increased. 

Right now the penalty stands at either a two or four year suspension, plus losing the medals from the whichever competition the athlete tested positive at. 

A more fitting penalty would be for the athlete to lose all of his previous medals and records, period. If an athlete tests positive, odds are he was doping long before that.

Think about it: why would anybody go on the juice after already becoming an Olympic champion or world record holder? Put yourself in the shoes of a clean athlete who has just won a gold medal. Would you think, okay, now I'll take PED's? Of course not. You're already the best without them. No, the only reason to cheat after this is because you've relied on doping in the past. 

Imagine you're Michael Phelps in 2010. You've won a total of sixteen Olympic medals, including a perfect set of eight golds in Beijing. Would you then think, okay, this time around I'm going on steroids? Can you imagine Phelps showing up in London with 30 pounds more muscle than he had in Beijing, looking almost like a different person? Is there any chance he would have risked tainting his legacy that way? 

Of course not. The only reason to cheat is because you need to in order to win -- which almost certainly means you always have. So if you get caught, you should have all of your previous titles and records expunged. 

The IOC recently stripped Lance Armstrong of his Olympic medal from 2000, and has also taken Marion Jones' medals from her. 

But there is a long list of athletes who were proven to be dopers later on who never had their medals taken away: all of the East Germans from the 70's and 80's, Michelle Smith from '96, Justin Gatlin from '04, and so on. Does anyone think that Michelle Smith was actually clean in '96? Or Gatlin in '04?

This is not to suggest that even if these athletes did give back their medals, justice would nearly be served. Being awarded a medal a decade or two after you rightfully won it is not the same as standing on the podium, seeing your country's flag raised, hearing the roar of the crowd, returning home a hero, being introduced as an Olympic champion for years afterward, and maybe getting some commercial endorsements. 

It's not even close.

Of course, neither is this to suggest that the second place athlete was necessarily clean himself, especially in a sport like cycling. 

But even if the second place finisher is equally undeserving, we still need more draconian penalties, if only for deterrence's sake.


lowly said...

My idea of penalties, and to whom, and how, they should be applied, is laid out in "The Chosen (The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, Book 1)." Seems to me it is a book you might fancy.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want to outlaw PED's in sports. Take away drugs and sports will regress 50 years instantly. ALL high level athletes use PED's. Period. Some get caught is the only difference. 100% of sports champions are juicers.

John Craig said...

Lowly --
Just checked it out at Amazon; not my kind of book, but I can only imagine the punishments meted out. (I did read a lot of fantasy and sci fi as a kid.)

John Craig said...

Anon --
I agree that there are a lot more juicers than is commonly thought. I have my own list of (uncaught) suspects in swimming. But the idea is to have a level playing field. I actually wouldn't mind if they kept two sets of record, one for juicers and one for clean athletes, sort of like the bodybuilding contests, which are divided into those for juicers and non juicers.

Gilbert Ratchet said...

Why not just legalize all PEDs, and stop banging our heads against a wall?

John Craig said...

Gilbert --
There are a lot of people who feel that way. Personally, I'd support a two-tiered system as I said above. The problem with legalizing all doping is that it effectively closes off competition to those who don't want to dope because they care about their health.

But in the meantime, toss the cheaters out.

Anonymous said...

John @5:34 am, the playing field is level. Literally 100% of all pro athletes are juicers. In re: bodybuilding, there is no such thing as bodybuilding without hormones. All those "clean" athletes who compete in natural shows, and I mean the ones who win the shows, are juicers and liars. They are natural just because they passed a drug test? No.

The playing field is level and the best athlete still wins.