In defence of sport against illegal doping

What you are about to read is a conversation that will take place in about 12 years between my eldest son and I as he appraches his 16th birthday.

“Son, I think it’s time now that we … uh… well, we need to talk.”

“About what Dad?”

At this point my heart is racing.

“Well son, you see, there comes a time when a boy is ready to no longer be a boy and become a man. Do you follow me so far?”

He has one of those glazed over looks on his face meaning, he’s either completely confused by what I’m talking about, or he’s day dreaming of Charlize Theron…
“Dad! You blanked out. Were we day dreaming of Charlize Theron again?”

“It’s not important. Now focus, this is serious. You need to decided if you are going to take the next competitive step in your path towards professional hockey, and providing a comfortable retirement for your old man.”

“You want me to work out more?”

“No. You need to decide if you’re going to go on a doping regimen or not. It’s going to be your best shot at making it pro.”

He perks up. He’s taking me serious at this point.

“I don’t get it Dad. Why do I have to? Can’t I just play the way I’ve been playing? I’m really good aren’t I?
“Well son, it all started with a man named Lance Armstrong who pulled off the greatest doping program of all time, culminating in an unprecedented dynasty of seven straight Tour de France victories…”

Writing about this conversation makes me uncomfortable, but it could very well be a reality if some academics and casual armchair quarterbacks had their way.

A recent article written by Ellis Cashmore — a British professor of culture, media and sport — tries to make the argument for the legalization of doping in sports on the grounds that it would make sports safer for the athletes.

Just listen to any sports talk radio show since Lance Armstrong gave up his fight against doping allegations, and you’ll hear similar musings from callers to radio hosts.Will we soon find steroids being sold along side our sporting equipment?

Photo illustration by Geoff Crane

I would venture to guess most supporters of legalization have never played sports competitively if at all.

Steroids have been at the forefront of many of sports modern scandals – Canadian Sprinter Ben Johnson losing his Olympic gold, the MLB steroids scandal of the late nineties that later spawned the Mitchell Report, Lance Armstrong and the US Postal team.

There has been a constant cat and mouse game between doping athletes and the agencies charged with sniffing out the cheaters who use.

Critics, like Cashmore, charge that anti-doping agencies have been behind the curve of the manufacturers of the performance enhancers.

I’ll concede that he may be right, but does that mean we as a society should just quit trying to catch cheaters?
The essence of sport has always been our best versus your best, the ancient Olympics, the gladiator battles of Rome, David and Goliath.

Some of the greatest moments in sport have come from an underdog overcoming almost insurmountable odds to defeat its opponent.

Legalizing drug use into sports erodes that pure essence. If you are not feeling ready to play, no problem, just take an “upper” and you’re ready to compete.

Feeling outmatched? Don’t try to train harder or work at getting better, just inject a growth hormone and you are now equal to your opponent.

By accepting cheating as a fact of life, and allowing it to become part of the fabric of the institution of sport, we lose that essence of competition. And don’t forget the moral implications.

It’s naive to think that only trained adult athletes will take performance enhancers if they became legal at an elite level. Teens will no doubt feel the pressure from peers and perhaps even their parents to take performance enhancers too.

I don’t need a doctorate to understand that if these drugs cause adverse health effects to adults, it could only be worse for a child.

Call me a purist, an idealist, stuck in an old mindset and in need of a progressive perspective to the way life is now.

Maybe my feelings on sport are irrational because I’m too emotionally involved in it and unable to stand back and take an objective look.

But if you ask anyone who has played and enjoyed sports, their greatest motivation was that they just loved to play; win or lose they loved the competition.

To paint all pro athletes as dopers and cheaters because of a minority who do is wrong. There are many who have excelled and been successful cleanly.

I would venture to say that there are far more who compete clean than “dirty”. It is akin to painting all bank industry workers as money grubbing thieves, because of a few at the top of Wall Street who got greedy.

“But dad, I’m really good. You know that. I’m good without the drugs, can’t I be the best without them?”

“Society tells us no my boy. If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

gcrane@cjournal.ca