By Brian Jones
Getting an edge or trying to gain a competitive in the arena of sports goes back to the beginning of time it seems. Over time we’ve all heard or read “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” and “Raider Rule #1: Cheating Is Encouraged” and other quips and sayings spell as much out for us. We’ve also seen cheaters get busted too – everything from Spygate and Deflategate to crooked referees fixing games and sometimes entire series between teams. One form of cheating in sports, especially in the last 15 to 20 years or so, has been the introduction of performance enhancing drugs (or PEDs) and their existence in today’s sporting landscape. Sometimes accidents happen and sometimes they don’t when it comes to athletes and PEDs as we’ll take a look at now.
Jon “Bones” Jones was set to take on Daniel Cormier at UFC 200 until word came down some 72 hours before the biggest event in UFC history that Jones had failed a USADA/UFC-mandated drug test and would be taken off the card for the event. Jones held a press conference stating that he would never take a PED or take a PED knowingly – and I tend to believe him when he says this (as does UFC President Dana White). However, as an athlete – particularly one in Jones’ position in this instance – HAS to know what is going into his body. Bottom line, period, no excuses. This kind of thing cannot happen, but it did and now Jones is potentially facing a two-year suspension that could effectively end his career in The Octagon. Again, I don’t think he purposely took something to fail the drug test. At the same time if you haven’t failed on up until now you have to look at what you’re doing, eating and using for training materials. This is one case where perceived innocence is going to get lost because, well, it’s a failed drug test. Time will ultimately tell how this will end.
On the other hand, you have those who play the “I didn’t know” card and defense and it flat-out doesn’t fly. Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts was suspended 4 games for a PED violation where he said took a fertility drug and wasn’t aware it was on the NFL’s banned substances list. The problem with his defense is that he’d never failed a test before, applied to have the suspension overturned on that “I didn’t know” basis and then withdrew it a short time later, accepting the suspension as is. Typically, if a player fights a suspension tooth and nail on the premise that they are innocent, something that Mathis chose not to do here. They typically fight it to the bitter end, they want their good name cleared. Sure, the argument can be made that he didn’t want a protracted battle or unnecessary steps taken to overturn it, but it just looks a little off that he didn’t fight the suspension harder before just giving in and taking it.
The Mathis situation may be a unique one, but is it not alone, not by a long shot. Boxer Alexander Povetkin played the “I don’t know” defense after he was found to have taken the banned drug meldonium and was removed from a fight against Deontay Wilder in May – the same drug that got tennis champion Maria Sharapova suspended for 2 years for a anti-doping violation (she also used the “I don’t know” defense). The World Anti-Doping Agency banned the substance last September and the ban went into effect January 1st of this year. The drug is used because it is said to increase blood flow and allow more oxygen to be carried to the muscles and would enhance stamina, something that boxers and tennis players (or any athlete really) would want to use against their opponents. They both pleaded their innocence, claiming they didn’t know it was banned when they took it or stopped taking it prior to the ban going into place, but the tests were run – tests they failed, obviously – and the time frame in which the tests took place don’t coincide with the alleged claims of their innocence.
Major League Baseball and its history involving steroids have been a problem for a while. Back in the 1980s you may have seen a drug suspension here or there for steroids, but the drug really didn’t come to the forefront all the way until the late 1990s. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire took the country by storm as they chased the (then) single-season homerun record during the 1998 season. Social media wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is now, but back then, but they grabbed the headlines and had the country’s attention daily with TV cut-ins and coverage from CNNSi to Good Morning America. That season, McGuire ended up hitting 70 homeruns and Sosa 66 to break Roger Maris’ record of 61 homeruns in 1961. In 1999, they repeated their performances by hitting 65 and 63 homeruns, respectively, setting records all across the board. There were whispers of possible drug use by them but most just wrote it off and said a new era of baseball was at hand. In 2001, Barry Bonds hit 73 homeruns, obliterating all of those records – and that’s when the heat on baseball REALLY got turned up when it came to steroid use. More attention was paid to players and their physical appearances are more and more records began to fall. Meanwhile, more and more investigations began to take place, one in particular that showed that Bonds was tied to and connected with a Bay Area lab by the name of BALCO and its founder, Victor Conte. With this, ingredients like flaxseed oil, “the cream” and “the clear” all became part of the building trouble for baseball. By 2005 a Congressional hearing took place as the government was investigating not only BALCO and their dealings (that included track stars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, among other athletes) but if MLB players were, in fact, taking steroids to gain a competitive edge. Players such as McGuire and Sosa testified, but never directly owned up to taking anything illegal. Rafael Palmeiro went as far as to point his finger at the Congressional panel and angrily state “I have never used steroids, period.” This was in March. By August, shortly after recording his 3,000th hit Palmeiro was suspended for…. wait for it…STEROID usage (He claims it was B12 and got mixed up with a teammate’s supplement somehow)
Baseball, like other sports, has cleaned its act up since that hearing and in the years since. The penalties and drug testing methods back then were 10 days (like Palmeiro got) and a small, marginal fine. Today, with modified and stronger policies in place for baseball, a first positive test gets you an 80-game suspension, the second positive test lands you a season-long suspension and a third strike, like in the sport itself, means you’re out – for life. Other sports leagues have similar and stronger policies in place, but the fact remains that today’s athletes are always looking for that edge, that boost, that one thing that will make them better or stand out from the rest. The days of going just to the gym, pumping iron and doing push ups to get better are history for the most part. In this day and time athletes will use and take anything to get an advantage and, sadly, a select few will turn to using PEDs. Some will use it for a game or two, some for a season, some for their careers. It’s hard to tell just by looking who is using them or not because they’ll mask it or won’t expose… but for those who do that them – knowingly, accidentally or otherwise – need to realize that using these drugs won’t always help them win or get better or become whatever it is they think they will by using them. Using PEDs may only help them cheat to win a game or topple an opponent, but at the end of it all, as far as their conscience and integrity is concerned, they really will only wind up cheating and beating themselves.
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