Fans should care more about PEDs

by Matthew Bain

Shocker alert, everybody: there’s more performance-enhancing drug scandal in the world of sports.

Major League Baseball stars Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colón, and Gio Gonzalez are among a group of players named in a Miami New Times article exposing records of PED use at Anthony Bosch’s “anti-aging clinic” in Miami.

Cabrera and Colón come as no surprise, as they both served 50-game suspensions last year. But Rodriguez and Gonzalez on the other hand? Rodriguez claims to have been clean since 2003 but appears in the report 16 times, from 2009 to 2012. Gonzalez states he has never, nor will he ever, use PEDs in his life.

In an Outside the Lines report by ESPN, Bosch describes the allegations as absurd, though the words he used were much stronger.

This story comes to light after Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and players on the 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide national championship football team were accused of using “antler spray” containing insulin-like growth factor-1, a hormone which helps stimulate muscle growth. Lewis was said to have used the hormone to recover from a torn triceps, which forced him to miss most of this season, but vehemently denies these claims. The man reported to sell Lewis the IGF-1 claims he never witnessed Lewis use the drug. These scandals are nothing compared to the transformation of once-superhero Lance Armstrong to a sports villain.

If I had written that opening paragraph about 10 years ago, it would be big news. Nowadays, it’s barely a blip on the radar of sports fans for this simple reason: a scandal becomes much less scandalous when it happens repeatedly.

Leagues such as the MLB and NFL have put an increasing number of measures in place to prevent PED usage. However, when video game statistics are expected out of top-contract athletes on a yearly basis, players will always try to gain an edge—even illegally.

To be quite honest, I skimmed these stories at first, because seeing the acronym “PED” in an article seems almost a norm in modern sports. Since the early 2000s, when baseball players began falling off the pedestal like raindrops, sports fans have been bombarded with news story after news story of a professional athlete “juicing.”

But drugs, steroids, juice, whatever you want to call it, are bad for the game, right? So fans will always care if players cheat with PEDs, right? If you’re like me and answered a desperate, yet hopeful, “yes” to both of these questions, you would be wrong. Unfortunately, a home run today will often signal the possibility the player is juiced. A linebacker knocking the quarterback to next Sunday will most likely be seen as evidence that he’s on ‘roids. Any extraordinary performance now comes with questions. These are sad truths in modern sports and with no end in sight, many fans just don’t really care anymore whether players cheat or not—they just want to watch the game.

There are even some people out there who believe PEDs should be legalized in sports. In an article by Forbes Magazine, Chris Smith argued the main reason steroids are criticized in sports is because they give players “an unfair advantage over the rest of the field.” Smith proposes a solution to this problem: realize we can’t stop everybody from juicing and, instead, “level the playing field,” by allowing every athlete to use steroids.

Smith isn’t alone. I’ve asked many people what they think of PEDs in sports and a good chunk of the time, I receive jaded, yet steroid-affirming answers along the lines of “I really don’t care, everybody’s doing it, and it makes for good sports.” When they say “makes for good sports,” they’re talking about watching a baseball player hit 70 home runs in a season, watching a football player outrun his opponents by miles, and watching a cyclist win seven consecutive Tour de France titles. Sports are entertaining to fans when they get to see exhibits of superhuman strength and endurance on a day-to-day basis. Consequently, many people take the attitude of, “We can’t stop it, so why try?”

Many of us now accept the fact that our children’s role models lie and cheat in their profession. Fans are tired of being let down repeatedly. As a result, PEDs have become an accepted part of the game for many fans. This acceptance not only stimulates players and owners to keep cheating, but it encourages high school athletes to emulate their role models and use steroids.

The integrity of sports has taken a big hit in the past few years because its culture has changed to one in which almost everybody is a suspected cheater. As paying customers, should fans be OK with it?

We provide the home-field advantage, the endless support throughout any season, and, above all, fans provide the money. If more fans showed disdain for the decreasing integrity of the game, leagues would make less money, causing players to make less money. If the only way to make more money is to reverse the trend in modern sports, maybe something might happen. Unfortunately, people love sports too much to turn their backs on them and this results in acceptance and desensitization to PEDs. Fan desensitization to PED usage is detrimental to sports because it breeds a sports culture where cheating is accepted and lying is the norm. Who can respect that?

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