No tolerance should be given to cheating drug-using athletes
Late-night comedian Conan O’Brien got it just about right last week when he commented on possible illegal steroid use by the 2006 Tour de France champion, American cyclist Floyd Landis. “Landis is now claiming that he tested positive for steroids because he ‘accidentally’ ingested testosterone from another source,” O’Brien said. “Apparently, Landis accidentally ate Barry Bonds.”
O’Brien’s biting comment came as cheating athletes invent ever more fanciful excuses to explain their apparent use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. To their credit, however, international sports federations aren’t letting them off the hook so easily. As a certified anti-drug crusader, I heartily endorse efforts to identify cheating athletes and to ban them from their sports for life.
In addition to Landis, three other big-name American athletes face repeated allegations of steroid use: sprint champions Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones- and baseball star Barry Bonds. If the allegations against them are true, they should be banned for life and their records removed from the record books. After all, the essence of sports competition is that everyone has an equal shot at victory at the starting line.
Landis’ case is particularly sad. After succeeding fellow American Lance Armstrong as the Tour de France champion, Landis tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone. “You know what’s killing me?” he complained to a Sports Illustrated reporter in Paris. “I’ve never had such a beautiful view of the Champs-Elysees and the Eiffel Tower. And I can’t enjoy it.” All together now: Boo hoo.
Appearing on TV talk shows, Landis prattled on about drug testing “protocols” but never contested the validity of the test results. S.I. called that the “Jack Daniels defense,” which occurs when athletes are asked if they’ve ever used illegal drugs and they respond, “I will say no.” Although they may say “no,” the truth may be just the opposite.
Landis is expected to be stripped of his Tour title any day now. Meanwhile, sprinters Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones are dealing with doping charges filed against them by the International Track and Field Federation. Gatlin claimed that a masseur had smeared him with testosterone cream without his knowledge (call it the Barry Bonds defense). On Tuesday, however, Gatlin agreed to an eight-year ban from track and field, and agreed to cooperate with doping authorities. Meanwhile, his controversial coach, Trevor Graham, has been barred from training facilities by the U.S. Olympic Committee and North Carolina Central University, where Graham had been training his athletes.
And for her part Ms. Jones, who has surrounded herself with questionable characters throughout her stellar track and field career, purported to be “shocked” when she tested positive for the banned performance enhancer EPO earlier this month. If a second sample tests positive she’ll face a minimum two-year ban from her sport. Jones’ ex-husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, tested positive four times in 2000 for the steroid nandrolone and was banned from competition.
In a related case, self-described “nutritionist” Victor Conte, who founded the troubled Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO), served five months in prison last year for his role in distributing steroids to elite athletes. Two of the athletes named in the BALCO probe were former Conte clients Jones and San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.
Although Bonds has always denied illegal drug use and never tested positive, he has bulked-up considerably in recent years. When he started his baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates 20 years ago, he was long, lean and fast. These days, however, he looks like the Michelin Man with a head the size of a beach ball. And he plays the outfield like the Michelin Man, too, struggling to position his bloated body under routine fly balls.
Meanwhile, a Major League Baseball investigation of steroid use by ballplayers headed by ex-Sen. George Mitchell is zeroing in on Bonds and other doping suspects.
In June, the Arizona Diamondbacks released veteran pitcher Jason Grimsley following his public admission that he had used human growth hormones, steroids and amphetamines during his lengthy baseball career. Grimsley reportedly implicated other players who are under investigation by the Mitchell Commission.
Bonds’ personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who has already served three months in prison on steroid distribution charges, may be sent back to jail by a Washington, D.C., judge for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury about possible steroid use by Bonds and other “name” athletes. In 2003, Bonds told federal investigators that he used a clear substance and a cream given to him by Anderson, who assured him that the substances were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a pain-relieving balm for the 42-year-old player’s arthritis. A likely story.
Meanwhile, Bonds has already passed Babe Ruth and is now within 30 home runs of Hank Aaron’s all-time record of 755. It will be a travesty if the Giants’ Michelin Man breaks Aaron’s record because Hammerin’ Hank played by the rules. As AOL sports columnist Richard Justice wrote not long ago, “When your grandkids ask (about the home-run record), you’ll tell them the truth. You’ll tell them (Bonds) cheated . . . (and) you’ll tell them, ‘Henry Aaron, now there was a hero.'” Amen!
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a lifelong sports fan.