It’s become a common sight in sports these days - meteoric rise of an athlete followed by accusations of drug abuse and the subsequent suspension and ban of the superstar athlete. Fans wonder why an athlete who earns millions of dollars would put their incredibly rewarding career on the line for drug use?
Competition in the sports industry is now more than ever, and athletes are always under constant pressure to excel. Use of performance enhancing drugs manifolds the performance level of an athlete and goes a long way in winning a gold medal. It’s not just a gold medal, though, it’s also the fame and money that comes along with it. As Jose Canseco said, “I don’t recommend steroids for everyone…but for certain individuals, I truly believe, because I’ve experimented with it for so many years, that it can make an average athlete a super athlete. It can make a super athlete incredible.”
Most athletes are at the peak for a short span of time, and they try to make the most of it, but it comes with certain risks. Firstly, athletes who take these illegal drugs can get suspended for a long time, and some are also handed lifetime bans. Secondly, it puts the athletes’ health in grave danger and has many long-term implications. Training and hard work are the only fair way for a sportsman to win, but the use of drugs boost their effort and gives them shortcuts.
Athletes have used drugs for a variety of reasons - mass building and strength of muscles, increasing delivery of oxygen to exercising tissues, to mask pain, stimulate the body; relax, reduce weight and even to hide the use of other illegal drugs. The Olympic Committee has banned a lot of these substances, but some drugs, like cortisone and local anesthetics are allowed to a specified extent.
Identifying cases of doping is often a hard task, and is subject to discretion by most of the federations around the world, but MPCC (Mouvement Pour Un Cyclisme Credible) have managed to release a report “based on proven cases according to official communications federations and anti-doping agencies.” Athletics has the most doping cases with 62, weightlifting with 55, baseball with 30, and cycling with 21.
America’s favorite pastime, Major League Baseball, has been subject to a lot of controversies in recent years, thanks to a number of doping allegations. One of the biggest names in MLB, Alex Rodriguez was given a huge 211 game unpaid suspension in 2013, which put him out of the arena for two seasons. The youngest player ever in MLB to score 500-career home runs was one of the many baseball players accused in recent times, with suspensions generally ranging from 10 to 162 games.
One of the biggest names in cycling, Lance Armstrong was stripped of 7 Tour De France titles after he admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs Erythropoietin (EPO), human growth hormone, testosterone, cortisone as well as having blood transfusions.
Armstrong was a hero to many as he battled testicular cancer and won after he was diagnosed in 1996. The former cycling legend opened the Lance Armstrong foundation to help cancer patients in need. From 1999 to 2005, Armstrong won 7 consecutive Tour De France’s to establish himself as one of the greats. However, his legendary status was short lived as US Anti-Doping Agency started to investigate doping charges against Armstrong, to which the man himself confessed. USADA released a report on the doping scandal stating it as “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen.”
The report led to the UCI stripping Armstrong of all his titles in Tour De France, and a lifetime ban was imposed on him. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also took away the cyclist’s bronze medal in the 2000 Olympic Games, Sydney. Nike ended its’ long-term association with Lance Armstrong, claiming the cyclist "misled them for more than a decade". He resigned from the board of his own charity, Lance Armstrong Foundation, for which he raised $325million, by selling fashionable yellow Livestrong charity bands, in association with Nike.
The disgraced star lost $75million sponsorship and his company, Armstrong and Tailwind Sports were charged with $10million in a fraud dispute which was called an “unparalleled pageant of international perjury, fraud, and conspiracy”. The meteoric rise and fall of the disgraced cycling legend is the perfect example of why athletes should ALWAYS play fair, and not use banned substances at any cost.
Female athlete, Marion Jones became a hero and role model to many at the 2000 Summer Olympics, after racing her way to 5 medals - three gold, the most by any female athlete in a single Olympics. Jones became an overnight star, appearing on the cover of Vogue, and became one of sport’s first female millionaire.
Fast forward 8 years, and America’s darling was sentenced to 6 months in prison after she admitted lying to federal agents about steroid abuse. Jones stated that her former coach, Trevor Graham, gave her the substance, telling her it was the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil. The supplement was actually a steroid known as “the clear”.
Graham exposed Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, also known as Balco when he anonymously gave a syringe of a steroid THG to the USADA. The tip helped the anti-doping agency to expose more than a dozen track and field athletes, who admitted to using “the clear’. The revelations from the federal investigation proved Jones’ steroid abuse, and she was stripped of 5 medals by IOC and erased the Americans’ record from September 2009.
The doping scandal brought shame and disappointment to the entire sports fraternity, but more importantly to the fans who once idolized the Marion Jones racing in the 2000 Summer Olympics, inspiring thousands of female athletes to dare and dream.
Athletes act as role models to millions of individuals, especially to young kids, who adore and follow every step of their superstar’s life. Not only does doping cases hurt the fans, but they also send out a wrong example to their die-hard followers. Sportspersons play a huge role in today’s society, and that gives them an added responsibility to do their jobs in a fair way. Many athletes have come clean recently about doping allegations, and we can only hope that other athletes reject the use of illegal substances, which harms their health and most importantly, their ardent followers.