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Aug. 1, 2007

Where have all the heroes gone?

by Pia Nargundkar, Online Editor-in-Chief
Michael Jordan. Cal Ripken Jr. Jerry Rice. Not so long ago, it was easy for a kid to find a sports hero to idealize. He or she could turn to the sports section of the newspaper, and it would be filled with stories of last-second baskets, great receptions, solid pitching – anything and everything about the games themselves. Now turn to the sports page, and one thing dominates the section – scandal.

No one could wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France after the leading cyclist was kicked out for missing drug tests. A star NFL quarterback was allegedly running a dogfighting ring. The MLB's most cherished record is going to be broken by a man cherished by few after multiple allegations of steroid use. A longtime NBA referee was accused by the FBI of betting on games in which he officiated. The behavior of the world's celebrated athletes and officials is disappointing at best.

Not everyone in the sporting world is mired in such controversy, but the high profiles of the people involved have fans everywhere grimacing. Professional basketball was already losing enough viewers; the suggestion that numerous games may have been fixed isn't going to help.

It's even worse for the cycling world. Lance Armstrong had steroid rumors dog him for years, but nothing concrete was ever produced against the seven-time winner. Not so for his successors. The official winner of the 2006 Tour, American Floyd Landis, was later fired from his team after repeated testing revealed an exceptionally high testosterone/epitestosterone ratio. Tour officials no longer consider him the champion. With even more dropouts this year, many in France have given up hope for the treasured Tour. One prominent French newspaper, France Soir, went so far as to transform its front page into a mock obituary for the 104 year-old event.

But enough whining. It's time for professional leagues in this country to take charge and fix the problems plaguing their sports today. If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to keep good on his Personal Conduct Policy, he should ban quarterback Michael Vick from playing for the rest of his life if found guilty. Players should be held responsible for their behavior on and off the field, and "held responsible" should not be equivalent to a slap on the wrist. Players have had minor run-ins with alcohol or speeding before, but nothing is comparable to the electrocution, hanging and shooting of dogs that Michael Vick is indicted on.

As the NFL is having trouble with its players off the field, baseball can't even keep its players straight on the field. Unfortunately, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig can't rely on books and illegally leaked grand jury testimony to expose the league's steroid users. The drug policy instituted last year was far overdue and does nothing to punish those who capitalized on the drugs in previous years. If a court finds that star slugger Barry Bonds knowingly used steroids even once, then Selig should kick Bonds out of the league and strip him of his records.

While nothing can be done to change the outcome of the basketball games that Tim Donaghy officiated, the NBA should take measures to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again. It can start with holding its referees to the same caliber it should be holding its players. No one wants any reason to suspect the outcome of the games, and believe me, no one wants to give the diehard fan any more fodder for his theory about how his team was "robbed."

It's time for the speculation about drug use, fixed games and other misbehavior to stop. Professional sports have the ability to bring together people of all backgrounds, but it should be in entertainment, not in disgust. With the recent Hall of Fame induction of baseball players Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, people are longing for a different era of sportsmen. With a little help from the nation's commissioners, athletes with class can become a thing of the present, not of the past.



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  • Craig Readler (View Email) on August 2, 2007 at 4:30 PM
    This will not be a popular post ;) I would argue that prohibiting drug use to enhance performance is a thing of the past, and that there should not be any restrictions on what substances athletes can and can not consume as they attempt to improve their athletic performance. Why do I think this? Because no matter how one tries to implement such a program, it is impossible to design limits to a chemical intake measurement system that at a fundamental level don't boil down to being arbitrary. The IOC legal limit of caffeine for competition is 12 mg/L urine. For a person of average body weight, this level can be obtaned by drinking 4 cups of coffee in an hour. Is that unhealthy? Probably, but the point is why is 4 cups in an hour considered unhealthy, but 3 is not? Why isn't the level 5 cups in an hour? Why not 10? Yes if we're going to have a chemical monitoring system we have to set a level somewhere, but fundamentally, it's just an arbitrary selection by some expert picking some level that might be somewhat appropriate for some people. Rather than deal with these arbitrary values, why not allow people to obtain greater athletic achievement by ingesting whatever they want? For that matter -- why is caffeine a substance that has a limit, acetaminophen can be consumed in unlimited amounts, and bolasterone and other exogenous steroids aren't allowed in any concentration? All three can enhance performance, and all three have negative health consequences when consumed in excess. Two major criticisms of this idea are likely to be 1) Removing doping rules will incentivize all athletes who want to be competitive to ingest substances to a degree that is unhealthy for them and 2) That removing doping rules will create an unfair playing field amongst athletes. I will take these in turn: 1) Removing doping rules provides incentives for athletes to take performance enhancing drugs, which will ultimately prove unhealthy for the athlete. This is unequivicably true, but my response would be "so what"? The very nature of sports is that when done to the level necessary to become an elite athlete, the sport has become unhealthy. The names of athletic related stresses like 'swimmer's ear' and 'tennis elbow' stem from the fact that playing sports can have negative health benefits, especially when done to an extreme level. How many times have we seen our friends complain of shin splints after running, or a sore shoulder after throwing around a baseball? Further more, how many of our friends have gone running KNOWING AHEAD OF TIME they would have shin splints later, and gone anyways. And there are other negative consequences associated with playing sports that aren't health related -- how many high school athletes do we know who let their academics suffer so that they can attend football practice? How many athletes are prohibited from having a healthy social life by the amount of time they spend training? Are some risks worse than others? Absolutely. But when we talk about mandating which ones are 'too unhealthy' we still reduce ourselves to an arbitrary cut off point. And frankly -- a level that's too unhealthy for you may be perfectly healthy for me, or vice versa, since human biology varies form person to person. We respect an athlete's right to choose whether he trains his body to duress to obtain athletic achievement, why do we not respect the athlete's right to choose when it comes to chemical ingestion? 2) Removing doping rules provides an environment that gives some athletes an unfair competitive advantage. To be blunt, I would argue the opposite -- that having doping rules gives some athletes a competitive advantage. We say it's illegal to ingest testosterone as a performance enhancing drug, but the body produces testosterone at different levels anyways. If Jon naturally produces testosterone at a different level than Sam, isn't that unfair? If Lisa's dad was an Olympic track star and Sally's dad never ran a day in his life, doesn't Lisa have an unfair genetic advantage over Sally? Continuing to have doping laws simply ensures enforcement of the unfair competitive advantage biology and genetics created. Let's look at the theoretical example of Mark and Peter who at a given point in time prior to ingestion of any chemicals are identically gifted athletes. We worry that if Mark is willing to injest unhealthy substances and that Peter isn't, that Peter is then going to be at an athletic disadvantage to Mark when all Peter was trying to do was protect his health. True -- but the fact that Mark is willing to sacrifice personal health for athletic success makes Mark the better athlete. Depending on your viewpoint, it may also make Mark dumb, but it still makes him the better athlete because he's willing to give up what Peter wasn't in order to become better at his sport. It's the chemical analogy to that time when Mark skipped that one party Saturday night that Peter chose to attend so that Mark could train more hours. Mark becomes the better athlete, again because Mark is willing to give up what Peter is not (in this case social time, in the chemical example, health) to become better. How can we compare two athletes unless we allow them to train, eat, practice, do drills, and take substances as they deem appropriate to obtain optimal performance while suffering certain negative side effects according to their own values? We don't set limits on the number of hours/week athletes can train -- they know over-training leads to injury, and they work with their coaches to find the optimal level for them. We don't set limits on the amount of food athletes can eat (or not eat in the case of wrestlers trying to make a weigh-in. If you wanna talk unhealthy, you should check out wrestlers who run in winter clothes in a sauna to sweat out water weight to make weight cuts) They know eating inappropriately is unhealthy, but they find an optimal level that represents their personal values as a trade off in terms of accepting bad health in exchange for receiving enhanced performance. Yet for drugs (and keep in mind, it's an arbitrary set of 'some' drugs that we 'sometimes' allow up to 'some' level) we say no. We say an organizational body will define what's not allowed, and that the athlete's choice is irrelevant. Rather than continue to have outcry about performance enhancing drugs, we should accept a base reality. Athletics is competitive, and people make sacrifices in other non-chemical related areas -- even health related sacrifices -- to obtain peak performance. To impose any form of drug prohibition scheme is hypocritical with respect to the very nature of sport, and is inconsistent with the choice we give athletes to harm themselves in all other areas of their lives in their quest for athletic achievement. Even if a system were conceptually appropriate, any system is by definition arbitrary -- drug enforcement regulations are the pharmaceutical equivalent of saying "25 hours of practice a week is OK, but 26 will lead to injury". We should allow ourselves to achieve previously unreachable athletic successes by getting rid of drug regulations altogether. Craig Readler, MBHS class of 1998. Varsity Athlete for a Big-10 University, and former captain of the Blar swim team.
  • dunno on August 5, 2007 at 12:04 AM
    at least for the nba, kids don't usually look up to referees. today's game has a ton of likable stars that were as shocked as the rest of us when the scandal surfaced.

    the nfl though, it's been like this for a while. michael irvin in the hall of fame? the great "playmaker" for the cowboys dynasty? the coke user?

    but its always just the same group of people, vick has been getting into trouble all the time, cincin might as well be a jail facility
  • BE SUCCINT lilkunta on August 5, 2007 at 1:33 AM
    Craig that is waaay 2 long. No 1 will read it.

    Be succint!
  • Student on August 5, 2007 at 1:47 PM
    Also, look who has the most association with steroid use - Barry Bonds...Look who curses at the media and isn't a team player - Barry Bonds

    Look who just tied the all time Home Run Record ... It is unfortunate. To respond to Craig, the rules are there for a reason, and just because medical advances can prove wonders, it is still a matter of a game - and competing within the confides of the game.

    Family values have deteriorated the past few years, and we cannot condone athletes to be above the law or showcase cockiness in front of our youth.
  • mango on August 7, 2007 at 5:36 PM
    I believe first, we need to ask ourselves why we watch sports. Is it not for the cheering when your favorite team wins? Is it not for the awe that you have when someone does amazing on the field?

    I don’t know why other people watch football, but I watch it to see exciting passes being thrown and great runs. Whatever would allow more of these exciting moments occur more often, heck, I am all for it. For example, the rules of football provide a great arena for athleticism to be displayed, so let it be displayed. To me, these athletes are just arms and legs that run around the field catching footballs and doing amazing things. I don’t care what these arms and legs do outside of the field…

    Do Vick’s charges somehow make his arms and legs not perform as well and provide not as much entertainment? Nope. Let him play; let him entertain us. If he does something illegal, then let him go to jail but don’t bar him from something completely unrelated from entertainment.

    I agree with you on the referee. Referees who bet on games are a no-no. Very true.
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