The latest news that Alberto Contador has allegedly tested positive for something doesn’t just add another nail in cycling’s coffin – at this point, the sports’ credibility is buried under so many lies, speculation, innuendo, and – of course – positive tests, that it’s hard for anyone to care any more.
The presence of a plasticizer in Contador’s sample suggests that he’s had a blood transfusion to boost endurance. Sure, he could have had a blood transfusion as a result of a major life-threatening accident, but there’s been no record of that. So instead of live-saving, we’ll have to go with performance-enhancing. Again.
It seems it’s no longer a matter of ‘if’ someone’s dirty in cycling – it’s now about ‘when’ we’ll find the proof. There have been whispers and accusations surrounding Lance Armstrong, many of which will have their time in court thanks to Floyd Landis. Whether or not Lance is dirty — and I hope he’s not — several people have already found him guilty in the court of public opinion.
This issue is not just limited to cycling. Sports fans in general have become so jaded that many just assume their favourite athletes are juicing. The prevailing wisdom is that a significant number of football players must be on something – HGH, steroids, etc. – because it’s just not natural for a 300-plus-pound lineman to run that fast. We figure that some hockey players, who used to pop Sudafed between periods, now have moved onto something else.
And baseball? Let’s not even get started with that. MLB looked the other way so long during baseball’s ‘roid generation that they’ve lost all credibility when it comes to saying the sport is cleaner now. Sure, players have magically shrunk over the past couple of years, but now any variance in ability from one year to the next is met with skepticism (see: a certain Toronto-based columnist and his questioning of Jose Bautista). You can say that this columnist was unfair — and I do believe questioning one’s integrity in this manner was out of line. But to deny that this environment that baseball created for itself in chasing those crowd-pleasing home runs during the 90’s and early 2000’s, didn’t lend to the development of this automatic skepticism.
And even the efforts to curb drug use are met with skepticism. Even fake sports, like professional wrestling, have instituted wellness policies that strongly discourage performance-enhancing drug use – yet still wrestlers are dying off at a far-too-frequent rate at a far-too-young age.
The cheaters always seem to be ahead of the testing. When we finally caught up to anabolic steroids, HGH was all the rage behind the scenes. Now that HGH is starting to come on the radar, blood transfusions were the way to escape testing. And now that there’s a test like the one that’s allegedly ensnared Contador, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to believe that there are a dozen other designer drugs floating through the systems of athletes everywhere.
So what’s a sports fan left to do? The concept of playing for the purity of sport was beat up already by the sheer volume of money out in the world of professional sports. Drugs have just served to be the knockout blow to any sense of innocence.
Perhaps we should look at drugs in sports as a positive thing for fans. After all, most of us can only look on in awe at the physical abilities of elite athletes. There’s no thought that if we had the same opportunity as them, that we’d be starring on the national stage because we don’t have the same physical gifts. But if these gifts are artificially enhanced, then maybe we can be just delusional enough to think we could have a shot.
That, of course, is a tongue-in-cheek comment. But we have to make those. Thanks to all the syringe-in-butt-cheeks over the years, we have to find the humour lest we lament too greatly what we’ve lost.