The past eight days have not been baseball’s proudest. The suspension of Melky Cabrera for using testosterone and his attempted fake website coverup were followed a week later by another suspension for the same violation, this time for Bartolo Colon.
With these suspensions, the MLB has quickly learned that their battle against performance-enhancing drugs is still raging. In fact, Victor Conte, founder of BALCO (the company closely linked to Barry Bonds’ steroids case), claims that close to half of the players in the MLB are juicing. MLB vice president Rob Manfred quickly shot down Conte’s claim as nothing more than a guess, but the whole scenario underscores a major problem. Any credibility baseball had to its fans is long gone.
analyst contrarian Skip Bayless proved this by accusing Derek Jeter of using performance-enhancing drugs, given the 38 year old’s impressive season after appearing “washed up” a year ago. Jeter responded to the accusation, suggested Bayless be the one who is tested. But how are we as fans supposed to take Jeter’s side when Bayless, for once, makes a decent point. Jeter is hitting 30 points higher than last season, and his average last year was 30 points higher than the year before. Athletes aren’t supposed to get better as their body deteriorates. Jeter has never tested positive for any performance enhancers, but because of the recent violations, fans and analysts alike are entitled to a higher level of skepticism.
What makes matters even worse is that last year’s NL MVP, Ryan Braun, tested positive for testosterone during his MVP campaign. He was able to avoid suspension by appealing the test, which he retook and passed. The false positive was never explained, casting doubt over the whole situation, regardless of whether or not Braun is guilty.
The MLB does not want to deal with another era in which nearly all of its best players are cheaters. That was the case for the past decade, where Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmiero, Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Roger Clemons, and Jose Canseco were all linked to performance enhancing drugs. With All-Star teams comprised of the players who juiced the most, not necessarily the most talented ones, little separated the MLB from the WWE. With this new bout of cheaters, the MLB may soon be struggling to maintain its ethos. How can fans differentiate talent from testosterone.
Sadly, this issue goes beyond baseball. Cyclist Lance Armstrong was given a lifelong ban from the sport today after announcing he was finished fighting against the doping charges leveled against him. He will be stripped of his seven Tour de France gold medal and, while not conceding guilt, his legacy will be forever tarnished.
Armstrong was an athlete everyone wanted to love. Overcoming cancer and regaining the strength to compete at a high level was a great feel-good story, but he won’t be remembered for that courage. He’ll be remembered instead as a man who betrayed the trust of his supporters.
With so many athletes across nearly every sport hiding behind the veil of drugs, the sports landscape has turned into some sort of Oz-like mockery. Yet even with such widespread drug use still prevalent, the cheaters surely must be outweighed by the clean players. But because of those cheaters, a cloud of distrust has been cast over everyone.
It’s no longer about innocence, but the fact that we can never truly be sure.