By Ken Reed

I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful conversation with the great sportswriter Frank Deford the other day. One of our topics was “What’s the biggest issue in sports today?”. Deford believes drugs, performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), are sports biggest challenge.

“Performance-enhancing drugs are a threat to every sport,” said Deford.

He makes a great point. Very few contemporary sports issues impact every sport the way PEDs do.

Recently, there has been a growing movement to give up on PED enforcement. The reasoning is that it’s too hard to catch all the cheaters. They’re always one step ahead of the enforcement police. We can’t test for every PED. Testing technology can’t keep up with cheating technology. So, let’s let them do what they will.

I couldn’t disagree more vehemently.

As I wrote in a recent post, “Those arguing “let them do what they will” miss the whole point of sports, the essence of the concept of sportsmanship: fair, natural competition between athletes who bring out the best in each other. Athletes who dope bring out the worst in themselves and their fellow competitors. By using PEDs, these athletes put extreme pressure on fair-minded competitors to cheat in order to remain competitive.

“There’s more and more money in sports these days and that money severely tests the ethics of today’s elite athletes. Greed and the WAAC (win-at-all-costs) mentality have become more prevalent. But we have a choice, either everything goes or we do what needs to be done to make our sports as fair, natural and healthy as possible. If we let anything go in sports when it comes to doping, the health of athletes will be jeopardized, from the pros down to the youth level. Moreover, the foundational values that make sports so compelling to play and watch will be imperiled.”

Jonathan Vaughters, a former professional cyclist and admitted doper, agrees. He believes we must do all we can do to eliminate doping and PEDs. In a terrific op-ed column in The New York Times, Vaughters wrote, “I chose to lie over killing my dream. I chose to dope. I am sorry for that decision and I deeply regret it … I wasn’t hellbent on cheating; I hated it, but I was ambitious, a trait we, as a society, generally admire … think about the talented athletes who did make the right choice and walked away. They were punished for following their moral compass and being left behind. How do they reconcile the loss of their dream? It was stolen from them.

“Let’s put our effort and resources into making sport fair, so that no athlete faces this decision ever again. We put so much emotion into marketing and idolizing athletes, let’s put that same zeal into giving them what they really want: the ability to live their dreams without compromising their morals.”

With the Hall of Fame set to announce its new inductees this week, and players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on the ballot, some confused and frustrated writers and fans are throwing up their arms and saying, “No mas! I surrender! Let them do what they will!”

That’s the wrong approach. To save our sports — and our athletes — doping and PEDs must be attacked with more vigilance than ever.

If sport’s not about fair, honest and healthy competition — and yes, sportsmanship — than it is no longer sport.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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