PED Scandals: There Appears to be No End in Sight
The use of performance enhancing drugs (PED) and blood doping to achieve a competitive edge has caught up with a number of prominent, once highly respected athletes as well as young, aspiring players during the last few days.
Although hardly new or shocking revelations, the sudden rash of PED disclosures within the past three weeks emphasizes strongly that too many sports continue to be tainted by people who would digest steroids, human growth hormones and other PED in order to win.
Most notable among those who have been so charged and punished is Lance Armstrong, the American winner of seven consecutive Tour de France bicycle marathons, 1999-2005.
Armstrong, the iron man of the sport who won because he could beat anyone pedaling up steep Alpine and Pyrenees roads, will be stripped of those Tour de France titles and barred for life from most cycling races of importance by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
Melky Cabrera, the San Francisco Giants’ left fielder who is currently leading the National League in batting with a .346 average, was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball on Aug. 15 after he tested positive for testosterone, a PED.
One week later, Bartolo Colon, the 39-year-old pitcher who won the 2005 American League Cy Young Award, was also given a 50-day suspension by MLB because he tested positive for testosterone. Colon, who has pitched for five AL teams during his 15-year major league career, had a 10-9 won-lost mark with the Oakland Athletics at the time of his suspension.
Both Cabrera and Colon admitted guilt and made public apologies to their teams, their teammates, fans and families in the usual mea culpa performances. But Cabrera apparently did so after trying a rather elaborate cover-up by using the Internet to put the blame on others.
One day after MLB suspended Colon, the office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced 50-day suspensions for three minor league players in the Tampa Bay Rays organization: Ryan Brett, a second baseman of considerable promise, and two pitchers, Charles Conine and Justin Woodall. All three are members of the Class A Bowling Green, Ky., Hot Rods of the Midwest League and all three tested positive for methamphetamine, another PED.
Then last Tuesday three more minor league players, including another in the Tampa Bay Rays organization plus a former Duke University pitcher, received the mandatory 50-day suspension for using PED.
Marcus Stroman, the first Duke player to be selected in the opening round of an MLB amateur draft, got a signing bonus of $1.8 million from the Toronto Blue Jays. He pitched this season with the Class A Vancouver and Class AA New Hampshire teams. But he tested positive for use of methylhexaneamine, a banned stimulant.
Able to unleash a 98-mph fastball, Stroman was expecting a September call-up from Toronto. Not so, young man. These minor league suspensions will extend into next season.
The other two minor leaguers suspended are Joshua Sale, an outfielder playing Class A ball for the Tampa Bay Rays, and Mark Donato, a first baseman in the Kansas City Royals system who is playing in the Arizona Rookie League.
Only Time Will Tell
Last but not least on this current list of drug-damaged goods in American sports, is Tyrann Mathieu, the spectacular junior cornerback and punt returner for LSU, who was named defensive player of the year in major college football last season.
Kicked off the team by coach Les Miles last month for violation of LSU drug policies, Mathieu is out of school and in a recovery program at a rehab center. He hopes to return to football next year. Only time will tell if he makes it back into college football or becomes a pro football player.
Mathieu was considered a possible Heisman Trophy winner for 2012 prior to his downfall.
All of these tragic stories about drug use in sports have become so common that we tend to say, “What else is new?”
But this time there are so many people and so many disparate circumstances involved all of a sudden that it just seems as if the roof has fallen in on the futures of many folks in addition to just these athletes who misbehaved.
Lance Armstrong, for instance, has a lot more at stake than his cycling exploits and Tour de France history.
Although he still maintains his innocence, for all practical purposes he surrendered 10 days ago to the USADA, which has claimed that Armstrong and his teammates used PED and illegal blood transfusions during certain of his Tour de France triumphs.
The USADA, a non-governmental organization, said it was ready to bring former teammates to testify against Armstrong if he took legal action to protest his innocence.
Armstrong has withstood an American federal investigation of drug use that was eventually dropped. He has survived European newspaper stories and even published books that claimed for years he was blood doping and using PED. But he could not stop the USADA and its executive director, Travis Tygart, who has been Armstrong’s most relentless adversary.
The world’s most famous cyclist, Armstrong survived testicular cancer that metastasized to his brain and lungs before he achieved his first Tour de France victory in 1999.
As a cancer survivor with riches earned on the cycling circuit, he established the Lance Armstrong Foundation, popularly known as the Livestrong Foundation, to help cancer survivors around the world.
Armstrong is one of the leading spokesmen for cancer survival who is not a member of the medical profession. And despite his connection to doping and drug use in the sport of cycling, many people feel his greatest achievement has been in helping cancer survivors live a better life and continue to pursue their dreams.
Since the USADA announced its harsh penalties against the one-time hero of the Tour de France, the Livestrong Foundation has been flooded with messages of support for his work against cancer, including increased financial donations.
The Strangest Saga
As to the misfortunes of these other athletes involved with drug penalties recently, Melky Cabrera’s story is possibly the strangest.
The 28-year-old native of Santo Domingo was named most valuable player in the MLB All-Star Game won by the National League, July 10, and was having a career best season with the Giants prior to his suspension.
He probably felt the sheriff was knocking at his door when he was chosen for one of those MLB random drug tests. Whatever caused him to suspect he was about to be caught, Cabrera decided to fake it in a unique fashion.
According to reports first published in the New York Daily News last month, associates of Cabrera attempted to establish a coverup for the Giants’ left fielder when they purchased an existing Internet website and changed it into a phony company site that appeared to be selling body-building and health products such as ointments and liquids over the Internet.
When Cabrera tested positive for testosterone, he apparently told MLB investigators that he had purchased one of the body ointments from that bogus Internet company, and rubbed it on his body not knowing it contained any PED such as steroids and other banned substances.
The ruse failed completely as MLB officials quickly found out the company was a fraud concocted by Cabrera and friends to cover up his PED use.
Bartolo Colon, once a power pitcher with one of MLB’s best high hard ones, has been a cagey pitcher in recent years with no more speed on his tosses than about 85 mph. Unfortunately, this suspension could be the end of his career at the age of nearly 40.
The minor league and college youngsters mentioned here have work to do to straighten up and fly right. If successful, maybe they have a chance to make it in the big time. Hopefully, they have learned their lessons. But the odds are not good that all will beat the beast.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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