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Austin Chronicle This Is Your Athlete on Drugs

By Robert Bryce

SEPTEMBER 14, 1998:  Another day, another drug scandal.

Pardon me while I yawn. Bring back the interviews with Dennis Rodman's hairdresser. Or better still, how about another groundbreaking story on if -- or when -- Michael Jordan will retire from the National Basketball Association.

Drug scandals in sports are occurring so often that they no longer elicit outrage. In their place is a sort of blithe acceptance that all of our athletics are tainted.

Sports fans, I have the solution. It's simple, cheap, and will assure the much-desired-but-never-attained "level playing field." Rather than banning drugs, let's ban drug tests. Let's allow professional athletes to use all the drugs they want. In addition to multi-million dollar contracts and fan adulation, we should give our athletes drugs, drugs, and more drugs. If they want to abuse themselves, I say break out the pills and rolling papers, and let 'em party down.

Given good athletes and good chemistry, we'll find out exactly how much abuse the human body can stand. As an added bonus, we will give new meaning to sports terms like "sudden death," "two-minute warning," and "final lap."

Under the all-drugs-all-the-time protocol, sports fans will enjoy the drama of seeing not only how fast a sprinter can cover 100 meters, but also how long the athlete will live after the race. Instead of 9.8 seconds for the 100 meter dash, perhaps given a potent enough cocktail, a sprinter will be able to cover that distance in under nine seconds. And if the sprinter falls into convulsions at the finish line? Big deal. If the athlete dies, well, perhaps it will serve as a warning to other athletes to moderate their drug intake.

Let's review the most recent scandals: In early July, the Tour de France was scandalized when police discovered that the Festina team was systematically giving its cyclists the performance enhancing drug EPO to increase their oxygen uptake. On July 27, two American track and field athletes, Randy Barnes and Dennis Mitchell, were suspended by the International Amateur Athletic Federation amid allegations that they had used forbidden substances. On August 6, Irish swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin was suspended by swimming's international governing body for tampering with her urine test. Then came the Mark McGwire Mess. The home run-hitting giant who plays for the St. Louis Cardinals admitted that he takes androstenedione, a legal nutritional supplement available in any health food store.

But hold that syringe. Barnes, a world-class shot putter, was suspended for using androstenedione. So, it's legal for McGwire to use it. But Barnes can't? Athletes of all stripes use creatine, a legal amino acid supplement that helps build muscle. Is it safe? No one is certain. Meanwhile, there have been news reports of high-school athletes taking massive doses of Sudafed before athletic events. Apparently, the cold medicine acts as a stimulant.

Face it, our sporting events act as a mirror for our culture. And our culture is sodden with drugs. Sudafed has become a gateway drug. Sudafed! How weird is that? Next thing you know, young athletes will be mainlining Nyquil and hoarding niacin tablets.

After the suspension of Barnes and Mitchell, U.S. Olympic Committee executive director Dick Schultz admitted his side is being outplayed. "The drug gurus who are trying to beat the system are ahead of the police," Schultz told reporters.

Duh.

According to John Hoberman, a professor of Germanic languages at UT and author of several books on sports, more than 3,000 substances have been banned by the International Olympic Committee. The notion that the IOC can test every athlete for every substance is like believing that NBA players don't inhale.

Speaking of inhaling, the IOC doesn't even know what to do with its own test results. Remember Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati? During the winter Olympics, Rebagliati tested positive for marijuana use. The IOC took away his gold medal. A few hours later, they gave it back. Under my all-drugs-all-the-time proposal, spectators will be able to relax and say, "Party on, Ross, pass the reefer."

There will be another important benefit from a prohibition on drug testing: It will eliminate whining. Remember how athletes from various countries -- particularly the United States -- complained about the Chinese swimmers a few years ago, implying that they were cheating? Remember how sprinters whined about Florence Griffith-Joyner after she whipped their butts at the Olympics a few years ago? Under the no-drug-test rules, no whining will be allowed. If you lose, you lose. Shut your mouth and go home. So what if the Chinese swim team arrives at an international meet with a woman sporting a beard, eye-popping muscles, and weighing 255 pounds? Get in the pool and race. If you don't win, you can't whine.

Yes, fans, it's time for sports to come clean when it comes to drugs. By legalizing all drug use, sports will finally be made into a free and fair competition. Spectators will be able to assume, rightly, that athletes are using anything and everything they can to win. Imagine the pay-per-view possibilities. Imagine the betting potential. Imagine the headlines, something like, "Namath Promises Jets Will Win or He'll Die Trying."

Now that would be interesting.


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