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Performance enhancing drugs and the sullied sports hero

Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl Champion Ray Lewis NFL

It’s an awfully difficult time to believe in the purity of sport and fair competition.

Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are everywhere right now, to the point where widespread cheating is turning into white noise. Scandal after scandal, fallen athlete after fallen athlete, we are quickly becoming numb to the dirty dark side of sport.

There have been plenty of doping scandals in the past, but they’ve typically been one athlete or a team of athletes exposed for wrongdoing. This young year has been different. 2013 has seen single athletes, teams of athletes, even whole segments of particular sports outed as cheats.

So why is this happening now? Has technology caught up with the PED users?

Yes, to a degree, but we are also seeing a unique confluence of events. Past sins are coming to light at the same time fresh transgressions are being caught. Old heroes are being dragged through the mud, and current would-be heroes are being caught before their stars get too high. Unfortunately, many are still slipping through the net.

Recently retired Ray Lewis of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens has certainly avoided repercussions for using deer antler spray – a human growth hormone (HGH) – to return from a potentially career-ending injury. The same man who once plead guilty to involvement in a murder case quickly became a media favourite in Baltimore en route to his Super Bowl victory. In fact, the city of Baltimore is preparing to put a Ray Lewis statue up next to the legendary Johnny Unitas.

Other cheats have not been so fortunate.

There isn’t a person in the world unfamiliar with Lance Armstrong’s public disgrace after finally being exposed for a career built on hope, lies and PEDs.

Mere weeks before Armstrong’s Oprah mea culpa, baseball fans saw their own brand of justice meted out by the Baseball Writers’ Association, who denied a drug-tainted class of nominees entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Notorious juicers Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire were all denied entry, leaving the player induction list blank.

At the same time, the much-diminished Alex Rodriguez – who himself admitted to using PEDs years ago – has garnered fresh ire after being linked to doping doctor Anthony Bosch in a recent report. A-Rod is just the biggest name on a list that includes Melky Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Francisco Cervelli.

The big juicers of the ’90s are getting their just desserts now, but clearly the steroid era in baseball has not been eradicated.

Even basketball is seeing its share of scandal, as Hedo Turkoglu of the Orlando Magic was slammed with a 20 game ban February 13 when he was caught for steroids.

Hedo Turkoglu Orlando Magic NBA Steroids

“Who, me?”

And these problems are not exclusive to North America pro sport.

Australia has been rocked by a massive match fixing and doping scandal that taints many of the country’s major sports, including the National Rugby League.

All of this, and we’re not even in an Olympic year.

Is anyone else getting tired of this?

Baseball has carried the taint of steroids since the Barry Bonds era in the ’90s, and NFL football has always battled HGH use. Lance Armstrong has faced drug allegations for years, and while his admission is a disappointment to many, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

It’s the out of nowhere stories that are pumping up the issue. Little things like the Turkoglu transgression and unexpected bombshells like the Australia scandal have made PEDs seem ubiquitous.

Meanwhile, hockey has long slipped under the doping radar, but it would be naive to believe that hockey alone, out of all the major sports, has stayed clean. These athletes share doctors, and it’s the unscrupulous doctors who make PEDs available.

So are we reaching a point where it’s time to surrender to PEDs?

The argument could be made that as long as everyone is doping, the playing field is at least level and no one is gaining an advantage.

However, such thinking presents a slippery slope, as it would no doubt have a trickle down effect. If PEDs make the difference between minor and major leaguer, then they could also make the difference between amateur and minor leaguer.

People buy sports drinks and high tech equipment because they are marketed as a means to gain the competitive edge. If something like deer antler spray is available to the public, you can bet people will seek it out for the very same reasons. Golfer Vijay Singh recently admitted to using it, and it’s readily available online for under $100.

Sport is the drive to be better than the other person – the drive to find that edge that makes you superior. As long as there are shortcuts to finding that edge, there will be those who take those shortcuts.

If all this cheating is getting you down, or if you’re missing a bygone day when this didn’t happen, don’t fool yourself: it has always happened and will always happen. It’s become part of the sports conversation because only now have we become aware of the cheating, and only now are we able to fight back.

That dirty dark side is always going to be there, but the more you hear about it, the more people are shining a light on it.

Sport will never be clean, but it can be made presentable.

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