Run Like a Cheetah or Run Like a Cheater?

I will never understand what goes through an athlete’s mind when they decide to take performance enhancing drugs. Do they want to win that badly? Do they NEED to win that badly? Do they think they will never get caught?

Maybe they are tired of losing. After all, no one remembers second place. Everyone remembers first place. Then again, everyone also remembers a cheater.

Track and field stars, Tyson Gay (USA) and Asafa Powell (Jamaica), have tested positive for banned substances. Both men are accomplished sprinters. Some might even say they run like a cheetah. Now, people can say they run like a cheater.

Powell responded to this report by releasing a statement on his Twitter account. Gone are the days where athletes are expected to stand at a podium, address millions of people via television camera, and read a prepared statement. Those days were helpful. They allowed us to hear the tone of an athlete’s voice and judge the sincerity of their words. They allowed us to see body language, a face, and possibly, tears. Even then, there were people who would question the legitimacy of tears. Are they faking tears? Did they dab some water on their eyes before going up to the podium? Did they stop at the washroom before coming to address the media? If they did, then they probably put water on their eyes! Aha! Guilty! I knew it! Oh the world we lived in. Now we live in the “Twitter world”. Great. Where’s the cyber washroom?

Here is a quote from Powell’s message to the world: “I am not now — nor have I ever been — a cheat.”

We hear this all the time from people who are caught using banned substances. It’s almost a cliche response. It makes me feel bad for the athletes who are actually telling us the truth. I’m sure there are some athletes out there who know, deep down, that they did not intentionally take drugs and are genuinely shocked when the test comes back positive.

Is Powell telling the truth? Get out the polygraph test. What ever happened to those? Maury still uses it and they seem to be accurate. Can’t we use them and avoid sending people to court. Sometimes, a jury can make a mistake….I better stop before I get into the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman trial. This is a sports blog. Back to sports.

As a society, we always want to know who to believe and who to call a liar. In reality, we have no idea if athletes are telling the truth. We think we know athletes, but we really don’t. I don’t care how many times you’ve read their wikipedia page or their “About Me” section on their website. It’s pointless. We see them on TV, but do we ever have a conversation with them? Do we live with them, know their routine, or know what kind of person they actually are? Absolutely not. Don’t believe me? Raise your hand if you saw the Tiger Woods scandal coming. Exactly. No one did. Why? We don’t really know him. All we see is what they want to show us on TV and social media. I can guarantee you that if an athlete is taking drugs, they aren’t going to tweet to the world, “Eggs, bacon, and a side of drugs – the breakfast of champions.”

This is what Gay said in response to his positive test: “I don’t have a sabotage story. I don’t have any lies. I don’t have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake or it was on USADA’s hands, someone playing games. I don’t have any of those stories. I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down.”

Based on that statement, do you think Tyson Gay is telling the truth?

If your answer was anything but, “I don’t know”, scroll up and re-read what I wrote prior to his statement. Sure, he does not deny that drugs were in his system and he does not say that he did not take drugs. It looks like an honest statement. He says he trusted someone and they let him down. To me, that means that someone he was associated with had snuck a banned substance into something that Gay then consumed.

That’s how I interpret it. Am I right? Who knows. Is he telling the truth? How are we supposed to know? Is it possible to truly trust someone you’ve never met? If you’re unsure of that answer, go search on Google, “online dating horror stories.”

Athletes often say that they did not knowingly take drugs and that someone must have spiked their drink or given them something to consume that lead to a positive test. Athletes also say that their Twitter account has been hacked when they tweet something inappropriate (Yeah, I’m talking to you Tyler Seguin). Call me untrustworthy, call me paranoid, call me anything you want, but if I’m an athlete, I don’t put anything in my body without knowing EXACTLY what it is. That means, when a doctor, a coach, or anyone else helping me train comes up to me with something and tells me to take it, I don’t. If I were an athlete, I would not trust anyone, except myself. I know it’s easy for me to say this as a non-athlete, but that might be the only way to make sure nothing goes in your body that might result in a positive test. Your radar always has to be up. All it takes is one person who wants to sabotage your career.

It’s all about trust. These athletes trust the people they train with. I’ve watched Murder, She Wrote and Dexter enough times to know that when someone wants to betray you, they make sure you trust them completely, first. Or does that only happen on TV and not in real life? Maybe I should stop watching so many murder mystery shows.

From a personal standpoint, I think it is unfortunate that Powell and Gay have to live the rest of their lives with the “cheater” moniker over their heads. Whether the drugs in their system were intentional, or not, they are labelled as cheaters. Their families must live with this for the rest of their lives. As a human being, that is not something I would wish on anyone. Everyone remembers a cheater, but no one wants to be remembered as one.

Just when people thought that track and field was getting cleaned up, this happens. It’s unfortunate, but this is what sports have become.

Skepticism – everywhere, all the time. I can no longer enjoy watching a baseball player hit 50 home runs in a season without people asking if he cheated. It’s as if milestones are impossible. If there are one or two outliers from the norm, they must be on drugs. Suspend them. Ridicule them. Make an example out of them. This is how many sports fans react. More importantly, this is how the media react. We’re kidding ourselves if we think the media have nothing to do with the thoughts we have in our head.

What might be worse, is that we revel in the failures of athletes. We take pleasure in destroying athletes that we put on a pedestal. An athlete took drugs? “Yes! We caught him! Make sure he never plays another game in his life. Take his records away!” Patrick Kane assaulted a taxi driver? “What a jerk! How dare he! Cut off his mullet! Put him in prison! Ban him from the NHL! Take his toaster oven away!” Tiger Woods had ___ mistresses? “How could he do that to his family?! Take away his endorsements! Give all his money to his poor, lonely, wife! Ban him from the PGA Tour! (Insert golf puns here). Dump his trophies in an ocean!” Not once, is the first suggestion to get these individuals help. The first suggestion is to take away everything they have. It’s a very “burn him at the stake” mentality and it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, they did bad things and are going to be criticized because they are a public figure. And yes, they should face the consequences, but look around. Bad things happen outside the sports world too. Just because we don’t see it on TSN or ESPN (for my American readers), doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

I think sports fans take pleasure in destroying athletes and “ripping” them on Twitter because, in a sense, they feel betrayed. They were a fan of “the bad guy.” In the wrestling world, that can be cool. In real life, no one sides with “the bad guy.”

Powell and Gay are athletes in the public eye. They are perceived as cheaters. They should be punished. Have they killed track and field? No. People will still run around a track to see who is the fastest. They will still see who can jump the highest. They will still see who can throw a javelin the furthest. And fans will still be skeptical of everyone and everything because that is where we are at, as a society, living in the year, 2013. Time never stops. Sports move on. People move on. There are cheaters now and (SPOILER ALERT) there will be cheaters in the future.

As sports fans, we’ll always remember the cheaters…but it’s also important to remember those who didn’t cheat – for they are what sports are all about.

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About Paul

This is the part where I'm supposed to write something interesting about myself and you'll read it and think, "That's not that interesting." So let's not do that and just think about pizza instead, on the count of three. One, two, three. Donuts. Now, wasn't that interesting?
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