So how about them drugs? If you are a fan of drugs, and drug stories, you must be absolutely elated these days. Baseball is suspending the likes of Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera. Football is dealing with guys like Joe Haden, in an example that is close to home. And now the most high-profile cyclist in recorded human history is buckling under the weight of another fight over doping and drug allegations. I wanted to talk about this issue when the Joe Haden allegations popped up, but it felt too much like a homer take to attack the NFL’s rules.
As we sit here today with the Browns’ cornerback youth movement with Skrine and Wade looking at least capable, I’m feeling a bit more confident in talking about Joe Haden without coming off like some fan that is fighting scared to keep Haden on the field. While avoiding suspension would be nice, a four-game suspension for Haden isn’t the end of the world for Browns fans this season, it doesn’t appear. And with the recent headlines noted above, there is even more context for conversation.
I understand why drug rules exist. It isn’t about punishing fans or even the offenders as much as it is about protecting results and clean competitors. If one guy is juicing up to hit homers, presumably those inflated results will lead to that guy unfairly stealing contract dollars from a clean guy. In addition, the results that guy produces on the field gives unfair advantage for his team over a team that doesn’t have any users. All this is obvious. That’s what doesn’t jive with Joe Haden allegedly getting popped for Adderall in the off-season.
As I say frequently, the easiest part of my day is going from start to finish without being arrested. Similarly, the easiest part of Joe Haden’s off-season should be not getting popped for any illegal substances. There are millions of reasons why this should be the case. Whatever punishment Joe Haden deserves and ultimately gets are on him for his actions. I won’t even argue this point, but looking critically at the rules isn’t mutually exclusive from following them.
It stands to reason that an off-season test finding a player using Adderall might belong in a substance abuse program more than a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. That’s not to turn Joe Haden into a victim, but let’s not also pretend like recreational use of prescription drugs isn’t a real thing that’s worthy of discussion and sometimes rehabilitation. I don’t know the specifics of Joe Haden’s case, but more generically speaking, if someone does have a substance abuse problem, you don’t help them get over it through punishment. This isn’t to say that people should never be punished for, just that if you had to choose in an either / or scenario, treatment would almost always be preferred.
Again, I must re-iterate, this is not a claim that Joe Haden shouldn’t serve a suspension. The rules are the way they are and Haden should have been aware. This does not absolve him should he be found in violation and ultimately suspended. Still, it’s important to look at the rules and think about changing them if they aren’t working or are producing unforeseen and unnecessary results.
So how does any of this reconcile with the Tour de France and Lance Armstrong? That’s a different playing field with a whole host of different problems. There’s an entire Wikipedia article on doping at the Tour de France. Even if you think Lance Armstrong is 100% clean, of the 141 top finishers listed in the article from 1998 to 2011, there are 55 who have a history of some form with doping allegations. What I’m saying is if you take the top ten finishers from each year from 2011 to 1998, 40% of them have a history of being sanctioned, disqualified or having admitted to cheating somewhere along the lines. If you think Lance Armstrong is a cheater, then that number jumps to 45% when you add in his eight appearances in the top ten.
That, my friends is a sport that doesn’t exist without blood doping. The entire sport is susceptible to cheating to a level that the sport seemingly can’t exist without it. It also makes things very difficult for people who want to be fans of the sport or fans of Lance Armstrong. In a sport like cycling, it seems almost unreasonable to assume that any of the guys are clean. How you reconcile it all is up to you, but I have a tough time judging Lance Armstrong harshly.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he gained an unfair advantage along the way, but the reason that I can’t judge him harshly is because it doesn’t seem “unfair” with the sport and competitors he’s competing against. As Michael David Smith put it today, “I’m as likely to believe someone won the Tour de France without PEDs as I am to believe someone could win it on foot.”
So does that make me a proponent of drugs? Should I hang a steroid banner in my house instead of one for the various Cleveland teams?
In two very different cases, I managed to justify use of drugs, support athletes and fight some of the rules. Still, I don’t know. I guess I just draw my lines in a strange way.
For one, I get the appeal of using performance enhancers. I use a pre-workout supplement that I think would be banned on the Tour de France. I bought it at GNC and have also purchased it through the mail from Amazon.com.1 Is it bad for me? It is a stimulant, so I guess it could be, but my bet is that using something that gets my butt out the door for runs or into the pool for swims is worth the risk compared to what I used to be like without it.2
I’ve managed to justify using it and I don’t even have glory and huge paychecks on the line. From that perspective I kind of get it in cycling, especially with the suspected usage rates among competitors. It also hits the Joe Haden example. If Haden truly did use Adderall, we’re talking about a prescription drug that could give you a boost on gameday. Let’s not pretend like it is changing his body format like steroids or HGH would.
Maybe an Adderall ban is more about protecting player safety so that these guys aren’t juicing themselves up with stimulants to dangerous levels on gamedays. I can understand that too. You wouldn’t want a bunch of NFL players collapsing on the field from making their heart explode by overdosing on stimulants. Even then, though, why would you bother popping a guy for using a stimulant like that in the off-season? Are you worried about his well-being, the sport’s reputation, government regulation, or what?
That’s what it comes down to for me. If Lance Armstrong is truly guilty of cheating, does it tarnish the reputation of cycling? As far as I can tell, it couldn’t possibly with the prevailing opinions of cycling anyway. If Joe Haden is guilty of popping Adderall on an off-season run in Vegas3 that he didn’t want to end, is it challenging the validity of NFL contests or somehow giving Joe Haden an unfair advantage over other corners seeking contract dollars? Eh. Good luck convincing me of that.
As is frequently the case, I don’t have all the answers and (too) many questions. Frankly, I don’t know all the history and all the reasons that the drug policies in the various sports are the way they are today, even if I have a decent idea. I don’t know all the different motivations and circumstances that led to them. What I do know is that I have a tough time respecting a rule that nails Joe Haden for some off-season exploits that don’t involve steroids, HGH or some other more permanent performance enhancers. This goes the same for pretty much anything that can be purchased at GNC. I also have trouble being upset with Lance Armstrong for cheating in a sport that is seemingly full of almost nothing but cheaters.
So maybe I should put the drug banner up on my wall. Seems like a winning team, anyway. Everyone loves a winner, right?