The Shroud of Steroids

Stiffer consequences would curb steroid use

The news headlines that every fan wants to go away just keep coming. Last week, three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador was reported as having failed a second drug test that was taken during last summer’s Tour de France. As disappointing as it is for this news to come out, it is far from surprising. Cycling as a sport is used to dealing with these issues. Almost every one of its stars, including Lance Armstrong, has come under allegations of doping—the practice of having a blood transfusion done to increase your body’s level of red blood cells, which can increase aerobic capacity and endurance. Doping is in part so pervasive because, along with its efficacy, autologous transfusions (transfusions of your own previously withdrawn blood) make detection extremely challenging. The technology aimed at catching these violators is improving—Contador himself was caught by a new test—but so too is the market for evading each method. And the steroids crisis is not confined to cycling. Over the last decade the list of users of banned and illegal substances has been robust and notable, from would-be hall of famers to former gold medal winners, like Alex Rodriguez, and Marion Jones.

Performance-enhancing drug usage among top players irks us because a doping player skews both present competition and the history of that game. When Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s lifetime home-run record, most fans demanded an asterisk be put next to his name in the record books, so as not to allow an alleged cheater have such an honor. Therefore, the consequence of positive tests should not just modify a feat, like in Bonds’’ case; rather, doping should erase any accomplishments that were attached to the violation. In a similar way that Reggie Bush gave back his Heisman Trophy in the aftermath of allegations about recruitment practices at the University of Southern California, athletes guilty of use of anabolic steroids and other banned substances should have any records, statistics, or honors removed that occurred during the season of the positive test.

It is fair to say that taking a trophy back does not accomplish any real change, but the public awareness of these historical corrections will disincentivize using these drugs. Erasure should not only include any awards from that season of competition but also the salary or prize-money in the case of a championship should also be returned. The strictest part of this type of protocol, which could easily be specifically adapted to the majority of professional sports leagues, is that entrance to any sort of Hall of Fame, honor roll, or all-star team should be forbidden. While players who have doped should still be allowed to compete in the future, (banning them for life allows no chance to make amends for their mistakes), they should not be able to use their past, tainted records to achieve any sort of distinction.

This reaction will likely not end steroid use in baseball or doping in cycling, but removal of accolades and compensation and barring from each sport’s honor system will send the message that their substance-tainted performances counted for nothing. Most professional athletes exhibit the strong desire to be remembered and to have their numbers and skills revered. Losing that opportunity entirely eliminates of the motivation for enhanced performance. With the prospect of prohibition from being remembered for skill and accomplishments, more drugs will be left at the counter and trophies rightly in their cases.

Marcel E. Moran ’11, a former Crimson associate editorial editor, is a human evolutionary biology concentrator in Eliot House.