I am a a big baseball fan. I love looking at obscure stats, numbers, and historical trends. I play a stats based baseball sim, and love above all, watching the game live. The recent decade or so has often been called “the steroid era” because of all the alleged, and admitted use of steroids, HGH, and other banned or unethical substances. I have mixed feeling about this, because while it easy to villainize players like Barry Bonds, who on all accounts seems to be a class A jerk, it is muddier for me with more likable players like Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi.
The Mitchell Report will reportedly be released before Christmas. I fear that many many players will be listed as drug users in that report. In fact, I think it will be an exhaustive list of names, from obvious users, to guys who nobody would suspect. Including the players who seem to be immune to all forms of criticism. Derek Jeter comes to mind. Will he be in the Mitchell Report?
But the “Steroid Era” extends beyond Baseball. Doping in sports is seemingly rampant. Every sport that tries to police drug problems are having scandal after scandal, suspension after suspension. It is a sad state of affairs, and sadly not a new one by any stretch. Professional athletes, by and large, are doing everything they can to raise the quality, longevity, and lurcrativety of their playing or racing careers.
The problem is that at some point, the house of cards is going to come crashing down.
And while in sports like football and baseball have the billions of dollars to recover, what will happen to smaller sports like…..cycling?
Can our little lycra-clad sport survive a major fallout? The last few years have seen some major players, the Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa’s, Mark McGuire’s of the sport, be taken down for drug use. And regardless of the actual guilt or innocence of these riders, it has done some significant harm to the sport I believe. At least in the realm of public image. I think Floyd Landis is either innocent, or horribly delusional. Either way though, his drawn out fight against USADA, WADA and public opinion was messy and ultimately achieved nothing.
I am not sure what I am getting at today. I am tired of the endless Barry Bonds talk, the news of more suspensions (15 days in baseball for a first offense!) and the constant trivializing of records and numerical standards.
I have said before in this space, that the top athletes will never truly represent a given sport. Especially in cycling. That privilege belongs to me and you. It belongs to underground races, unsupported, grassroots events and promoters. It belongs to the guy who only rides his bike to work, never setting tread on anything that could be called a trail. It belongs to the clean professionals who work hard to compete with cheaters.
Cheating is king in pro sports (see Belichick, Bill) but that doesn’t mean it has to define those sports. It might define MLB or NFL or TdF, but it doesn’t define baseball, football or cycling.
More and more I am growing to love the solitude of a lonely mountain bike ride. I used to love coming through the start/finish area of a race because of the cheering crowd and adrenaline rush. OK, I still do, but I get as equally excited about coming out of a thick grove of pine trees into a high mountain meadow, or rounding a corner to be greeted by a hogsback ridge, high above the timber line.
That’s the great joy in sport for me. It isn’t the winning. It is simply the act of competing. And competing well.