August 3, 2006

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

Remember the Good Old Days when sports stars were just regular heroes? Iím 35 years old, so I canít pine about old-fashioned stars such as my dadís favorites Hank Aaron or Dolphinsí running back Larry Csonka. While Iím sure there are plenty of great players such as these today, Iím beginning to wonder if we will remember our sports heroes or only recall the sports goats.

Just this past few days we have been bombarded with stories that will make us remember athletes not for their achievements but instead for what they did to get to the top.

It started with Tour de France winner Floyd Landis being targeted for high levels of testosterone that showed up after his miraculous run in Stage 17 that helped him win the biking title. While the Pennsylvania-born rider claims this is either a testing failure or can be attributed to some natural occurrence, the issue places his title under a cloud of speculation in a sport that has been troubled by doping allegations.

Less than a week after the Landis news hit the sports world, track and field was making headlines. U.S sprinter Justin Gatlin, who is the co-owner of the world record time in the 100-meter dash, reportedly tested positive for steroids. The Olympic champion refutes the test results, and has stated that he never has knowingly taken any performance-enhancing drugs, a fact he backs up with more than 100 successful drug tests in his career.

However, Gatlin is coached by Trevor Graham, who also worked with sprinters Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, who both have been linked to steroids and specifically the sports laboratory BALCO.

That last name is probably familiar to most all of us by now - just as Hector Conte has become as recognizable as the athletes, particularly Barry Bonds, whose career he has allegedly improved with illegal enhancement drugs.

Maybe Iím heading an uneducated lynch mob here, branding these athletes as goats when they all claim their innocence. I wasnít there to see any of these folks shoot up, pop the pills or whatever. I know we are supposed to presume innocence until proven guilty, but I canít help but be angry.

Whatís the deal? Are we so obsessed with winning, that we will lie and cheat our way to victory? Sure there are huge paydays involved for professional athletes that win the race, or break the home run record, or capture the yellow jersey. Is it the money, the fame, or maybe a little bit of both that is causing more and more of our athletes to sell their souls to the devil?

Okay, maybe poking oneís self with a syringe or two doesnít mean eternal damnation, but it definitely appears to be the fast track to being ostracized by fans and fellow competitors alike.

Just ask Missouriís biggest hero just a few short years ago, Mark McGwire. Big Red was on top of the world after breaking Roger Marisís single-season home run record. He was an American idol, the toast of the town of St. Louis where he even had a highway named after him.

But after giving less than vindicating testimony to a Congressional hearing on steroids in baseball, McGwire quickly went to the back of the room. His name now is only back in the spotlight because there is a great debate on whether or not he will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame next season when he becomes eligible. His status was a no brainer five years ago when he retired with 583 homers in his 16 professional seasons including the magical 70 home run season in 1998.

Will he get in 2007? My guess is no. We the public, we need our heroes. But in todayís society, we require our heroes to offer a urine sample, take a blood test and swear on a stack of Bibles that they are 100% products of nothing but hard work and God-given talent. And if you ask me, thatís the way it should be.

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