Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Would You Dope If You Could?

Posted by on Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 11:41 AM

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After I told one of my regular sports partners I had been covering the story of the Memphis pro golfer suspended by the PGA Tour for doping violations, he looked at me and smiled, "You know where I can get some testosterone?" He was kidding, I think.

As one of the PGA's attorneys said in court last week, professional athletes are held to high standards for the integrity of the game.

"When you become a professional athlete you don't always get to do everything the man on the street gets to do," said Rich Young, a lawyer in Colorado Springs who has worked on the Floyd Landis case and other major doping suspensions.

If, as a weekend warrior, you could take drugs to boost your strength, speed your recovery, improve your time, or calm your nerves, would you do it? I'm not so sure.

In 60 years, I've never taken artificial testosterone or had my testosterone level checked and, as far as I know, I don't know anyone who has, although it might be something you don't talk openly about. But I'm a hacker who's never had the opportunity. The only time I remember taking steroids was for poison ivy.

If someone told me a legal drug would give me an edge and an extra step, I might take it. A lot of games and matches are decided by a few points over the course of an hour. In racquet sports, getting to the ball is the hardest thing about getting old. In golf, nerves are the enemy of anyone who ever stood over the dreaded right-to-left four-foot putt. For runners, the spirit is willing but the joints and stamina may not be. For swimmers, winning and losing is measured in fractions of a second. What if you could change that with a series of shots or pills — or a new kind of body-streamlining swimsuit? (I've read that the answer to that last one is a resounding "I want it.")

Of course with drugs there's the matter of side effects. The glib answer is, "hey, my hair is falling out anyway." I know there are potentially more serious consequences. But not playing, or losing regularly, or being sore all the time are serious consequences too.

It's easy to condemn Manny Ramirez and Floyd Landis and Sammy Sosa. But is it cheating if a shot of juice gives you a win in your weekly game at the club? Or lets you compete and place in your age group in the Memphis marathon next month?

I bet the top finishers and most of the 15,000 people who will run the streets of Memphis drug free would say it is. So do you think random testing would turn up anything harder than cortisone or ibuprofen?

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