There was a time when sports stars were content to lean on the three traditional performance-enhancing substances; alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. With the advent of anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and other high-tech monster-makers, though, the sanctity of our sports has been crippled. In some sports, bicycle racing in particular, the damage could be fatal.
The sport most threatened by the scandal in the U.S. is baseball, a team game that treasures measurement of individual performances. The records of Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, were for many years considered sacred, and when Aaron, Rose and Ripkin broke them, their accomplishments were greeted with great acclaim.
Then came steroids. As players such as Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire crushed Ruth's 60-home-run mark, fans greeted their records with suspicion, and after the truth came out, resentment.
Internationally, the Tour De France bicycle race has suffered even worse. Even in its early years at the beginning of the 20th century riders were accused of using ether to dull pain. Since 1998, the "Tour De Shame" the controversy has worsened, and, after the recent Balco scandal revealed the depth of the problem, leader after leader has been banished during the tour, most famously (in the U.S.) by the stripping of the yellow jersey from Floyd Landis.
What can these and other sports do to combat performance-enhancing drugs and regain the public's confidence?
First, relentlessly test participants. Athletes must understand that the price of public acclaim is transparency.
Second, clean up the records. No way Mark McGwire's record should stand, when Roger Maris gets an asterisk. Several years of Bond's dingers should be deleted from the record. If Lance Armstrong is proven to have used banned substances, his jerseys should be taken away.
Third, enforce the same standards on a local level. Stories abound of high-school athletes bulking up to attract college recruiters, and I've seen all too many skinny college freshmen turn into The Hulk in 12 months. Test early, test often, and teach our youth that the same rules that apply to Terrell Owens applies to them.
Fourth, hammer on the long-term consequences of steroid abuse.
Lastly, I'd keep holding transgressors up for public humiliation. The shame of Marion Jones, Ben Johnson and Roger Clemons may be an example sufficient to dissuade many.