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January 17, 2014

Fightin' Words: Fans don't care about drugs in sports

CHICKASHA —

With the Winter Olympics approaching and the Alex Rodriguez baseball ban still in full-effect, the topic of banned substances is bound to come up in many sports conversations right now. Or is it?

There's no question drugs are taboo, but they are so much so that fans of a particular sport or sporting event should not want to even welcome the thought. Why ruin something that has brought you so much joy? The Olympics are a prime example.

The other night I caught a brilliant documentary on Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter whose 9.79 time in the 100-meter dash at Seoul 1988 took him to the top of the athletics world. Three days later, that all came crashing down when he tested positive for the banned substance stanozol and had his medal stripped. What's even more fascinating is it appears Johnson may have simply been the one to get caught.

Six of the eight 100-meter finalists encountered some type of scandal later in their careers. Linford Christie, the British runner who won gold in Barcelona 1992, was suspended for two years in 1999 for taking a banned substance. American Dennis Mitchell was also banned for two years in 1998 for higher than normal testosterone levels. The investigation following the Johnson scandal found some Canadian athletes were involved in a culture of performance enhancement. 

And yet, we still watch the Olympics. Worldwide, it is even a more widely watched event than the soccer World Cup. This event, "tainted" by a drugs past, is still enjoyed by millions. Why? Because ignorance is bliss.

The vast majority of sports fans struggle to accept their favorite athlete or someone representing their country has actually done something wrong. Of course, there's plenty of room to maneuver. Mitchell was found not guilty by the American Olympics authority by explaining his higher-than-normal levels of testosterone were the result of recent relations he had with his wife. The Ben Johnson camp sticks by a story that one of his beers was spiked with a banned substance, resulting in his disqualification. For someone hopeful that it "can't be so," these are logical explanations.

Sure, when questioned by pollsters or in front of a camera, fans will deride an athlete's use of performance enhancing drug. But behind that mask of morality lies a soul that simply can't accept something so majestic, something that appears to encompass the true human element so eloquently, is in any way flawed.

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