With the news that sprinter Tyson Gay has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, the public's opposition to chemically cheating athletes seems to be wavering somewhat. This latest revelation, which comes in the aftermath of the Lance Armstrong scandal and the ongoing challenge of policing steroid use in Major League Baseball, has more and more voices calling for surrender in the battle against doping.
Case in point: on the TBS show "Conan," a recent sketch called "Deon Cole Breaks Down the News" suggested that, since steroid use means more home runs, it makes for a more exciting game. Fans should therefore celebrate the fact that cheating athletes make the sport "less boring than it already is," and everyone who has a problem with that ought to shut up and go away. That sentiment, although couched in comedy, was still met with thunderous applause.
But if the only goal is to make athletics more exciting, then why stop at doping? Why not hire Hollywood scriptwriters to craft the story lines for every game? There would be far more moments where the underdog wins at the last second, or where the big star with the big ego falls and finally gets his comeuppance. Every boxing match could be like "Rocky," every football game could be like "Rudy," and every baseball game could feature Robert Redford smashing a ball into the grandstand lights like he did at the end of "The Natural."
There is a reason this doesn't happen. The entertainment value of athletic competitions comes from the fact that the ending is not predetermined. Fairness is essential to the integrity of the game. Anything that erodes the reality of the event degrades the overall experience and insults the natural affections of loyal fans. Doping may not entirely fix every contest's outcome, but it still rigs the game in a way that calls into question the legitimacy of every win.
The ubiquity of chemical enhancements also casts suspicion on every athlete, including those who don't rely on drugs to run faster or hit the ball harder. Lance Armstrong, for instance, has claimed that it is impossible to win the Tour de France without using banned drugs, prompting British racer Chris Froome to insist, "Lance cheated. I'm not cheating. End of story."
At this point, there is no reason not to take Froome at his word. There also was no reason not to take Lance Armstrong at his word when he claimed the same thing before being forced to admit the truth. It's a sad state of affairs when the integrity of the contest is in doubt, but that is the reality fans of many sports now face. Abandoning all attempts to eliminate cheating will only make the problem worse.
More importantly, it would encourage more young athletes to risk their health by indulging in the same performance enhancers.