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SPORTS: Selling tickets or saving lives

MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)–As sports officials begin clamping down more and more on steroid use, athletes continue to look for ways to circumvent the rules and get an unfair edge against their competitors.

The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, of San Francisco is under investigation for its role in the distribution of a previously undetectable performance-enhancing drug called THG.

The only reason sports officials are now aware of THG is because a track and field coach anonymously sent a syringe full of the substance to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. It took weeks for the agency to determine what the substance was, and what it did.

Dozens of athletes will testify before a grand jury about their knowledge of BALCO and THG, including baseball sluggers Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi.

Another steroid-related news story is the upcoming results of baseball’s first round of mandatory steroid testing. For the first time this past year, all players were required to submit a urine sample for testing. In addition, baseball officials randomly selected 240 of those players to undergo a second test. The results will be out in a few days.

Many sports fans — myself included — have suspicions about steroid use in professional sports, and even at lower levels. Some experts have speculated that steroid use is rampant and that perhaps 80-90 percent of baseball’s power hitters are juiced.

The discovery of THG and the pending investigation once again shed light on just how widespread the problem is.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, as you would expect, talks tough about keeping steroids out of his sport.

“Of course, I have a great sensitivity about all of this,” Selig said. “I worry a lot about it. I worry about anything that affects not only the image of the game but the performance of it on the field, too.”

Other commissioners give similar lip service to cracking down on steroids and cleaning up their sport.

But I’m not convinced the head honchos of professional sports really want that. They know that outstanding performances sell tickets. In baseball, fans want to see home runs, and sluggers like Bonds and Sammy Sosa put people in the seats. Does anybody really think that Major League Baseball would severely discipline someone like Bonds if he tested positive for steroids?

Baseball’s new testing policy is an absolute joke, because it doesn’t include any type of punishment for those who test positive the first time. All it does is require unannounced, random testing next year (with penalties for those in violation) if more than 5 percent of the players test positively this year.

Somebody needs to step up and take this steroid threat seriously, and I’m not convinced that’s being done. The credibility of performances on the field is not the only thing that’s at stake here. The lives of athletes are far more valuable. And while the players know the dangers of steroid use and bear the responsibility for their actions, sports officials would do them a huge favor by making it harder to get by with breaking the rules.

They might even save some lives in the process.
Tim Ellsworth is a regular columnist for BPSports, on the Web at [email protected].

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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