It’s Time To Step Up Fight On Performance Enhancers
By Kevin Hoffman, Associate Editor
When the wheels started to come off of Lance Armstrong’s charade, I had hope someone would spin this into a learning moment for young athletes. Maybe Armstrong would admit his failures and condemn his actions. Or perhaps public outrage would teach children there’s no place in our past, present or future for cheaters.
None of that happened. Most hoisted Armstrong’s reputation on their shoulders, justifying his place in history based on his charity work. And Armstrong himself continues to refute a sea of evidence that any reasonable jury could use to levy a verdict in less than five minutes.
That’s partly why I’m not surprised a recent study in Minnesota found that 5% of youth in middle and high schools have used steroids to increase muscle mass. That number grows considerably when you include supplements like creatine and protein powder shakes. Experts for some time feared professional athletes’ win-at-all-costs nature would trickle down into college and high school, and the small sample provided in this report might give some indication of that.
Researchers call this “a cause for concern,” and I couldn’t agree more. But in order to address this issue and take the fight against performance enhancing drugs to our schools, we have to set a better example. I don’t blame this all on Armstrong and the immediate public reaction—that would be ridiculous. It is, however, a great example of how we’re misleading the next generation of athletes.
Nothing bothers me more than the look-at-what-he-did-for-charity defense. Armstrong’s fortunes (thus, his ability to contribute) came under pretenses that allowed him to rob others of the opportunities now afforded to him. I agree funding for cancer research is incredibly valuable, but I refuse to use it as justification for Armstrong’s actions. Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire to this day continue to make charitable contributions. Where were their armies of supporters as their reputations crumbled during baseball’s steroids era?
What we taught our children is this: Cheating is acceptable under unique circumstances. It’s like a defense attorney saying, “yes, my client may have robbed a bank, but as he fled the scene he dropped $100 in a homeless man’s cup.” When you break laws, you should be punished accordingly. And when we continue to put Armstrong on a pedestal, we say it’s OK with us … sometimes.
Armstrong’s actions make the fight against performance enhancers a difficult one, but there’s much more to it. Star athletes in all sports still get busted for using illegal drugs. The media continues to reinforce this belief that one must be thin or have a chiseled body to be accepted in society. The obstacles seem endless and the battle is difficult, but it’s our responsibility to encourage healthy and ethical behavior among our young athletes.
We need to convey a stronger message—one void of mixed signals and acceptable circumstances. I’m confident we can steer children from performance enhancing drugs, but it’s going to take more dedication and education on our part. This isn’t just about cheating. This is about a healthy lifestyle that could potentially help young athletes avoid physical and psychological harm down the road. We’re never going to succeed if we don’t set a better example.
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