OPINION: Pro athletes are becoming harder to trust when it comes to PEDs (07/25)

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By Chuck Jones

How many times are we going to fall for this? How many times can an athlete stand in front of a microphone and tell us he didn’t take any performance enhancing drugs? And we believe him.

We want to accept what we’re watching as the truth. We see athletes accomplish amazing feats and we don’t want to consider the alternative. We don’t want to think the only reason an athlete achieves a record or helps his team win is because he took PEDs.

We turn into sports to take us away from reality, to get us away from the problems of our lives for a few hours. It’s a diversion from what troubles us on a daily basis.

We watched in delight when Lance Armstrong roared to seven Tour de France championships. Every time he was asked about doping he vehemently denied any wrongdoing, even attacking those who questioned him, and we wanted to believe him. We wanted to think that here was a man that denied the odds, overcoming cancer to win one of the most physically demanding sporting events on the planet.

There’s the scene in “Dodgeball” where Armstrong tells Vince Vaughn’s character he thought about quitting when he had brain, lung and testicular cancer at the same time.  Armstrong goes on to say with the support of my friends he got back on the bike and he won the Tour de France five times in a row.

“If people never quit when the going got tough, they’d have nothing to regret all their lives,” Armstrong said to Vaughn’s character.

I wonder if Armstrong has any regrets now. It turned out he cheated the fans and the sport, selling us a bill of goods he knew wasn’t the truth the entire time.

Track and field has been battling PEDs since Ben Johnson tested positive in the 1988 Summer Games. The most famous case was probably Marion Jones, who won five medals in the 2000 Games. Jones was linked to the BALCO scandal and repeatedly denied usage, but like Armstrong, finally told us the truth, that she had used PEDs. At least when Tyson Gay tested positive, he had the courage not to make up a bogus story. Instead he took responsibility for his actions. While it still doesn’t make it right, Gay earned respect due to the way he handled it.

Athletes in all sports could learn from Gay, especially in baseball. Players have been lying to us on a regular basis for almost two decades. The home run chase of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was the start of this lie. When called in front of Congress, Sosa all of the sudden couldn’t speak English and McGwire wasn’t there to talk about the past.

On the same day, Rafael Palmeiro wagged his finger at members of Congress and stated, “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.” The only thing it wasn’t that clear as he tested positive later that year.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who much like Armstrong in their denial of usage, have been linked to PEDs. Players such as Mike Cameron, Manny Ramirez, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Marlon Byrd and Edinson Volquez all have been suspended for use and the story is usually the same. Point the blame at someone — or something — else.

The latest in this never ending story is Ryan Braun. He tested positive in 2011, but got off on a technicality. Prior to the 2012 season, Braun said, “If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say I did it. I would bet my life this substance never entered my body.”

Really? Would you, Mr. Braun, step up and say you did?

When news came out Braun was linked to the Biogenesis clinic, which appeared to be the new BALCO, he denied it. ESPN kept gathering more and more information. All Braun did was deny, deny and deny any involvement. That was until he, like all the others, was suspended for the rest of the season for using PEDs.

“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect," Braun said in the statement. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.”

Braun couldn’t say that from the start? No, he and his lawyers attacked the man who handled his sample in 2011 and then continued to lie about his usage, when it turns out he is no better than Armstrong, Jones, Palmeiro or any of the others.

The sad thing is Braun won’t be the last. Someone else will fail a test and get suspended. Instead of telling us what they did, they will continue to plead their innocence.

But this is like the boy who cried wolf too many times. We’ll turn a deaf ear to it. The repeated lies have made us cynical, where we can’t even watch Baltimore’s Chris Davis, who has 37 homers this season, and not think of PEDs.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ll continue to watch. We love our sports.

We just want believe the athletes and what they’re doing on the field is not the result of PEDs, but after being duped time and time again, that’s not going to happen.

Thanks a lot, Lance Armstrong and Ryan Braun.

Chuck Jones is The News-Enterprise sports editor. He can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com.