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  • Cooper Burke

Needle’s Best Friends: Athletes Caught in Doping Scandals

Every industry has its fair share of lying and fabrication, and the sports industry is no stranger to being wrought with scandals from both athletes and people on the other side of the ball. Through the years, some of sports’ biggest stars have ruined their careers just for an edge. Instead of being remembered for their success on the field, they are often remembered for their lack of integrity in the locker room and transgressions against sports.

Baseball’s steroid era was a period of long home runs, big stars and even bigger hitting lines. Stars like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and others slugged at a rate never seen before, with Sosa even belting 65 home runs in a year.

Barry Bonds is the most prominent example- the slugger went from wiry to one of the biggest men in the league nearly overnight and became one of the most dominant players the sport had ever seen.

Bonds slashed .288/.408/.551 in his first 11 years in the league and won three MVP awards, along with seven Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. These numbers are eye-popping on their own, and Barry Bonds ended those 11 years with a Bill James Hall of Fame score of 340, where 100 is a likely hall of famer. Bonds’ wins above replacement of 99.6 ranks 22nd all time, and there are plenty of men with lower WAR that are in Cooperstown.

He tore up the sport from 1999 on, slashing an eye-watering .316/.505/.712 with an average of 39 homers a year, including a 73-homer season that still stands as the most in league history. The prevailing wisdom is that Bonds wanted to join in on Maguire and Sosa’s home run chase.

Bonds admitted to taking steroids dating back to 1999 after he said that his trainer gave him arthritis cream and flaxseed oil. However, anabolic steroids are usually administered by buccal injection, and so Bonds was named in the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative Scandal as a defendant and charged with perjury for testifying that he did not take steroids.

Bonds ruined his career to chase the home run title, and he tainted one of the greatest legacies in baseball for short-term glory.

Lance Armstrong was another man on top of his sport who squandered any chance he had at maintaining a reputable legacy in the professional cycling circuit. Armstrong had success amongst the tours, even winning two Tour de France stages before being sidelined with malignant testicular cancer that was almost not survivable according to his doctor.

Armstrong returned to cycling two years after recovering from cancer and he won seven consecutive Tour de France titles, then a record. However, he was tested often and tested positive for corticosteroids, and his doctors prescribed a back-dated cream for saddle sores that was pre-approved to beat the test.

Later on, Armstrong tested positive for EPO, or erythropoietin, a compound that stimulates red blood cell production. It was later revealed that Armstrong and one of his teammates ran a sophisticated doping program with the US Postal Service team. Armstrong was investigated by the federal government and it was closed “without an explanation” before USADA opened an investigation for running a doping ring.

The organization banned Armstrong for life in any WADA-sanctioned sports, and then he was stripped of all his wins, including the seven Tour wins. Even after all that, Armstrong said he would “do it all again”, ensuring he would be forever remembered as a disgrace to the sporting world.

Former UFC light heavyweight and current heavyweight champion Jon Jones is a notorious drug cheat, and he has failed four drug tests in the UFC, one of them being due to a tainted substance. Jones boasts a record of 27-1-0 with 1 no-contest after he tested positive for steroids following the second Daniel Cormier fight. Jones earned his title with a knockout win over Shogun Rua, and earned a reputation for eye pokes and fence-grabbing throughout his 205-pound title run.

Jones comes from a family of generational athletes, including Pro Bowl defensive lineman Chandler Jones and Super Bowl champion lineman Arthur. He has used these genes and skills to accrue one of the best records in the sport’s history, but not without a few blemishes.

Jones was disqualified in the Ultimate Fighter finale against fellow prospect Matt Hamill for using illegal downward elbows prohibited under the Unified Rules of MMA. Replay showed that his elbows further damaged Hamill’s face and the bout was ruled a loss for Jones due to DQ, something that Dana White wanted overturned.

Jones first tested positive for a cocaine metabolite at UFC 182, but since the drug’s metabolite was not banned by WADA, Jones was allowed to fight. He tested positive for clomiphene, an anti-estrogen substance and letrozale, another banned substance. However, he claimed it was from a tainted substance, Cialis, and tests proved him right after he had vacated his belt.

However, at UFC 214, Jones popped for Turinabol, an anabolic steroid, and he was given a four-year suspension for doping which was reduced to two-and-a-half years after he provided “substantial assistance” to USADA. Not only was Jones cheating, but he was informing USADA of cheating by another athlete to reduce his suspension.

Jones, according to longtime rival Daniel Cormier, even hid under the cage in his gym at Jackson Wink MMA to avoid a USADA test. Later on, that story was independently corroborated by other fighters. Jones tested positive for Turabinol once again, but it was in a trace amount, so he was not suspended.

With this checkered past, it is hard to believe that Jones walks among the ranks of champions and is considered one of the best of all time. There are many other fighters like Georges Saint-Pierre or Daniel Cormier who have done the things Jones has done without the aid of chemicals and eye-poking.

All these athletes ruined their careers for pursuit of something bigger when they were already some of the greatest to play their game. There is no excuse for cheating, and they should all be shamed and shunned from their sport for taking away legitimate opportunities from other athletes.

They deserve to be stripped of their successes and fined heavily if they get caught. Cheating, particularly steroid use, is a scourge on the sports world and warps what real success looks like. In baseball, particularly, several men like Dale Murphy are being kept out of the Hall of Fame as their numbers were never as eye-popping as Bonds or Sosa, so they never made MVP races, but they had Cooperstown-worthy careers. Instead, they are banished to the annals of “very good, but not good enough”.

 As the great Vince Lombardi once said: “Winners never cheat, and cheaters never win.” While that may be the case, the punishment for cheating in sports never undoes the damage that it does to the sport.

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