Is pro sport serious about clean sport?

July 11, 2013
Young fans hope to catch a fly ball from the stands

The Biogenesis story linking Major League Baseball (MLB) players to the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is heating up again. This simmering story, that will soon break and may expose over 20 MLB players, casts the spotlight on MLB but it also casts a shadow of sorts on a few other North American professional sports.

On the one hand, the Biogenesis story suggests MLB is trying to confront the PED issue head on. On the other hand, it seems as if the issue has plagued MLB for well over a decade and continues to distract from the on-field performances of the players and the integrity of their game. Despite their efforts, doping appears to be a growing problem in MLB.

Indirectly, the Biogenesis story makes us question what might be going on in the other big three North American professional sports (i.e., NFL, NBA and NHL) when it comes to policing PEDs. We don’t hear much, if anything, about doping in these sports. Is it that none of these leagues have a PED problem (think of the NFL lineman)? Is it that they manage the problem less transparently (think of the fox guarding the chicken coop)? Or, is it that they treat the problem as a public perception issue to be managed rather than a serious health and integrity issue to be addressed?

In the wake of all this inaction, the public is left doubting the integrity of the games they watch and young kids look for ways to emulate their sports heroes (think energy drinks, supplements and PEDs). It may well be that the pro athlete is an unwitting pawn in a game of Russian Roulette as teams play fast and loose with their athletes’ health and safety, all in the name of entertaining the paying customer and making a profit. Or, perhaps the players are not so unwitting, but are just lured into cheating by the fame and fortune of making it to the big time.

The external pressures to dope are not going to go away. The pressure on owners and their management staff to entertain to make a profit are here to stay. And, with the money to be made in these professional sports, the pressure on athletes to gain every possible edge over the competition to make it to the next level constantly increases. Not to mention the pressures athletes feel to come back too quickly from an injury, or the pressure they feel to stay competitive to stave off retirement. The reasons why athletes might dope will always be present. If we take a laissez-faire approach to doping in professional sport then, in light of these pressures, we should not be surprised that the problem does not appear to be going away.

If, however, we focus on the integrity of the game (the level playing field) and the health and safety of the athlete, including the welfare of the young children they influence – then the response to the problem of doping should be based on solutions that work. The solution to the problem of doping in North American professional sport is abundantly clear. Adopt the World Anti-Doping Code and ensure that the test planning, sample collection, results management and arbitration processes are administered by a credible, independent third party.

When MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL adopt the World Anti-Doping Code, then and only then, will we know that they are serious about cleaning up doping in their respective sports.