Athletes as role models

Posted in Doping, News at 11:13 am by Nicole

It’s a big news day, both in China and internationally, on the topic of athletes as role models.

In China, table tennis star Kong Linghui was cited for drunk driving. His image rehabilitation is coming courtesy of some very Chinese-style methods: a “self-criticism” that he is expected to offer to his teammates and coaches (essentially, an acknowledgment of wrongdoing), and a renewed examination of team policies that reportedly now includes bans on both drinking alcohol, and driving (with or without alcohol, evidently) during team training.

China team ban driving after Kong scandal (Guardian Unlimited, UK)

Contrast that with Tour de France champion Floyd Landis of the United States, who reportedly failed a drug test after the 17th stage of the tour – the day he took a miracle ride from the back of the pack to return to contention for the overall title. He says he’s innocent (the failed test involves the controversial testosterone/epitestosterone ratio test, which should be around 1:1 for us mere mortals but has a much higher threshold for elite athletes). The “B” urine sample is in the process of being tested, so we’re waiting for more news before commenting further.

Food for thought: why is it that athletes so often plead innocence when presented with positive drug tests, when it’s blatantly obvious that the mixture of untold riches and fame, and the sometimes astonishingly negligent governing bodies overseeing certain sports, leads many athletes to take drugs to increase their chances of success? The double standards are overwhelming here. Do anything you can to win…just don’t get caught. And if you get caught, deny, deny, deny.

Kelli White and Jason Giambi are two athletes who have my respect, because when they were presented with evidence of their drug use, they admitted it. (Admittedly, it took White some time to do the right thing – she started out by presenting a convoluted story of narcolepsy and a family doctor prescribing modafinil on an “as-needed basis,” then let go of the story when the BALCO investigators confronted her with her drug records months later. But she did finally do the right thing – something that no other track and field athlete ensnared in the BALCO scandal has seen fit to do.)

Not only that, but White and Giambi have made good. They pledged to be better people on and off the playing field. White gives speeches about the dangers of drug use in sports. Giambi appears to be trying his hardest to have a decent baseball career.

More food for thought: Brian Alexander writes for Slate.com about why drug testing doesn’t work. He previously wrote a long feature for Outside magazine about drug testing. I’ve included both links below.

Phonak: Landis had positive test after Stage 17 (ESPN.com) – includes video clips to recent ESPN reports on the Landis case

Floyd Landis’ positive test shows why drug testing will never work (Slate.com)

The awful truth about drugs in sport (Outside Magazine, July 2005)

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