For those of you not familiar with Justin Gatlin, he was the 100-meter gold medalist in the 2004 Olympics, and former World Champion, who received a four-year ban from track after testing positive for steroid use in 2006.
Considered to be one of the fastest men on earth, at one time, his ban is set to expire this summer on July 24th.
The Washington Post highlights Gatlin's story in an article titled Justin Gatlin, returning from steroids ban, hopes for a restart, which details the sprinter's fight and anxious return to a sport he so loves.
However, according to the aforementioned piece, not everyone is so accepting of a man once thought of as an ambassador for drug-free competition. A track star whose hypocrisy placed his elite level running career on what Gatlin believed to be a four-year hold pattern due to "cheating" behavior, something Justin flatly denies, believing he was sabotaged.
It appears that Olympic athletes, no matter what the circumstance, are held to a higher standard than, say, professional athletes where most suspensions are much less.
In addition, the stigma of a positive PED (performance-enhancing drugs) test seems to follow Olympians the rest of their life, creating a situation where the athlete is more readily banned from competing by event organizers.
Thus is the situation for Justin Gatlin as two major track events have expressed their opinions that he will not be welcome or invited to participate.
Even with support from Anti-Doping Agency Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart who stated that Gatlin has "served his time" and "he ought to be fully reinstated. . . . The [World Anti-Doping Agency] Code ought to be upheld by any meet or organization that has adopted the Code. That's the spirit of the Code. Anything short of that would be inequitable.
"If you want lifetime bans after the first offense, then you should be screaming and yelling about that, not disregarding a rule that is in place that allows someone to compete. That's unfair."
While these are some strong statements, and coming from the individual who led the arbitration inquiry against Gatlin, others like "Patrick K. Magyar, the president and meeting director for Weltklasse Zurich"- a major track event being held this August, states:
"Mr. Gatlin has massively damaged our sport," and "It is very clear that we will not be in a position to invite him this or the upcoming years," something that is being echoed by others in a similar position.
From my vantage point, the question boils down to this. Does an individual found guilty of "cheating" through the use of steroids and/or PED's truly warrant an unspoken lifetime ban from major competitions or should there be some sort of redemption - a path back toward a standing of good character?
Well, even with my particularly strong feelings on how important I believe it to be for athletes to hold themselves to high ethical standards, The Code of a True Champion, we must also consider the importance of giving individuals, who are willing, the ability to rebuild their integrity.
I mean people, athletes, do make mistakes, really bad ones at times. It is part of being human. Saying that does not excuse one's behavior nor minimize the consequence for one's poor choices; it just shows compassion for the fact that none of us are perfect.
If we go with Travis Tygart's perspective on this issue (as detailed earlier), should we expect Justin Gatlin to accept, even volunteer, for the most rigorous and regular PED testing available today?
Should he be viewed by the sporting community with a very critical eye, at least until he truly earns back our trust - something he alone must do based on the future choices he makes.
To never give a second chance, no matter how difficult the environment, would be counterproductive to the idea that ALL can learn and become more than who they once were, at least with regard to character, integrity and cheating through the use of steroid's and/or PED's.
However, if Mr. Gatlin chooses to engage in any type of "cheating" (no matter how small) so as to support and/or represent any form of "winning at all costs," in my book, he is DONE!!!
Basically, he would need to find some other career. I am sure he could find openings in, say, politics.
Justin Gatlin in Athens at the 2004 Olympic 100m sprint final