An article in theguardian, Why drug cheats should not get a second chance at the Olympics, prompted a short but intriguing discussion in my office the other day, an office full of former athletes and current coaches. At the center of the discussion was the premise behind the title of that aforementioned article, should athletes receive a life time ban from Olympic competition for proven steroid/performance-enhancing drug use or do they deserve a second chance?
The most immediate response was “no second chance.” However as our discussion continued and questions were raised regarding the fact that no one is perfect and people do make mistakes, thoughts were provoked and comments wavered.
Stepping back from the situation and looking at it as objectively as possible, it doesn’t really look as if athletes making the choice to use illegal performance-enhancement are truly making a mistake. They know these substances are illegal and they know the reasons why they are taking them―to gain an advantage on their competition (any way they can), to win, become the “best,” famous, etc. They go into it with this intent knowing full well that what they are doing is illegal and against the rules.
It would seem illogical, enabling in fact, to then turn around and accept the idea that one who gets caught could merely state “Oops, sorry, do-over. I won’t do it again, I promise,” after one’s suspension is served. On the other hand, there are athletes who have made some pretty big, life-altering mistakes, albeit not necessarily PED use, and gone on to become excellent examples of how to overcome tremendous adversity, even if that adversity was self-imposed. MLB Texas Rangers Josh Hamilton is one that comes to mind (as highlighted in this piece Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton: Great Comeback Story ?????).
However, stories like Josh’s are few and far between, certainly not something that happens to most who make ill-advised choices. And there are a good number of other questions that can be raised with regard to making any proven steroid/performance-enhancing drug use an automatic life-time ban from Olympic competition.
If it is something that should be applied to the Olympics, then why not all professional sports? Why should they get a bye on something like this? They know the rules just like their Olympic counterparts, and they are using these substances for the same reasons.
And if we were to apply this across the board for all those mentioned above, should we then do the same for college athletes? How about high school athletes? In fact, in both cases, they would have the same reasoning and purpose behind their use of these substances. Bigger, better, stronger, faster!!!
Taking note of “rules” and “expectations,” aside from just steroid use, there are high school athletes who know the rules regarding the use of any type of illegal substance (including alcohol) and, even after agreeing to abstain from use, still use. And some, frequently (especially on the weekends).
Does the choice these athletes make to break a code of conduct truly constitute a “mistake” needing redemption or is giving them that option enabling this type of behavior?
Of course there are those in high school who genuinely need that second chance due to addiction, a problem that can be very difficult to overcome. However, there are also those who do not fall into that “need for a second chance” category and use any alternative option available to skirt the rules, learning nothing in the process. But I digress.
Coming back full circle, should Olympic athletes proven to have taken illegal performance-enhancing substances be banned from competition for life? And if so, does a decision like this have any bearing on how severe consequences might be for similar offences at the professional level, college level, or high school level?
Some interesting food for thought.