Sports & Steroids: Jon Rankin’s ESPN Piece “It’s Up to Athletes to Clean This Up” Partially on Target

In his piece, It’s up to athletes to clean this up at, Jon Rankin takes issue with the USADA and WADA in regard to their use of “testimony of witnesses rather than test results to validate claims of Armstrong’s use of drugs.” He called it “contradictory to the ideal of fair play that these organizations promote.”

He goes on to state that agencies like the USADA and WADA are moving the line of fairness “without the consensus of those who have to abide by their rules, in order to get convictions to stick,” inferring that these agencies are not any better than the cheating athletes they’re trying to hold accountable.

Personally and as a former athlete, (Mr. Rankin is also an accomplished athlete), I have no problem with the tactics that either the USADA or WADA used to, finally, hold Armstrong accountable. In addition, I have absolutely no sympathy for athletes who “cheat” using illegal PED’s no matter who they are (or pretend to be).

One’s guilt of wrongdoing is not just reliant on something as black and white as a positive test (especially when those tests can so easily be beaten by the guilty). If it were, then how would we, as a society, hold anyone accountable for anything without say…something like DNA having to be left at a crime scene for one to ever be convicted. Sure, we would want that if possible, but as an absolute in all cases…not feasible or necessary.

To my knowledge, it is accepted practice to convict wrongdoers on the basis of eyewitness testimony, along with other strong circumstantial evidence. You put the right pieces together, honestly and accurately, they DO tell the story. And there WERE certainly loads of the “right” pieces put together in the case against Lance Armstrong.

Furthermore, I am on opposite sides of the spectrum from Jon on the importance of organizations such as the USADA and WADA. Where he implies they are part of the problem, I see them as an essential ingredient to accountability, albeit a secondary piece of the puzzle for those who “don’t get it” and never will.

No matter what we do, there will always be individuals who will stop at nothing to try and “cheat” their way to the top. It has always been that way, and that will never change. These agencies, USADA and WADA, are important as a check and balance of accountability. They are there to support all those who DO play fair…for them, they are essential.

However, there is one very important piece in Mr. Rankin’s article that I am in very strong agreement with. One-hundred percent actually, seeing it as the primary focus if change regarding illegal PED use in sports is ever to occur. It is his contention that it must start with the athlete and the choices they make. It is the athletes themselves who must take ownership over, and primary responsibility for, cleaning up sports, there is no question in my mind about that…NONE!!!

And it is why I refer to agencies like the USADA and WADA as a secondary piece of the puzzle, for without athletes doing their part by making the “right” choices (the most important part), I feel these agencies are fighting a very tough battle…an impossible battle.

As is the case with most complicated issues, like the one we face here, it will take a multifaceted approach to make a difference. That multifaceted approach includes better, more responsible teachings at the youth level on up, one where “winning at all costs” is not tolerated and life lessons are a strong piece of the puzzle. It includes athletes who take these types of experiences to the next level, becoming a peer pressure of sorts, holding their competitive counterparts in check.

And yes, sorry Jon, it also includes agencies like the USADA and WADA for without them, those who insist on traveling that illegal path of PED use have no means by which they are held accountable. Taking that piece away corrodes the positive environment of the first two corrective suggestions I detailed.

Heck, even with that more global type of approach, it is still a very, very steep hill to climb. Hopefully…we (all of us involved in sports, especially athletes) can find a way to take on such a challenge, supporting the efforts of organizations that are trying to make a difference. The rewards are too important and long lasting not to.

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