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Tainted athletes dominating the headlines

Posted: January 15, 2013 3:04 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2013 5:00 a.m.

It’s getting harder and harder to pick and choose your sports heroes these days.
Over the past week or so, we have seen a National Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony whose acceptance speeches from former players not voted into the halls of Cooperstown could have been carried out by the late Marcel Marceu.
On the more-talkative end of the spectrum, tomorrow, for those of you having the O Network on your cable package, you will be able to watch the first of a two-part interview between the network’s owner/founder, Oprah Winfrey, and disgraced seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong who, reportedly, will come clean as to his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In baseball, the names of record-holders such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others, were given the bum’s rush by Hall of Fame voters due to their involvement, alleged or actual, of using PEDs to aid in their respective careers. While the use of the substances --- some of which were not banned by Major League Baseball at the time --- helped those and other players of baseball’s “steroid era” earn more lucrative paydays, it also slammed the door shut on their chances of making it into Cooperstown … for the time being.
Worse than what some of the players whose reputations have been kicked to the curb did to their names was to smear those of other players who played in the late 1980s through the 1990s and drag thoswe men down with the cheaters.
One such player was Craig Biggio.
The former Houston Astros’ standout, who started out as a catcher only to be moved to second base in order to prolong his playing days, collected 3,060 hits, scored 1,844 bases, drove in 1,175 runs while swiping 414 bases in a 20-year career --- all with the Astros --- in which he was selected to the National League All-Star team on seven occasions.
In addition to what he did between the foul lines, Biggio was also the 2005 winner of the Hutch Award, presented to the major league player who “best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.” Two years later, at the conclusion of his career, Biggio was selected as the recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the major league player who combined good play on the field with solid work in the community.
But when it came time for the Hall of Fame voters to cast their judgment on Biggio’s Hall of Fame credentials, the man who had more hits in baseball than many a Hall of Fame member  --- including Rod Carew, Al Kaline and Wade Boggs --- received a little more than 68 percent of the vote, falling less than seven percentage points from being a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Once cannot help but think Biggio’s playing at the time which he did and, alongside other Hall-eligible players who took short cuts to lengthen, if not improve their careers, had him painted with the same brush as those whose candidacy fell far short of the necessary votes.
With the message having been sent to first-time Hall-eligible players such as Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa and others, and the black cloud which comes with the mention of their names taking a back seat next year, Biggio should be a shoe-in for Cooperstown in a less-volatile voting climate in 2013.
In the case of Armstrong, it is hard to make heads or tails as to whom he hurt other than himself.
First off, other than the Tour de France, you rarely hear of cycling or, recognize the names of the riders aside from that two-week stretch each year. More recently, the names of cyclists who have been banned from the race or, whose titles have been stripped due to the use of PEDs are more widely known than that of some of the stars of the sports.
Quick: Can you name who won the 2012 Tour de France without logging onto Google? I’ll do that for you, the winner was Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain. Thanks, Google.
Cycling has a long and ugly history involving riders and doping. Aside from Armstrong, you have American Floyd Landis, whose 2006 Tour de France win was negated by a positive drug test. One year later, Alberto Contador won the Tour de France. Three years later, he was slapped by a two-year ban from racing for testing positive for a banned substance.
Armstrong, however, is an entirely different animal when it comes to racing and perception. He beat cancer and beat the best cyclists in one of the world’s most exhausting athletic competitions. He was hailed as a true American hero as he rode down the Champs-Élysées with champagne glass in hand, being toasted by his teammates and fellow riders.
Though most all of those wins, there were hints and allegations of drug usage by Armstrong from those in the industry, all of which Armstrong denied. He proclaimed that he passed every battery of testing which came his way. He was as clean as a starched shirt. And, given his battle to overcome cancer and then, starting the Livestrong campaign to aid cancer victims, who was going to cast aspersions on someone who was doing so much good for those afflicted by this terrible disease?
As piles of evidence continued to mount against Armstrong, we learned from the United States Anti-Doping Association report, regarding Armstrong, and released last October that Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling team ran “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport had ever seen.”
Now, we are about to see how a disgraced American hero tries to explain his choices and his lies to help protect himself, his brand and his image to the world. His reputation has already gone the way of a screeching bicycle tire on a steep downhill ride in the Alps.
The sad part about these two correlating stories is not so much about how it affects adults. Over the past few years, sports fans and the public, in general, have cast a jaundiced eye to virtually every pro athlete who breaks a long-standing record. Was that athlete ‘juiced’, we ask ourselves.
This sordid episode is more about the kids, whose childhood sports idols have succumbed to the temptation of selling their athletic souls to drug manufacturers who lure them into their trap of “get rich now” promises. But those athletes’ knee-jerk reaction prevented them from thinking of the long-term effects; whether it is to their health or, nearly as bad, their reputation.


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