Zero tolerance on doping the only sporting solution

Momentum gathering to allowing those suspected of cheating become ‘Famers’

Fame or Shame? Many of the controversial baseball figures  remain steadfastly perched on the ‘never-tested-positive’ rampart.

Fame or Shame? Many of the controversial baseball figures remain steadfastly perched on the ‘never-tested-positive’ rampart.


Knowing little about baseball, and caring even less, it was only Charlie Sheen’s doleful eve-of-marriage declaration that he was about to “ship the penis to Cooperstown” that got me wondering where Hollywood’s most louche hardball enthusiast was actually thinking of sending his bat. And finding out the New York town is where baseball’s Hall of Fame is located revealed how it’s not just language that separates either side of the pond.

Halls of Fame don’t matter here. Usually they’re mere photo opportunities, an attempt to milk a little publicity. Athletes go through the motions of saying what an honour it is to have their picture hung up on a dusty wall but nothing is defined by it. In America, though, it is a fiercely important business, far removed from old-fogey irrelevance, and especially so when it comes to the national-pastime. This Sunday’s induction ceremony for the latest additions to Cooperstown will only prove that.

Half a dozen new names are to be added for 2014 and there’s no point me pretending I recognise any of them. No doubt they’re big noises in the US. And there’s no point either getting old-world sniffy about how Halls of Fame are really just attempts at taking a short-cut to history. Yanks love this stuff. It probably ties in with their baffling urge to break sports down statistically, contributing to a “pedestal complex” which in turn helps explain how there’s an estimated three hundred Halls of Fame devoted to American sport.

Legendary figures Why inclusion in a barrack of a building near Albany should matter so much is as American as baseball itself and this year the ceremony will, yet again, be as much about who’s not there as who is, the names even I’ve heard of: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, legendary figures who statistically should be foundation pillars in the place but instead are not allowed in at all.

The reason is doping; mostly steroids. McGwire has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds was convicted on an obstruction of justice charge in the notorious BALCO investigation. Clemens too has been embroiled in steroids controversy for much of the last decade. The trio are the headline acts among an entire generation tainted by suspicion of cheating, and all three have been turned down for inclusion into the Hall of Fame.

But the interesting part is the gathering momentum in the States behind letting bygones be bygones, the rationale of letting these guys become ‘Famers,’ and allowing those suspected of cheating, or those who’ve admitted it, the hero-worship that entrance into Cooperstown bestows.

There’s the obvious charge of moral hypocrisy. The Hall of Fame is already full of racists, pill-poppers, wife-beaters and nasty pieces of work like Ty Cobb who reputedly once climbed into the stands to beat up a man with no arms. The argument is that achievement should automatically be rewarded, and jackasses do achieve: in many walks of life, it’s almost a pre-requisite.

Then there’s the relevance question. Can an entire generation be wiped out in terms of credibility, and that not have an impact on the long-term health of the sport? Who knows what previous generations of ball-players were ingesting, players retrospectively presented as role-models?

Then there’s the question of sports-scribblers judging character being a queasy exercise even at the best of times: baseball didn’t police steroids – where do hacks judging entry to the Hall of Fame get off on doing it retrospectively? And these guys’ records still stand. How can any Hall of Fame not include the official best of the best? Suspicion about them is one thing, but there’s no actual proof.

These are ethical questions likely to become even more prevalent with years of retrospective doping scandals still dancing ahead of us on the horizon, of a kind suggested by last week’s survey of former Tour de France winners which revealed a majority want Lance Armstrong’s Tour victories to be reinstated.

Stephen Roche opined that doping has been part of sport for decades and added that not having a winner for those seven years that Armstrong told the big lie is simply not on.

Admitted cheating The 1980 winner Joop Zoetemelk chipped in with “you can’t rewrite history.” Except, of course, that sticking Armstrong back on the list does precisely that: he’s admitted cheating: putting him back on the list will legitimise what he did.

It’s less clear-cut with baseball’s controversial figures, many of whom remain steadfastly perched on the ‘never-tested-positive’ rampart that Armstrong skulked behind for so long. And there’s little doubt that believing stars of the past were all paragons of propriety is as childish as worshipping at the commercial altar of an ugly building in upstate New York is in the first place.

There’s even less doubt about how norm’s of all kinds, both social and sporting, can change, and how morality can come diluted with large quantities of relativism. But there’s no doubt at all that believing truth as a concept is irrelevant on the back such acknowledgement is an adolescent conceit which only the most naive, or most cynical, pander to.

It may be impossible to know for stand-up-in-court certain if Bonds & Co cheated. But it is wilful nonsense to believe including them in baseball’s Hall of Fame won’t legitimise them, and what they did, and in the process not dilute to irrelevance the idea that character is, or should be, an ingredient for judging admission into that forum?

Keeping them out of Cooperstown might indeed contribute to a short-term sense of old-relic irrelevance. But putting them in will guarantee irrelevance forever, even in America.

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