Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lilly King's Public Stance Against PED Cheaters is Commendable

U.S. swimmer Lilly King not only won the 2016 Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter breaststroke but she made a powerful statement against athletes who tarnish sports by using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). King literally and figuratively wagged her finger at Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova--who was permitted to return to the sport after serving a 16 month suspension for using PEDs--and King declared, "I think it's unfortunate that we have to deal with these things in this sport. A level playing field would be preferred."

King publicly stated that cheaters like Efimova should be banned for life and King did not back down when asked what she thought of American Olympic athletes who had been caught cheating in the past (including sprinter Justin Gatlin): "Do I think people who have been caught should be on the team? They shouldn't. It's unfortunate we have to see that."

Olympic legend Michael Phelps publicly supported King's position: "I think people should be speaking out more. I think (she) is right. I think something needs to be done."

One reason that Major League Baseball's PED problem became so pervasive is that too many of the players who were not cheating turned a blind eye to what was happening instead of publicly speaking out about it the way that King is doing. It is important for the clean athletes to speak out and to let their voices be heard about how the cheaters are damaging their sports.

When the baseball players failed to speak out, some media members, "stat gurus" and sports economists attempted to fill the void, despite knowing little to nothing about sports or medicine. These commentators tried to justify PED use by arguing (1) PEDs are not proven to work so the issue does not matter or (2) athletes should be permitted to use whatever means they are willing to try/risk in order to maximize their performance. The first point is, frankly, idiotic: the drugs are called "performance-enhancing" precisely because they enhance performance and that is why athletes risk their careers (and their health) to take these drugs. King's suggestion that PED cheaters should be banned for life is well-taken not only from a legal/moral standpoint but also from a scientific standpoint, because research suggests that there are long-lasting performance-enhancing effects from PED use that persist even after such use has been stopped. The second point is reflective of an anarchistic way of thinking: anything should go and let the strongest survive. Such is not the foundation for a stable society; there have to be rules in place to preserve health and to preserve fair competition. PEDs have serious side effects and athletes who use them gain an unfair advantage.

I have been lamenting the PED crisis for many years and I have previously advocated lifetime bans for MLB cheaters such as Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez but King's clarion call will hopefully resonate far and wide because her life and career have been directly impacted by PED cheaters. King did not turn this into an American versus Russian political issue but rather made it clear that all cheaters--even her own teammates--should be banned for life. That is quite a statement from a 19 year old Olympian and it would have been nice to witness similar courage from the teammates of Rodriguez, Braun and the many other MLB cheaters of the past two or three decades.

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