Another week, another professional athlete caught using performance-enhancing drugs. Bryan Berard, an inspiration to many after returning to the NHL after almost losing his eye in a high sticking incident as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug last week. This earned him a two-year ban from international hockey in the process. Berard, whose sample was from two years ago, will not be suspended by the NHL because the NHL’s drug testing program started only two weeks ago. However, with this news, some people have to wonder if Dick Pound was right when he said that a third of the league is currently using performance-enhancing substances. The league is starting to test with a program that many people feel is too light and I’m interested to see just how many people are caught. If that number is above 15, then the NHL does have a problem and it should recognize that and make their testing policy even tougher.
A lot of leagues have had professional athletes test positive for performance-enhancing substances and it’s a problem in the sports world as a whole. I’m not going to use the rest of this column to talk about how bad it is for sports to have this stigma, because that is pretty obvious. I also won’t talk about why athletes use performing-enhancing substances because I am not a psychologist. However, the message that the athletes are sending is worrisome.
In life, you get punished for mistakes and one of the mistakes you can make is to cheat. Cheating on exams, cheating on the job and countless other things. These athletes are cheating in their sport, in their job and their punishment is not really proportional. These athletes even cheat the justice system, as do many other members of the rich and famous. What is happening is that kids get the wrong idea of what an athlete should be. In the movie Coach Carter, Ken Carter was adamant in sending a message to his high school team, locking out his undefeated team because their grades weren’t good enough. This is the message we should be sending to our youth. It is a problem with society in general right now that kids are getting a message that it is alright to use steroids, because as long as it can get you to the professional level and to that fame, it’s worth cutting time off of your life, and dealing with the consequences of using the enhancing substances. I think that drug testing should take place a lot earlier than the professional sports leagues. Several high school and university athletes have died from using steroids, and from ‘roid rage.’ Since high schools and universities are the pool for the professional leagues, the drug testing should take place there so that the players who aren’t on drugs have an equal opportunity to get to the next level and to take the choice out of it for these young athletes who are susceptible to being pressured.
The last thing I would do to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs is to have similar banned substances and penalties for each sport. Baseball’s model of 50 games for the first offense, 100 games for the second and a lifetime ban for the third is a very good model to use in all sports, although the number of games should be proportional to each sport’s schedule. I also feel that a player should be able to reinstate themselves two years after their third ban because a young player can make mistakes, and would still be able to play in two years.
While these suggestions won’t eradicate performance enhancing drugs from sports altogether, they would go a long way towards cleaning up the image of professional athletes, which would ensure that they’re genuine role models for the millions of young people who look up to them.