From The Editor — August 2004: Is it wrong to stand up for the sport we all love so much?

I GOT AN E-MAIL MESSAGE from a newspaper writer shortly before the Olympic Trials in which he wanted to talk about “a story I’m doing about the question of how legitimate some existing track records are and how that issue will play out.”

Feeling exceedingly tired of the sport’s being put upon—no matter how much we’ve brought it on ourselves—this was my somewhat intemperate response (rant?):

The simple answer the sports fans and officials of America don’t want to hear is that across the board the legitimacy of track records—tainted as they may be—is superior to that of baseball, football, et al.

Track merely looks dirty because it’s actively looking for dirt. I believe that if the major pro leagues applied the same kind of scrutiny—and jurisprudence—that track does, their records would become similarly Ôtainted.’

“It’s incredibly galling that politicians who spend all their lives having zero interest in Olympic sports except for a 2-week period every four years are all of a sudden so intensely interested. Gee, you don’t think it might have anything to do with the fact that Olympic years coincide with election years, do you? If they want to tackle a real problem, let them try to make MLB and the NFL adopt realistic testing programs.

I posted this exchange on our on-line message board and the response to it was almost overwhelmingly positive. Some samples:

¦” You hit the nail on the head, GH. My hope is that the guy really thought about your response, and your reasoning, and realized he might have the opportunity to write a well-balanced article on drugs in sports, not just drugs in the sport of T&F.”

¦”I don’t think it’s an intemperate rant at all. I think that all of us who get involved with track have to remind anyone who asks us that track & field is probably the cleanest sport out there. We find things that other sports don’t look for and don’t do anything serious about when they find them. Track scandal? No, what we really have is a journalism scandal. Writers who are either too lazy or too beholden to the more popular professional sports have created the totally false impression that track is a dirty sport. Meanwhile, they turn a blind eye to evidence of the infinitely greater doping that goes on in other sports.”

¦”I wouldn’t use the lack of positive tests as an indicator of the pubic response to steroid use. The BALCO case is not based on positive results. I think that part of why people think track positives are worse than other professional sports is the punishment. If you took away team victories and Super Bowls when players tested positive, you would see bigger headlines. When the crime does not have major consequences people do not see it as a major crime.”

“Way to show em Garry! You go girl! You just exposed to the rest of the world the attitude in the T&FN bunker that makes many of your former subscribers cringe. ‘And the band (wants to) play on.’ ”

This last writer is playing the T&FN-is-soft-on-druggies card that has dogged us for years. These people are somehow convinced that we’re part of a vast conspiracy (which also includes USATF of course, and maybe the CIA and some black helicopters) to suppress positive tests. I won’t even attempt to dignify such silliness.

Have we tried to maintain a positive attitude throughout the years? Have we chosen not to shriek rumors from the rooftops? Have we stood by the basic precept of “innocent until proven guilty”? Guilty as charged on all counts. We wouldn’t/couldn’t have done it any other way. I hope the majority of you agree with us.