David J. Neal: Let’s face it, fans only care about winning, not cheating

07/15/2013 12:00 AM

07/15/2013 1:33 AM

Sunday’s news from the track world: more prominent names failing drug tests, more denials of guilt or claims of misplaced trust. It’s not really “news” so much as “same olds” save for the names: Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay, Sharone Simpson.

And over in baseball, A-Rod hasn’t gone A-Way yet. According to reports, Miami Westminster Christian graduate Alex Rodriguez and his lawyers met with Major League Baseball on Friday. Rodriguez and former University of Miami star Ryan Braun each has been linked to the now-closed Miami Biogenesis clinic that ultimately might strike out more All-Stars than Bob Gibson in his prime.

Anybody else tired of this? I don’t mean the cheating, I mean the chasing. And the finger-pointing, the finger-wagging, the bad excuses resembling Richard Pryor describing his children lying about breaking a lamp (“Remember when you said not to run in here? Well, I wasn’t really runnin’. It just kind of looked like I was runnin.’”)

The War on Drugs in sports has worked about as well as the War on Drugs in the real world. So how long do we continue this never-ending pursuit before we say, “Aw, let ‘em play their way?”

Anybody see NFL players getting smaller or slower? No, and fans don’t care. We harrumph more about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell trying to eliminate concussion-causing hits than about the PED-boosted size and speed that increases the impact of those hits. Quantum physical leaps continue with no loss of enthusiasm in the fans breathlessly watching it displayed in college, at the NFL Scouting Combine and on Sundays.

NFL players deal in pain-killing drugs that can have devastating side effects. Some play at weights that put them at risk for being a blob of health problems four seconds into retirement. Outcry from fans? “More beer!”

We try to act like we care that track is clean. We don’t in this country because we stopped caring about track more than a decade ago. Ironically, when you needed to get paid under the table to make money at track, our capitalist (or pseudo-capitalist) country flourished on the track and every sports fan could identify “Carl Lewis” “Jim Ryun” “Edwin Moses” even “Sebastian Coe.”

The rest of the world is like us with football — they want to see faster, higher, stronger. The only track drug test failure that would raise an eyebrow would involve Usain Bolt, whose initial burst to track superstardom back in 2008 involved taking Powell’s world record in the 100 meters.

After that initial eyebrow raise, there likely would be “of course” knowing nod many gave to the George Zimmerman verdict and move right along to the next item on Sport Center.

Let’s face it, the only sport we really care about drug use in is baseball. Baseball lives on individual numbers, nostalgia, the illusion of purity in the summer. PEDs mess with all of that. So that form of cheating is verboten. The PED bombers sit outside the Hall of Fame while some pitchers masterful at doctoring the ball reside forever in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Whether for financial reasons, the lust for victory or just the desire for what race car driver Mark Donohue called “the unfair advantage,” world-class athletes repeatedly prove themselves willing to do whatever it takes to compete and win.

It’s about time we end the War on Drugs and just let them.

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