With all this doping, I no longer know what cheating means
It would be nice if we were allowed to watch sports for what they are, and not be forced to pass judgment on performers
By the time this column finishes, I will have officially invoked a personal moratorium on the word "cheater" because I have no idea what it means any more. The definition has been irreparably bastardised. When a 16-year-old female swimmer smashes a world record in the 400-metres individual medley - in fact swims the last 50m leg of that race faster than the men's champion Ryan Lochte did - that apparently has to be cheating because she is from China. When a couple of Jamaican sprinters become the two fastest men in the recorded history of mankind that's apparently cheating as well, at least according to United States sprinting legend Carl Lewis.
I realise it is a dated notion, but it would be nice if we were allowed to watch sports for what they are, competition and athletic excellence of the highest order, and not be forced to pass judgment on the performers. That genie, though, is out of the bottle now and we live in some seriously suspicious times, so when we see the incredible it is immediately tainted.
It is possible, though, in a country of 1.3 billion people with a ridiculously ambitious sports machine that a freakishly talented swimming or diving prodigy could be discovered and taken from her family at a young age to be trained for future sporting glory. It's possible because it happens all too often on the mainland. It's also possible for a small Caribbean country of 2.7 million with a rich history of sprinting excellence and enlightened coaching and training where the most athletically gifted are groomed at a very young age for success in sprinting, the national sport and obsession, to turn out a conga line of Olympic medallists. But it's just not universally accepted in our enlightened modern era, because we know how many athletes at the higher levels must be using drugs.
The cheaters, it seems, are actually the ones who get caught. Everything else can be dismissed as little more than innuendo and with the summer Olympics in our rear view mirror for another four years, hopefully much of that "cheating" talk will be shelved. Now we can turn our attention back to professional sports and professional cheaters who, supposedly, cheat for big-money contracts.
Seemingly on cue, a poster boy for cheating was served up right after the Olympics ended this week. His name is Melky Cabrera and he plays leftfield for the San Francisco Giants. Cabrera has more hits than anybody in baseball this year and was named the All-Star game MVP. The 28-year-old from the Dominican Republic has been a marginally successful player of doughy proportions for most of his career. But over the past two seasons he has been transformed both physically and statistically into one of the top outfielders in the game.
Oops. After testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone, Cabrera's season ended this week when he was suspended for 50 games. Ironically, he did something almost unheard of in our era of doped-up athletes and admitted his guilt - "I did it and I will serve my 50 games now". If only it was that simple. Cabrera will be a free agent at the end of the season and has now jeopardised a massive, multimillion-dollar payday. He also grew up impoverished in the Dominican Republic and so if he figured his way out of poverty was to take performance-enhancers, I can understand it. I don't excuse it but I understand it. Cause and effect here. Thousands of poor kids in Latin America looking to get paid in baseball have done it over the years.
Victor Conte, the man behind the Balco drugs scandal, is the godfather of modern doping. At the London Olympics he estimated that 60 per cent of the top 20 athletes in each sport were using the same type of synthetic testosterone during off-season training that Cabrera was suspended for, but are apparently clean by competition time. "I believe athletes are micro-dosing with patches, creams, even injections that clear the system fast," Conte said. He also claimed to know it was going on in baseball.
Last year the National League MVP Ryan Braun tested positive before getting off on a technicality and this year the All-Star game MVP got popped. It's pretty obvious it's going on in baseball. And the eye test alone tells us it is going on in a massive way in the NFL, college football and virtually any of the major sporting leagues.
A number of people I have spoken with who are involved in professional sports admit that management conveniently still look the other way. That's not exactly a revelation, I know. But you can rest assured Cabrera won't be the last big name to go down and since it's never official until they get caught, it also means there are a lot of so-called cheaters out there. Personally, I prefer to call them misguided opportunists because if everybody is cheating then nobody is cheating.