A generation of young people has become too acquainted with the term P-E-D. Whether it was sprinter Ben Johnson's Olympic disqualification in 1988, former homerun king Mark McGwire's revelations a decade later, or Lance Armstrong's epic confession in 2012, young people have seen their idols across a wide variety of sports caught cheating with performance enhancing drugs.
The current controversy surrounding Major League Baseball's decision to sanction Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez may be the latest dramatic headline in the growing PED epidemic in sports. A-Rod could have gone down as one of the greatest stars in MLB history--and, despite the controversy surrounding his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs, the sad truth is that he still might.
But beyond fundamentally cheating in their sport, PED users are doing far greater damage. An increasing body of information indicates that PEDs have infiltrated youth sports in America; some view them as the golden ticket to college scholarships, the major leagues and million-dollar contracts.
Last month, ESPN reported that the same Biogenesis clinic in Florida at the eye of the storm in the Ryan Braun and Rodriguez controversies also provided performance enhancing drugs to teenagers. What's more, the clinic admitted that many of these youngsters were brought in by their fathers.
As an athlete who has competed at the highest levels, I understand the pressure to perform at your peak and to exceed expectations. But it's time for professional athletes and sports governing bodies to set an example for the next generation of aspiring athletes. Performance enhancing drugs need to be recognized for what they are: unsafe and unfair.
There are hundreds of studies, public service announcements and news articles that all decry the harmful effects of human growth hormones, steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Yet the disgraced sports stars cited above have led young athletes to believe that these substances are necessary to make it to the top, even if their health is put at risk. It's a potentially grave delusion.
And while some elite athletes who are caught cheating receive appropriate consequences for abusing performance enhancing drugs, too many are allowed back to compete a few years (or a few games) later. This is even more infuriating to the athletes that have competed clean, as the cheaters retain the physical and psychological advantages they gained from PEDs: in A-Rod's case, he's actually being allowed to play while his fate is fought out in court.
It is time for professional athletes who compete without resorting to banned PEDs to speak up against athletes who are cheating by using PEDs. The silence of these athletes makes it seem that either everyone is taking part in the cheating, or that they don't mind having cheaters among them creating standards that will be impossible to exceed without cheating.
Sports governing bodies must understand how imperative it is to communicate and consistently enforce a zero tolerance policy on these substances for the athletes as well as their coaches, physicians and trainers who aid and abet this behavior. More lifetime bans need to be meted out, and lucrative contracts should be voided.