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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Dangerous Liasons: A non-athlete’s perspective on sports and drugs

<s a kid I loved Marion Jones. My family and I watched her successes and defeats together and followed her on television. As everyone knows, she was exciting and beautiful to watch, and although I don’t follow sports regularly, we watched her religiously. As an American living abroad, I found sports a great way to connect with my home country. I would stay up until 3 A.M. (due to the time difference) on Superbowl Sunday to watch a sport I didn’t really understand. When my sister and I visited our aunt and uncle in Arizona, they took us to see the Diamondbacks, and I remember being enthralled by the culture of the game but not really caring whether they won or lost. I was thrilled when, as a seventh-grader, I got to go to Fenway Park during a summer program in Boston.

As I got older and became more aware of doping cases in athletes and professional sports, I, as I’m sure did most other sports fans, became disillusioned and angry every time I opened the sports section of the newspaper. However, I, a person generally indifferent towards who wins or loses in sports, could never understand why I felt such a sense of betrayal, especially when I’d read about doping allegations involving athletes I hadn’t even heard of.

One thing wonderful about sports, I think, is watching talented, hard-working people test the limits of their strength and agility within the realms of what is naturally, humanly possible. But I think we also love sports because we love the athletes and coaches as people who we want to be like, and who represent us. From this, I realize the sense of betrayal I felt, and still feel, stems from the fact that these are people who helped characterize my country for me from afar, whether I knew who they were or not: they put a face on the United States for people who aren’t as familiar with it. The disappointment I experience when I find out that an athlete I admire has been proven guilty of doping is similar to the one I feel when I am disappointed in my government. Honesty is as important in the professional sports arena as it is in politics, not because it may have the same disastrous large-scale repercussions, but because it is the subtler, quieter facet of who we are as a nation, and how I’ve amiably defined my nation from across the Atlantic.

Doping has been around forever, and we’re nowhere close to being able to control the behavior within professional sports. Needless to say, I can’t understand why sports are perpetually plagued with doping cases when it has been proven, time and again, that people find out. Admittedly, though, when investigators are at odds with each other over what to do, it only provides more leeway for illegal use. And although testing is frequent and new scientific discoveries are plenty, I think the only true deterrent to using drugs would be for athletes and trainers to finally realize the devastating effect of what they do to the hearts and minds of their fans.

I am not an athlete—or at least not a very good one. When I have played for teams, I’ve never felt a rush of excitement when we’ve won, or crushing sadness when we’ve lost. I can’t claim to really understand sports. But I would never say that it is “just a game”—I have too many friends for whom sports are an integral part of their lives, and for whom the difference between winning and losing is huge—and I appreciate the stakes in not losing. In fact, it’s much more than a game: it’s about upholding a national identity, about providing a enjoyable respite from the small- and large-scale letdowns we experience, and about effortlessly making people feel like they belong.

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