Clemens verdict sheds light on drug use in sports

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For the better part of nine weeks, Roger Clemens was on the hook for what would have been the biggest loss of his career.

In the ongoing war that MLB and Congress have decided to wage against performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens was the most recent player to have his association with PEDs called into question. Clemens had become a veritable scapegoat that for all intents and purposes, was meant to shoulder the blame for years of rampant drug use in MLB by a myriad of players not named Clemens.

But like he had done so many times before in his storied 24-year MLB career, he came away unscathed and his team walked away with a win. Only this time Clemens, playing for himself and family, won back his reputation and perhaps a future induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Monday evening Clemens was acquitted on all six counts of lying to Congress about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. The verdict brings to an end another tax dollar-draining investigation of performance-enhancing drugs in sport, and at its conclusion we’re left wondering what the hell a PED even is.

The fact is, Congress and MLB don’t know either.

OK, that’s not entirely true. They have a general idea about what should and shouldn’t be put into an athlete’s body so as to not create an unfair advantage, but they’re doing a terrible job of enforcing the ban on PEDs.

To say this is just a problem that exists solely in MLB would be naive, if not completely false.

As long as one player a year in any sport is suspended for using PEDs, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of others doing the exact same thing. The only difference is they’re either masking the drugs incredibly well or they are taking something that is yet to show up on mandatory, albeit random drug tests.

The first thing that comes to mind when PEDs are mentioned are steroids, but they only constitute a small percentage of the drugs athletes around the world use to get a leg, or arm, up on their competition.

Drugs like stimulants, painkillers, sedatives and diuretics are used, and may even pose a bigger threat to the athletes that use them. While steroids facilitate faster muscle growth and decrease healing time between injuries, painkillers can increase an athlete’s pain threshold beyond normal limits and stimulants can drastically improve a player’s focus and intensity.

Used in moderation, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with athlete’s taking legal painkillers to ease back pain or any other nagging injury. It’s when these drugs are abused that they become performance-enhancers.

The more we delve into the “benefits” athlete’s receive from taking these drugs, the line between what is serving as a performance-enhancer and what is being used as part of a normal supplemental regimen begins to blur.

Clemens had already admitted to using the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx before it was taken off the market in 2004 amid concerns that it may cause adverse cardiovascular effects in long-term users. Like any other drug on the market, Vioxx was approved by the FDA, but its long-term effects had not yet been documented.

This raises the question of what PEDs do to an athlete’s body over time. Will there be a population of aging, once-great athletes that can’t walk by the age of 70 due to the harming effects these drugs have on one’s body? The reality is that no one knows.

But various studies have shown them to have significant degenerative effects on an athlete’s body and mind. Cases of hypertension, immune system and liver damage and increased cholesterol levels have all been linked to prolonged abuse of PEDs by athletes.

There’s no easy way to enforce an outright ban against any and all drugs in sports. Athletes, like normal people, have issues with their bodies that may require clinical aid, and what’s legal to ingest or inject one day could be deemed illegal the next.

Looking ahead, it may be best to approach this whole situation with a more laissez-faire attitude.

Players within MLB, the NFL or any other major sporting body have already reached the pinnacle of their respective sports, so why not let them do what they want to their bodies? And isn’t the entire point of sports to provide entertainment to the masses? If entertainment is what we want, then why not have the biggest, baddest and possibly unhealthiest athletes performing to the absolute fullest of their potential?

These aren’t questions easily answered, but they do provide us with the opportunity to discuss these issues and find ways to promote healthier lifestyles in all levels of sport.

We may never know exactly what drugs Clemens took, if any, or how his ex-trainer Brian McNamee plays into the case, but if Clemens is as innocent as he claims, it could be in his best interest to speak out against drug use in sports and take action to abolish it all together.

If successful, it could be his crowning achievement, and would dispel any rumors of him not making it to Cooperstown with the rest of baseball’s all-time greats.