Wood's Word: Doping around

I would love to be really, really good at a sport. I don’t really care which sport it would be.

Many people seem to find their forte early on, but I wasn’t so lucky. I am cursed with being very mediocre at a handful of them. I can make a free throw, get the cutoff from center field to second base, and even kick the ball over to that other person. But that person is the one who makes the goal. I made the free throw because the guy who dunked the ball hurt his hand in the process and couldn’t take the extra shot after the foul.

When someone is exceptionally blessed in athletic ability and excels in the sport of choice, it is anticipated that he or she makes the most of that gift. So, when limits are met and potential is reached, such a one must hope that he is enough to be the best at what he does. For is that not what sports are all about?

Sports culture can, at times, be brutal in its expectations. Although they are technically considered “games,” sporting events have now become a competition of pride and superiority. It is understandable to push yourself to become your very best, but the desire for perfection must be kept under control. Athletes should expect a lot of themselves, yet those expectations should never get to an unhealthy level.

That being said, they often do reach such a level. Following the recent embarrassment suffered by cyclist Lance Armstrong during the year, reports have emerged that the ex-Tour de France champion plans to admit to doping throughout his career. The news is said to come forth this week during a scheduled interview between Armstrong and daytime talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

Armstrong won an inspiring seven Tour de France titles (1999-2005) after a victorious battle with the advanced stages of testicular cancer in the late ’90s. He had received serious accusations of doping as early as 2004, but no actions were taken against Armstrong until last year. He was charged with the use of performance-enhancing drugs by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and an extensive report that included eyewitness accounts was also released against him.

An inspirational story had become a blemish to the sporting and cycling world.

Recently, another story came forth, bringing behind it the stain of steroids in the world of sports. The 2013 election to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame made history — not because of the elected players’ contributions to the sport, but rather, due to the lack of any elected player in the first place.

The 2013 Hall of Fame ballot included Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling — many of the game’s greatest players in history, statistically speaking. But, for the first time since 1996 and only the second time since 1971, no player was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Despite incredible statistics, the reputations of Bonds, McGuire, Clemens and Sosa, among many, have been tainted with accusations of steroids.

As a possible response to the recent Hall of Fame disappointment, the MLB agreed to implement in-season testing for Human Growth Hormone and other steroids for the upcoming season. The testing method will be based on random selection in hopes that the use of performance-enhancing drugs will make their way out of the league.

The funny thing concerning the news about Armstrong and the baseball players is that these competitors are still incredibly talented athletic people. Whatever drives a person to use performance-enhancing drugs should be regarded as a destructive force. If the need to be the best leads someone to make unnatural decisions regarding his or her body, then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at what sports mean to us.

I respect that Armstrong was recovering from cancer. Maybe all the baseball players are doing it. But it still represents dishonesty in a world of role models.

Not being the very best should be satisfactory. They would still be wealthy, unbelievably talented athletes. The desire to excel needs to be healthy and losing needs to be acceptable. No matter how hard I yell at the television, I cannot make the Utah Jazz maintain their 15-point lead every night. And they don’t. Maybe that’s OK. We love them anyway.