Ash K – The Great PED Moral Panic

Performance enhancing drugs have been all over the sporting world lately. First came cycling’s fallen angel Lance Armstrong finally coming out of the PED closet on Oprah and confirming what we’ve all known for the last two years. Just as we’d all digested that, enter Ray Lewis and his alleged use of deer antler spray that may or may not have:

a) contained some form of illegal steroids or growth hormone

b) inspired me to Google “deer antler aphrodisiac” for reasons no one wants to know.

Now, of course, the boogeyman has come to our fair shores. Australia’s current sporting PED scandal has turned into what we love best – a good old fashioned media-driven moral panic. What started as just a small investigation into one guy at an AFL club has out of nowhere blown into one of the biggest beat-ups in memory from a sports media that loves beat ups. A simple investigation into Essendon FC a few days ago has suddenly become a cross-code controversy/frenzy including match fixing, organized crime, all kinds of crazy concoctions…really all this story needs to be complete is an appearance by the Illuminati and a goat. (“Illuminati Provide Players With Steroids Harvested From Goat Testicles”?)

Here’s the crux of my article. I don’t care about players using PEDs. And no fan who is honest with themselves should be.

Why? Because we brought this upon ourselves.

It’s easy to blame clubs and the NRL for looking the other way, for not caring about players’ future health, for creating an atmosphere where PED abuse happens. It’s even easier to blame players for looking for shortcuts and cheating instead of putting in honest work – because clearly those dudes who took drugs didn’t work as hard as the others.

It’s always easy to blame “the other”. What isn’t so easy is to blame ourselves.

We, as fans, are constantly expecting our team’s guys to be bigger, faster, stronger. Forwards have to be more powerful and yet fitter to win the yardage battle for 80 minutes. Small, slippery outside backs are a thing of the past – how many first grade centres and wingers are much below six feet these days as the cross-field bomb has become the default fifth tackle play in the opposition’s 20? At the same time, they have to have the speed of track athletes and the power to break tackles.

I haven’t even covered the impact of injuries yet. It has been alleged that Ray Lewis used the dodgy deer antler spray to speed up his recovery from a torn tricept – it took him 10 weeks to seemingly fully recover from an injury that usually takes almost six months to heal. Stuff like growth hormones speeds up injury recovery. There haven’t been many crazy injury recoveries like that in the NRL yet but you’d have to think it’s coming. Again, we the fans want – nay, expect – our players to recover as soon as possible, putting extra pressure on them to look for every means to make a speedy comeback.

You can see where I’m going with this. As our demands as fans for players to become faster, stronger, fitter and recover quicker only increase, we have created an environment where one could argue that drug use is almost necessary. At the very least, the rewards outweigh the risks.

Now, with the big investigation, they’ve been forced into damage control. Platitudes of the usual kind won’t be enough. With how big this investigation has become in the media, scalps will be needed and they will be produced. As is the case with any government witch hunt anywhere, the little guys will be the ones to fall. Some juniors and reserve grade types will become scapegoats and have their careers in football ended. Maybe one or two big names may even get connected to the whole scandal. If you believe the guys who make the league’s money will face any real punishment though I have some oceanfront property in Broken Hill I’d like to sell you.

So what can we as fans do? Simple. Either we as a group take a collective stand that we would rather see clean, less athletic and slower-recovering footballers – or we accept that PED use is a fact of life in our league’s of choice, regulate it (only up to certain limits in certain circumstances) and continue as we were.

One thing’s for sure, we can’t get away with the status quo any more.

If you want to tell me I’m an idiot or a genius (I’d personally prefer the latter), tweet me @trashk612. Peace out.

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