You know we're down the rabbit hole when we react with praise, not censure, to the news that a prominent American sprinter has popped a drug test but offered no excuses.
After hearing the array of lies and fabrications and fantasies offered up by athletes over the years about how they somehow tested positive — spiked water bottles, "legitimate" supplements, tainted beef — it was refreshing, somehow, to hear how Tyson Gay announced he will not compete in the world championships next month after testing positive for a (not yet publicly identified) banned substance in May.
"I don't have a sabotage story," Gay, a Lexington native, said last weekend. "I don't have any lies. I don't have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake or it was on USADA's hands, someone playing games. I don't have any of those stories. I basically put my trust in someone, and I was let down."
His premature confession likely won't send him into the maw of the Oprah Winfrey Media Makeover Machine any time soon, but still, it was nice not to hear a raft of excuses from a 30-year-old man. The sad part for Gay, of course, is that he is 30, coming off a series of injuries and hip surgery and nearing the end of his career. He has been an outspoken critic of doping in his sport and asked to be part of USADA'S "My Victory" program, one of 11 athletes who volunteered to undergo more rigorous testing to show support for drug-free competition.
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Now he likely will lose at least six months of competition, and possibly more — as well he should. Rules are rules. But in the wake of the Lance Armstrong lie-fest, Gay's guilt is somehow still a breath of fresh air. And that's a sorry state of affairs.
Adidas reacted swiftly, dropping Gay like a hot baton. He had a no-doping clause in his contract, of course, so the company is perfectly within its rights. Still, it might have spent a few minutes working on its statement: "We are shocked by these recent allegations, and even if we presume his innocence until proven otherwise, our contract with Tyson is currently suspended." (Adidas' cynicism, my italics.)
In fairness to Adidas, it's hard not to be cynical about sports and doping in 2013. Every athlete who shows marked improvement or suddenly bursts on the scene to perform feats of strength or speed is subject to rumors and innuendo, however unfair. Just ask the Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis. The whispers about him have increased exponentially with his home run and RBI totals, which is totally unfair and a product of the current climate. The joy of the McGwire-Sosa home run battle? Those days are gone. There is no joy in Mudville — Mighty Casey has too much muscle mass, his head has gotten bigger over the years and his home run-to-strikeout ratio is out of this world.
MLB is holding its breath about Davis even as it prepares to announce penalties from the Biogenesis scandal. Those will be closely examined and hotly contested, one assumes, because they don't involve popped drug tests. Still, USADA got Armstrong with a case that was long on testimony and short on physical evidence; it proved it can be done. (And to be clear, I no longer have any doubt that Armstrong was a doper and is a liar.)
Baseball is waiting for its shoe to drop, but track and field already is having a bad summer. Sprinters Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson tested positive for the stimulant oxilofrine at the Jamaican championships; three other Jamaicans tested positive for banned substances there as well.
The World Anti-Doping Agency, to its credit, felt it was odd that Powell and Simpson — who had passed dozens of tests — had those positive results not long after hooking up with trainer Chris Xuereb. It tipped off the Italian police, who raided the hotel where Powell and Simpson were staying, reminiscent of the raid on the hotel of the Austrian cross-country skiing and biathlon teams during the Turin Games in 2006. That, too, was the result of a WADA tip.
Paul Doyle, agent to Powell and Simpson, admitted he and his clients should have been more vigilant in what supplements they took. Doyle said he didn't want to throw Xuereb under the bus, then did, saying he asked Xeureb for a list of supplements he was giving his athletes and instead got an invoice showing Powell was given 19 supplements. That's 19 too many.
But "I didn't know what I was taking" is no longer a valid excuse, not in 2013. There is ample evidence that supplements, while not the root of all evil, are keeping USADA, WADA and a lot of other acronyms in business. Why athletes continue to take them is beyond me, but at least they could be honest about it when they inevitably get caught. Sadly, unlike supplements, the truth seems to be in short supply these days.