14 January 2008

Sportspeople and Steroids

It was with a small degree of disappointment that I read Marion Jones had been sentenced to six months in prison. The reality is that this woman through her own stupidity has thrown away a life of recognition and appreciation by being caught out in a lie but her crimes are not deserving of jail time.

There are serious questions about the danger of steroids that are quite separate from their use by sportspeople in the pursuit of the winning edge. Let's face it the current use of steroids in professional sports is a monster of out own creation. Sportspeople can become fabulously wealthy if they are winners. Winners are rewarded and losers, well, they come back another day and do it all over again, perhaps this time with some chemical assistance.

Steroids in sports...there are two options here; open slather or zero tolerance! The fact that those that seek the winning edge are going to continually invest in methods and mechanisms to get around the possibility of detection means that there will never be 100% eradication. It was interesting to note that the former Australian Head Swim Coach suggested that there should be serious consideration given to the open slather approach. He was obviously and quickly shot down, but all the same the point was a valid one and one with which we are all familiar--if you cannot beat 'em, join 'em.

The issue of steroid use in the general population is a completely different issue as the responsible use of steroids has generally been shown to enhance well-being and health. However, as with any drug the irresponsible use and abuse of any drug can have severe side-effects, including death! But to suggest that steroids are the evil of all evils is in and of itself irresponsible.

This post is not advocating that children should be permitted to use steroids. This post is suggesting that adults, in consultation with their doctors should be permitted to use steroids, even where their use is for cosmetic rather than health purposes. I hope one day I run for office and someone digs up this post and tries to attack me with it. But with a bit of luck before I ever run for office this debate will be long over and decided in favour of responsible use.

The simple reality is that if the debate is premised on the dangers to long or short term health then the debate must also include other harmful drugs. Tobacco and alcohol kill many thousands, perhaps millions, of people every year through out the world. Neither are illegal, why? For the purposes of consistency it would make perfect sense for the governments of the world to also go after these other killers and ban them absolutely and immediately rather than reducing the areas where you can legally kill yourself by banning smoking in public places for instance.

But the 1920s highlighted the fallacy that is prohibition! By banning steroids or making the possession of steroids an indictable and jailable offence does not prevent their use. It simply drives it underground and allows the development of a black market. The government would be in a better position if it was to legalize steroids. It could even be a revenue raiser in that where there is no legitimate medical use for the steroid prescribed then it is deemed to be for cosmetic use and there is a tax applied.

But back to Marion Jones and her very public fall from grace. She has been humiliated enough through the fact that she had to make a public admission of her guilt as it related to lying about the use of performance enhancing drugs. Her medals and records have been stripped from her personally and from the record books. She is banned from competition and is unlikely to ever have the opportunity to compete again except perhaps in some kind of masters competition in a couple of decades down the track (pun intended). Jail is supposed to rehabilitate the offender but it is unlikely to rehabilitate Marion Jones as most of her rehabilitation in the sense of understanding her crime has occurred with her public humiliation on an international scale.

Community service through giving back to the children of this world would be a much more suitable punishment. If Naomi Campbell can abuse her domestic help and get to sweep streets then it is strange that Marion Jones gets injected or smeared with a steroid and has to go to jail because she lied about it! Community service if the judge in the case wants to set an example then make her do a couple of thousand hours of community service at "Little Athletics" or something similar. Marion Jones' crime did not really hurt anyone but herself. It may have disappointed her family, friends, and fans but it did not hurt anyone but herself. The punishment on the other hand hurts her children who are going to be deprived of their mother for the next six months.

There is a need for balance in terms of the crime and the punishment...It is time for the justice system and judges to wake up an smell the coffee!

Post Script...

There is an interesting piece in The Age Newspaper (Australia) about how Marion Jones got her just desserts and that no one should have sympathy for her because she is a drug cheat...Most sportspeople caught using performance enhancing drugs are not jailed for using the drugs themselves. Marion Jones was not jailed for admitting to using steroids. She was, however, jailed for lying to Federal Investigators and misleading an investigation, a breach of the US Criminal Code.

Most of the commentary implies Jones was jailed for being a drug user and this is not only a misrepresentation of the facts but it is irresponsible. It was good to see that the quote by John Fahey, former NSW Premier and Federal Minister, and now Chief of the WADA, pointing out that Jones was not jailed for being a drug taker.

To suggest that Jones got off easier than she should have because she disappointed a lot of people is ludicrous! You do not go to jail for disappointing people. You go to jail for committing crimes! If people started getting sent to jail for disappointing their family, friends, and fellow citizens our jails would suddenly become much more over-crowded and financially burdensome for all of us. There is more value in keeping Jones out of jail than putting her behind bars for six months. Jones did not get what she deserved but rather she was given what was thought to be sufficient appeasement for the masses...

Her humiliation, once again, is more than punishment enough!

3 comments:

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