Tennis Elbow: I can’t get no speculation
February 11, 2013 · Print This Article
Welcome to the second season of Tennis Elbow. Once again in 2013, the column will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon wonders if tennis has a problem no one knows about.
I really don’t want to write this column, but I feel like maybe I should.
It’s all speculation, and that’s never a good thing for a journalist. But just in the past week, two respected columnists tackled the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. They speculated, so maybe I should too.
First, Grantland’s Bill Simmons wondered whether PEDs should be part of the sports narrative. For example, he mentioned that Ray Lewis’s recovery on his way to a Super Bowl title this year at age 37 seemed just a little too good to be true. Then, ESPN published a Howard Bryant column from the Feb. 18 print issue of ESPN The Magazine. In it, he writes that perhaps, just perhaps, tennis should look at PEDs.
I’ll give my opinion by agreeing, or not, with what some of the two columnists have written.
Too often in the past 10 to 20 years, professional sports have been marred by so many doping scandals that they don’t even seem scandalous anymore. Just last month, Lance Armstrong confessed to what everyone sort of already knew, and no one batted an eyelash because it wasn’t exactly surprising.
Simmons mentions that speculation is pretty much all sportswriters do. They speculate on upcoming trades, on injuries, on who might be the greatest player of his or her time, on what records might never be broken, and so on. Yet, there’s a line that must be drawn somewhere, and it might be with PEDs. Insinuating that an athlete has used or is using PEDs, without actual proof, borders on slander and libel. Does the absence of a phenomenon mean that the phenomenon doesn’t exist? No, but it does mean that there’s no proof that it does exist—right?
Too often, sports have become too good to be true. Lewis recovers from a torn triceps within 11 weeks. Adrian Peterson just about enjoys the finest season ever for a running back only nine months after reconstructive surgery on his knee. More specific to tennis, Roger Federer is humming along at age 31, Novak Djokovic’s belief has no other match than his stamina, and marathon matches have become routine.
Meanwhile, Bryant explains that tennis should get ahead of the performance-enhancing drugs while the sport still can. While the next star player to test positive for PEDs will be the first one, it doesn’t mean that tennis should ever relent to laissez-faire. It’s laughable that Richard Gasquet can avoid a suspension for testing positive for cocaine by saying that the drugs came from having kissed a woman in a club—we’ve all been there, Richard!
While I don’t agree that sports analysts should be able to speculate on an athlete’s use, or not, of PEDs, the general public doesn’t have the same restrictions. Anything that seems too good to be true, in the mind of the public, might be treated just as such.
A way for tennis to circumvent that is to put itself at the forefront of drug testing. This isn’t the case right now, with only 21 International Tennis Federation blood tests outside of competition in 2011. Likewise, Bryant reports that the doping program has a budget of only $2 million. This isn’t enough.
Show that you are doing everything possible to ensure that your sport is safe, and people just might believe you when you say that it is. Andy Murray seems to understand that, as he’s been asking for increased blood testing.
But like Simmons asks, what does “performance enhancer” mean anyway? Why is it okay replace a torn ligament in your shoulder but not to boost levels of testosterone? Why can Kobe Bryant go to Germany to stimulate recovery and regeneration in his knee with stem cells, but it’s illegal to replace your blood with a better one for better stamina? What makes an enhancer legal and another illegal?
But see, I don’t know the answer to any of that. It’s all speculation, really. For now, that’s all there is to it.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG