Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sporty Anecdote

They say that sports imitates life.  Perhaps in the sense that we take all our frustrations, our hopes, our aggressions and emotions and frequently pour them out into professional and amateur sports.  We create heroes and demons to root for or against.  We fixate on the beauty and complexity of each sport’s machinations.  Strategy and tactics are like armies fighting battles in wartime, and each team like the troops of some free and democratic nation, battling for victory over a field of other free and democratic (but antagonistic?) nations.

At other times, though, the mirror into our society that high profile sports becomes does not reflect well on us.   Recently, or not so recently, Olympic track and field stars have been accused and often penalized for taking performance enhancing drugs.  Now, I know we can all get confused by this because these drugs are commonly not illegal in the real world.  But it’s felt that they give unfair advantage to people who prefer to compete with what God gave them.  And so the powers that be in the sporting world put tight reigns on what drugs athletes can use, much like our government restricts the use of drugs they deem dangerous to society.

Like in the real world with illegal drugs, sports have legal systems that try and punish athletes who abuse the regulations.  Recently, two sprinters for the United States, Tim Montgomery and Chryste Gaines, were handed two year suspensions for using prohibited substances.

      This is not a defense of Montgomery or Gaines. The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid scandal showed the dark side of a win-at-all-costs mentality adopted by seemingly upstanding athletes. Odds are good that Montgomery and Gaines were lured by a competitive advantage in a syringe.

      At issue here is the dangerous precedence set in determining their guilt.
      Lacking actual positive drug tests, USADA went after Montgomery and Gaines for what it called "non-analytical positives" -- evidence without a smoking gun. The arbitration panel found that evidence to be "strong, indeed uncontroverted."

So, the USADA was trying to set a precedent, going after two people highly suspected of taking enhancements, and showing the rest of the athletes under their umbrella what testing positive will get you.

But Montgomery and Gaines were never tested positive for anything, and testimony was largely based on the testimony of another athlete who was also suspended, but is only serving that suspension (instead of lifetime ban for two incidents) because she promised to testify against other athletes.  Does that make the case sufficient to establish guilt?

I like the Biblical precedent of the necessity of at least two people to establish witness against another person.  But the USADA’s use of a single, fairly un-credible witness is proof that they were only trying to get some shred of verification of the story they already believed was the truth.

I see this attitude in society at large.  Perhaps it hasn’t totally worked it’s way into the judicial system proper.  You will most likely get a fair trial because of the rule of law that has guided this country since it’s founding.  But people too often make judgments before evidence is presented.  Politicians pontificate on subjects that are beyond their understanding and make policy with only the thinnest of factual support for their platforms.  Or with none at all.

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