A few choice words for athletes
Clean athletes have a responsibility to not remain silent when it comes to doping in sports.
It was announced on Friday that the International Olympic Committee had stripped the gold medal from the 2000 U.S. men's 1,600-meter relay team. Antonio Pettigrew had admitted using performance-enhancing drugs before, during and after the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Pettigrew never failed a drug test.
Michael Johnson, a legend in the sport of track and field, will lose his gold medal along with other clean members of the relay.
That may sound callous. Allow me to explain why this is the best move that the IOC could have made. It comes down to a word or two. For starters, a word that sport is supposed to instill in participants. A word that participants should know is more than just a word.
Accountability is taking responsibility for your own actions. In sports, when you are a member of a team, accountability is something more. Athletes need to be accountable to their teammates. It isn’t an anti-doping agency that holds an athlete accountable. Athletes can fool the anti-doping agency. Pettigrew is another on a very long list that proves that duping the anti-doping folks is easy enough.
I have to wonder if he duped all of his teammates and coaches. Forgive me for thinking that someone knew, and kept silent. It’s just that I have been part of a team for a long time. You get to know your teammates, better than you’d like to most of the time.
Commitment is another word that takes on deeper meaning in sport. Commitment to the team is important. Commitment to clean sport is more important.
In this decision the IOC has done more to collar the cheats in sport than any anti-doping agency could hope to achieve. They sent a message to all clean athletes that doping will not be tolerated, and the people with the most to lose are the clean athletes, not the cheaters.
Cheaters only risk the truth being known. Clean athletes will have their dream ripped away from them for simply standing alongside a guilty teammate.
That’s cruel. Is it cruel enough for clean athletes to stand up and take action against dopers, teammate or not?
Let’s hope so.
It’s my hope that this action by the IOC is the catalyst that clean athletes need to turn on teammates or coaches who are haunting sports' darker corners. There isn’t any reward for outing cheats in sports, but until now there hasn’t been much consequence for remaining silent. For the most part, clean athletes have remained silent. Those that have come forward to out dirty athletes have, for the most part, been a shady clubhouse trainer/drug dealer sort, scandalized coaches, other dirty athletes, or criminals.
Unfortunately it usually comes down to a “he said, she said” situation with these types. Teammates, on the other hand, are in a position to gather evidence.
Teammates and coaches can put pressure on the dopers in a way that the anti-doping agency never will be able to. What a cheater might be able to conceal from the anti-doping agency, despite its best efforts, will be much more difficult to keep from coaches and teammates. As long as the clean athlete remains silent the cheaters only have to worry about an under-funded, under-effective anti doping agency.
Relay members Jerome Young and twins Calvin and Alvin Harrison all have failed drug tests at various points in their career.
My heart goes out to those clean members of the 1,600-meter relay team. Michael Johnson and Angelo Taylor, who lost their Olympic gold medals. But they haven’t lost their self-respect, or the respect of any decent American.
Respect. That’s a word Antonio Pettigrew and every other cheater should learn.
It’s worth more than any medal.
-- Gary Hall Jr.
Photo: Runners (from the left) Antonio Pettigrew, twin brothers Calvin and Alvin Harrison and Michael Johnson celebrate with their Olympic gold medals after winning the 1,600-meter relay at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Credit: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
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