Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 4:45 AM

A plea for Landis, Gatlin, et al: Legalize drugs…especially in sports!

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

I wholly endorse the libertarian view that adults should be allowed to use any recreational drug they desire without fear of prosecution – so long as that use does not harm innocent third parties. And I have no patience for trite and inherently flawed moral arguments to the contrary, unless proffered by a bona fide puritan who would also criminalize alcohol, cigarettes, pre-marital sex, etc….

(Incidentally, if, as most reasonable people agree, America’s war on terror is a colossal waste of precious national resources – at almost $400 billion and counting plus 2,582 dead…and counting; then, by comparison, America’s war on drugs constitutes an obscene waste – at amounts ranging from $7-10 trillion since President Nixon declared it in 1971 and counting plus 50% of the 1 million prison population…and growing. And, just as terrorism only seems to increase the more America spends on fighting it, so too the use of illegal drugs only seems to increase in direct proportion to the amount of resources committed to fighting it.)

It follows therefore that I believe policing drugs in professional sports is not only Orwellian but also utterly futile. After all, as I argued here, here and here – regarding the national angst over the use of steroids in Baseball – there’s no denying that athletes have always done or taken, and will always do or take, anything to gain a competitive advantage. And, if what they do or take in this respect poses no harm to anyone except themselves, then who cares!

Clearly, such an enlightened attitude towards performance-enhancing drugs would have precluded the “scandals” that now threaten the professional careers of Tour de France Champion Floyd Landis and Olympic (100 m) Champion Justin Gatlin; to say nothing of sparing them international ridicule as pathetic liars and cheaters.

Unfortunately, I am now obliged to acknowledge that my gloating over Landis’s improbable victory was, in fact, unwarranted. Because the New York Times reported on Tuesday that – despite his specious claim of producing high levels of testosterone naturally – a damning level of synthetic testosterone was found in his sample. Case closed!

Meanwhile, where Landis’s excuse was at least sublime, Gatlin’s was simply ridiculous. Because on Saturday, in responding to reports that he had tested positive, Gatlin claimed that a vindictive masseur must have rubbed a steroid cream into his thighs during one of his massage sessions. Alas, his shame is not so much in taking steroids as it is in offering such a lame excuse for doing so.

At any rate, if their positive tests are upheld after pro forma appeals, Landis faces a humiliating 2-year suspension and being stripped of his title and Gatlin faces a career-ending lifetime ban and being stripped of the world record he co-holds with Asafa Powell of Jamaica (but, significantly enough, not the gold, silver and bronze medals he won at the 2004 Athens Olympics).

Of course, Big-Brother authorities in cycling and track and field will pat themselves on the back for catching these big fish in their respective sports. Never mind that it is patently clear that banning these dopers will do no more to deter drug use in sports than banning Olympic Champion Ben Johnson in 1988 did….

NOTE: Although Lance Armstrong never tested positive, practically every Frenchman believes the 7-time Tour de France Champion is nothing more than a cycling dope fiend. But similar clouds of suspicion hang over superstars in every sport these days – from those in Baseball to Swimming. And, the only way to bring integrity to sports is to repeal the moral prohibition against drug use and allow athletes to do or take whatever they deem is necessary to be successful.

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