Last week news broke that American Tyson Gay and Jamaican Asafa Powell tested positive for “banned substances”. Articles like this from Philip Hersh in the Chicago Tribune declared that doping was “killing track and field”. I thoroughly enjoy most of Hersh’s work that discusses Track and Field but disagree that positive tests for doping are hurting the “legitimacy” of the sport. Although other writers echoed similar sentiments, I chose Hersh as an example since the running website Letsrun.com often links his articles on their front page.
Doping is only one of a myriad of issues facing the sport right now but that will be addressed later. As we are in the latter stages of the Tour de France, and the most well-renown cheat in the history of cycling comes from the United States, one has to ask whether doping has adversely affected the popularity of cycling. Judging by the maniacs running alongside the bikers and the huge fanfare along the roads, I would venture out and say that it has not hampered the sport significantly.
Look at baseball which “suffered” from the steroid era. Is attendance at games down because people think that the players might be cheating? Doubtful. Until the past year or so I could never understand why people go to baseball games on Sunday afternoons when it is boiling hot outside to sit around for a few hours. The answer is deceivingly simple: to drink beer with friends. I’m sure I am about to infuriate baseball fans but it is honestly one of the more boring sports to sit down and watch unless you are at the game. I’ve even dragged myself to the Birmingham minor league baseball team’s games on Thursdays at the prospect of cheap beer. My observations during those games? Nobody is watching. They are too engrossed in chatting with friends to pay attention. I am not saying that this holds true for everyone in attendance at baseball games but merely that the steroid era did not affect why people continue to still love the sport. It brings an entertainment value and makes you want to spend your money to go.
Track, however, suffers from the double hit of the best athletes taking drugs and struggling to bring entertainment to the casual fan who may have never heard of Tyson Gay. Due to the marketing machine he is, almost everyone has heard of Usain Bolt. I’ve been involved in Track for over a decade now and most of my family have no idea who Tyson Gay is. That’s partially my fault for not educating them but it’s also that Track struggles mightily to bring attention to normal Americans. That it ever will is unlikely due to the competition with the other major sports. Even then, any sort of recognition must be better than the headline of “Another American T/F athlete busted for doping”. If we cannot, then Track and Field will go the opposite way of the Tour and MLB and permanently lose its credibility.
By Austin Duckworth