Floyd Landis. Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Just as one doping scandal begins to cool, it seems another one emerges to inflame the headlines. And it’s not just a boys’ club: the still-bubbling story of Marion Jones’s alleged steroid use has garnered the most international attention to female athletes’ doping since the controversy over the 1976 East German Olympic team.
What is happening in the sports world that drugs are becoming so ubiquitous? Is it spectators’ demand for extreme entertainment? The pressure for athletes to prove they’re worth their extravagant salaries? Or is it that—although using testosterone as a performance enhancer has been a staple of athletic prowess for some time—doping’s constant presence is only now being brought to light because of the scientific arms race between hard-to-detect new performance enhancers and clever new ways of testing for them?
As University of California Press authors John Hoberman (Testosterone Dreams) and Christopher Thompson (Tour de France) know, steroid use in sports is actually old news. Testosterone has been synthesized in labs and touted as a miracle elixir since the 1930s, and Hoberman claims that the current doping “epidemic” has actually been spreading since the 1960s.
What does the future hold? Home runs every at-bat, or a return to more wholesome sport? That depends on the fans. Thompson points out that, in 1978, when the East German scandal was still on sports fans’ minds and the Tour de France’s greatest doping drama to date was about to unfold, only 53 percent of fans said they “would cease to respect and admire a great champion convicted of doping.” One has to do only a quick scan of the public, adorned with Barry Bonds jerseys and yellow Livestrong bracelets, to guess the results of such a poll today.