Sports and banned substances: The risk of staying in the game


A slew of new -- and old -- names have popped up on the banned substance radar, including PGA Tour and Hall of Fame veteran Vijay Singh. Will there ever be a time when we grow numb to the news?

Over ten years ago, then-New York Jet head coach Herm Edwards went off on a press conference tangent that included what would become one of the most memorable sport quotes in recent history.

"You play to win the game."

The premise seems elementary, especially at the highest levels of athletics. Throw a few hundred million dollars in the mix and any professional athlete has more than enough reasons to do everything he or she can to stay in that game. Competition constantly improves year after year, generation after generation. Records from yesteryear are broken routinely these days, surpassed by athletes who are bigger, stronger and seemingly more athletic than ever before.

More From SB Nation Golf: Vijay Singh admits to using banned substance

The same can be said for professional golf. Unfortunately, so can the idea that its players are willing to resort to banned substances to have an edge over their peers.

When the news broke yesterday that Vijay Singh was included on a list of professional athletes accused of using the banned substance IGF-1, a "natural, anabolic hormone that promotes muscle growth", I paused for a moment and simply shook my head. My immediate response was not unlike the one I had when I heard names like Ray Lewis, Alex Rodriguez and Gio Gonzalez were also included in the report: disappointment yet understanding.

That's when I realized something had finally happened for me in lieu of this latest PED story line: I had grown numb to the whole thing.

The volume of players in any sport that have been accused or admitted to using banned substances continues to grow over time. High-profile names appearing on accusatory lists become less shocking with every installment. While my natural reaction is to question why a player would knowingly use an illegal substance (especially now), the ultimate response in my mind is "Why not?"

It is evident the rewards for using a banned substance to boost athletic performance far outweighs the risk of getting caught.

There is simply no other rational explanation. Sure, we could all simply blame the player for being "stupid" or "uninformed", but that argument doesn't hold up. Even if an athlete is literally the dumbest person on the planet, the number of informed talking heads and advisors that surround that player are in the dozens. It is a conscious choice to overlook that information and roll the dice on the horse that brought the entourage to the spotlight in the first place. Until that changes, players will continue to use banned substances knowing the worst that can happen is a slap on the wrist.

Make no mistake: Vijay Singh is no dummy. Far from it, actually. He's also one of the nicest people on the planet, professional athlete or not. He also likely received the PGA Tour-issued manual on banned substances, just like every other player on the circuit.

He knew what the deer antler spray he would do for his aged, injured body. Hell, even fellow tour player Mark Calcavecchia used to endorse the product in 2011. There was no secret that IGF-1 would accelerate the healing process. Vijay wouldn't have used the stuff otherwise.

This isn't a question whether Vijay or any other athlete knew what they were doing was wrong or not. The point is that none of them cared.

What's next for Vijay? Following an investigation by the PGA Tour -- and this being his first offense -- he will likely face a ban up to one year (which won't happen) and fines up to $500,000, but not much more than that. In the grand scheme of his stellar playing career, this will be but a wrinkle in his legacy. Fans and media may crack jokes behind his back at events from now on, but Vijay will likely turn away and completely ignore the noise.

Oh, and his wrist will likely sting for a little while.

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