Friday, March 26, 2010

The Slippery Slope

As the rain falls in Miami, and the Sony Ericsson Open goes temporarily into a holding pattern, we turn our thoughts to harsh realities.

Wayne Odesnik, an American ranked inside the ATP's top 100 is in trouble for attempting to smuggle HGH into Australia, and we're left to wonder if this is an isolated incident - a one-off - or is it a symptom of a larger issue? Most would like to believe that this incident is a weed that can be plucked from the ground and tossed into the rubbish pile - but always there's the fear, not only of there being a problem in the sport, but also the fear of having to live through the media backlash that a scandal would inspire.

It was ugly with baseball (so many lies!), and it darn near jaded us for life. And the backlash still hasn' t stopped.

Why is it even important? you might wonder. Just because some challenger-level lefty attempted to bring eight vials of the substance into Australia (a reported total of 48 mg), do we now have to flood the media with witch hunts, slander parties, and teary-eyed congressional hearings?

Do we have to look at photoshopped versions of Nadal's biceps and try to infer their legitimacy?

Who will be next to come out? And who will be next after that? Your eight-year-old took what before his first final in what tournament?

Personally I must admit, I never wanted to write a column about drugs in tennis. I don't want to be that type-a journalist who busts into laboratories and analyzes drug samples himself. I'm not even all that upset about drugs in sports anymore, because I've seen so damn much of it. And I sure as hell am not going to stop loving tennis - or stop being mesmerized by the professional game - any time soon.

That being said, I did want to write a column about remembering how much you love tennis, and resisting the temptation to become jaded based on the actions of a very small sliver of participants of the sport.

I'm not going to lump everyone into Odesnik's tumbrel just yet. It would take too much energy and all we have here is an aberration as far as we can tell. I'm more inclined to stay glued to the action on the court. There's a boatload of brilliant tennis being played this week. I'd rather observe the progression of the draw in Miami, and then turn my attentions over to the European Clay.

Let the WADA's of the world do their thing, and let them also continue to strive to do it better and more efficiently. Let the powers that be in the sport question the status quo and work collectively to ensure a higher standard throughout the sport. And let them avoid turning a blind eye on real infractions with real implications.

And while they are doing that, I've got tennis to watch. And stories of grandeur in competition to write.

I think we can all agree that all parties involved want the sport to be clean. And I think we can all agree that if every athlete was confident that a) others weren't doing the drugs and that b) they would almost certainly get caught with the drugs if they tried to use them, then we would have a sport that was clean for all intents and purposes.

But here is my caveat on that last paragraph: Folks, it is 2010! - to imagine a professional sport without some temptation and resultant use and abuse of ped's (performing enhancing drugs) is basically ludicrous. Some element can and will attempt to exist. Wayne Odesnik and others have given proof to that. That being said, it isn't time, nor will it ever be time, to stop loving the sport, the athletes who play it at this mind-boggling level, and even the harsh realities that exist around the sport.

Rather than focusing on our anger, let's focus on creating an environment that tests players - not invasively, but effectively. Let's ensure that there are no loopholes in the system, and that everybody is treated the same. Let's look closely at testing procedures, methodology, and also rehabilitation.

If history is any indicator, Wayne Odesnik won't be the last Professional tennis player to get busted for ped's. Let's be realistic. It's a slippery slope, given the chemically endowed world that we currently inhabit.

But that's no reason to get all preachy and vindictive here. I've always thought Odesnik was a gritty player who was really fun to watch. I liked him on the clay. Just because he's in trouble doesn't mean it's time to throw him under the bus.

I wish him the best.

I'm confused by his actions.

And it's raining in Miami.

What next?


  1. What a sad state of affairs this really is. I think the ATP will have a lot of controversy around them for some time.

  2. Odesnik's situation is sad - but it might not be too bad to place the magnifying glass on the whole system just to make sure the desired effect (a clean sport) is being pursued in the proper manner.

  3. I am hoping there won't be any witch hunts. There is a continuing conversation about drugs in tennis (WADA's rules, etc.) that is not as evident in other sports. Baseball, which I still follow, tried to hide the conversation for years and still really doesn't what to talk about it. I think the informed tennis fan is aware of what steps are taken to test athletes and how stringent the rules are compared to some other sports. So I don't think there will be a panic among fans. I certainly hope that we don't go around looking at muscle size and openly or silently accuse certain players. This is happening on some blog comment sections already. I am frightened off with regard to the records in baseball but I still enjoy the game. I am very much less worried about tennis and of course love to watch the game.

  4. This might not be true, but do you think that the ball bashing from the baseline,which is part of today's game, is more of a temptation for players to use peds?

  5. I think there is always a perceived advantage as the sport becomes more physical. And I also think that the demands of the schedule would make many ailing players want to seek something that would help them rehab.

    But keep in mind, fitness is evolving - players are just very fit these days, and it doesn't mean there's funny business.

  6. I have been reading today (3-27-10) how upset the players are regarding this situation. Roddick especially had some harsh words.

  7. The player's reactions were very harsh - and I think it's good.

    Bonnie Ford's ESPN piece was thorough and mentioned that the ITF actually doesn't even test for HGH (and they hardly test blood for EPO's either). The better the testing the less heartache we will all have over this issue - Odesnik was caught by customs not by WADA or the ITF.


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