Doping has been somewhat less of a hot topic lately in the cycling world, but I always find it incredibly interesting to look at the extent of the doping problem in other sports and how the media and public view it as compared to cycling. Mainly it’s because I believe that cycling gets an unfair share of the negative media attention and that there’s a perception by the general public that pro cyclists have been more doped up than other sports’ athletes. Pro baseball, here in the US, has been helping take some of the negative headline burden off of cycling’s shoulders, lately, as a result of some government inquiries, confessions and just plain old “I know steroid use when I see it” skepticism by observers as players bulked up and power hitting numbers skyrocketed since the early 90′s.
I was listening to a sports talk radio show this morning before work and heard some amazing analysis of how pro baseball has changed as a result of (finally) stronger drug testing and the government’s recent Mitchell Report that resulted from investigating the use of drugs in baseball and incriminated many high profile current and former players. While immunity has been granted for the many players named in the report, the statistics for this first season following the release of the report indicate that there has apparently been a strong reaction amongst the players that has led to a dramatic reduction in steroid and HGH usage. As the host of the program said, “when the lights were turned on in the kitchen, all the rats and cockroaches went scurrying for cover.”
The big statistic that struck home for me, was the expected total number of home runs for this season – the home run being the play most likely to be positively affected by an increase in strength. A former Major League Baseball executive, who is now an analyst, said on the program that, at the current pace and about 40 games into a 162-game season, the league will hit 1,000 fewer home runs this year than in 2006. Considering that in ’06 there was a total of 5,386 home runs, the difference is staggering – nearly a 20% drop.
Additional evidence of a change in drug use is a drop in average pitch speeds and anecdotal evidence of smaller physical stature and more frequent injuries so far this season.
So pro cycling is the only sport that was rampant with dopers? I think not.