"I'M SHOCKED, SHOCKED TO FIND THAT GAMBLING IS GOING on in here!" Captain Renault complains in Casablanca, even as he palms his winnings from Rick's roulette table. So, too, sportswriters and fans around the globe spent much of the past summer wringing their hands and hearts over yet another load of professional sports' dirty laundry--expressing shock and dismay that one more crop of Herculean demigods has shown itself to have feet of clay--or mud.
After a season in which we were constantly reminded of the improbability that the great (and increasingly bulky) Barry Bonds was hitting all those homers without chemical assistance, the boys and girls of summer 2006 piled up a landfill of fresh sports scandals, muddying up everything from cycling and cricket to soccer and track. It was enough to make you homesick for the pie-eyed idealism of professional wrestling.
Before it even started, the World Cup was besmirched by reports of a match-fixing scandal among Italy's soccer teams. And by the time the dust had settled on the last game, the French team's star player, Zinedine Zidane, was headbutting like a hooligan. Then the Tour de France got off to a rocky start with revelations that several of its favored contenders were being banned for doping. American Floyd Landis looked like he was going to redeem the sport and the summer with his Cinderella-story comeback on Day 17, charging up the Alps like a house on tire. But, alas, the yellow-shirted Landis was not true blue, as two doping tests revealed in the weeks after the race. At least some of the testosterone coursing through his veins was not homemade. Within days his reputation was in shambles, his team had been disbanded, and the tour directors were talking about taking his trophy back.
Meanwhile back in the United States, sprinters Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones, who have garnered eight Olympic medals between them, both ran afoul of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency when they tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Though Jones later tested negative, Gatlin, a second-time offender, received an eight-year ban from the sport, which he hopes to appeal so he can compete in the 2008 Olympics.
Then in August the whiff of scandal put a stink on the very sport whose name is synonymous with "fair play." For the first time since the Raj introduced tea and crumpets to the region, Pakistan's cricket team forfeited a test match against Great Britain after the refs ruled that the Pakistani players had tampered with the ball, a capital offense among the ultra-civilized, white-shirted players who break for high tea. Even cricket, it seems, was being played in Mudville.
IN THE THEATER OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS A charge of cheating, doping, or hooliganism is inevitably answered by bellowing cries protesting the honor and innocence of besmirched players, coaches, and teams (regardless of the fact that such accusations usually turn out to be true).
Athletes and their attorneys, having failed to establish that the test was bogus, turn to three traditional defenses. …