On Wednesday, baseball writers will have their say, when the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2013 class is unveiled. The nominees include first-time candidates Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, as well as previously passed over Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro — all giants of what has become known as the sport’s “steroids era,” a period in the 1990s and early 2000s when performance-enhancing drugs were so entrenched in the sport’s culture as to be commonplace.
It wasn’t until 2004 that baseball implemented a drug-testing policy for steroids and human growth hormone.
Its late-to-the-party stance has left the 600-some Hall of Fame voters to draw their own ethical lines in deciding which of baseball’s confessed, exposed or highly suspect juicers of an arguably lawless era deserves admission to Cooperstown. Their judgment will be as clear as any baseball statistic: It takes 75 percent of the vote to win Hall of Fame honors. (Washington Post writers do not participate in the voting.)
The general public’s attitudes about performance-enhancing drugs, however, are more complex.
A Washington Post poll conducted on the eve of the Hall of Fame annoucement found a deep division in opinions regarding professional athletes’ use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Just more than half (52 percent) said it bothers them; nearly as many (47 percent) said it doesn’t.
That said, more than two-thirds of American believe baseball players who used performance-enhancing drugs should not be eligible for Hall of Fame honors.
Regarding Armstrong, who has adamantly denied doping allegations throughout his career and will address the charges in a Jan. 17 televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, the poll found that by a slender margin, Americans lean toward giving him credit for his cycling achievements. A slightly smaller percentage (37) said not.
Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive, said in an e-mail exchange that sports play an important role in our society, but an increasing win-at-all cost culture carries consequences.
“We know that doping is one symptom of a bigger fight for the soul of sport,” Tygart said, adding that no athlete should be robbed of a chance to succeed fairly. “This is a fundamental fairness and equality issue for athletes.”
Richard Pound, former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said the public differentiates between what he calls “the entertainment sports” and “real sports” in its tolerance of doping.