Credit Florida Gators quarterback Will Grier for standing before the media and accepting blame for his NCAA one-year suspension.
He said he was sorry he tested positive for a performance enhancing drug. He explained he was unaware the drug was contained in an over-the-counter supplement. He added he failed to consult the Florida medical and training staff.
Credit him for his contrition, but athletes have been using variations of that tired excuse since the dawn of testing.
I used to give athletes the benefit of the doubt. That is, until I covered the 2000 USA Wrestling National Championships in Las Vegas that was a qualifier for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. I was writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune about Quincey Clark and Stephen Neal – the latter better known as a three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots – and their quest to make the Olympic team.
Consider the caution I observed from Clark before he ingested an unknown product the next time you hear an athlete plead he or she was “shocked, shocked” in the time-honored mimic of Claude Rains’ character in the greatest move of all-time, “Casablanca.”
Clark and I were in the Las Vegas press room during a break in the competition. We discussed his upcoming matches that would go a long way toward earning the Olympic berth that he later claimed. As we talked, Clark spotted a barrel of iced-down Red Bull that was freely available. Red Bull wasn’t as widely known then as the billion-dollar product it is now.
He fished a can out of the ice, studied the label and rolled it in his hand to the side that listed the contents. Clark paused for a lengthy moment, reading every ingredient. He was wary.
Confident he had read enough that the drink contained nothing banned, Clark took a sip. Then he thought better and put down the can without finishing it. The risk of drinking a product unknown to him wasn’t worth the spoiling his Olympics dream.
Do you think he had a monopoly on such wisdom among athletes?
Clark competed in a sport with little financial reward and coverage limited to blurbs rather than headlines. Yet he was more wary than highly publicized and scrutinized athletes ranging from Barry Bonds to Will Grier.
The line of such athletes using that excuse would stretch from San Francisco to Gainesville. But this is not to single out Grier. San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates used the same excuse to explain his four-game suspension that ended Monday night when he returned to the lineup to catch two touchdown passes.
Athletes turn to performance-enhancing drugs once they’ve climbed to a ceiling of competing against athletes they can’t beat with talent and skill. It’s the same for younger athletes trying to earn a spot and older athletes trying to hang on. They can’t accept defeat. They rationalize that others are cheating and making millions.
To paraphrase the irascible basketball coach Bobby Knight, most of us play sports until a certain age and then we find our peak and go on and do other things.
Sadly, in a field that touts building character, there will always be athletes willing to cheat to keep playing and risk our trust in them.