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FENNO: America’s culture of cheating rooted in endless quest for an edge

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The relentless quest for an edge surrounds us.

It looks like the nondescript office on the Dixie Highway in Coral Gables, Fla., that once housed pseudo-doctor Anthony P. Bosch and his notorious anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis of America.

It looks like the energy drinks and titanium-coated Phiten necklaces and protein shakes and Adderall prescriptions that litter major league clubhouses.

It looks like David Beckham wearing a hologram-embedded bracelet and Vijay Singh dousing himself with spray made from deer-antler velvet and Lance Armstrong's seven Tour de France titles being stripped after he gave up the years-long charade insisting he didn't dope.

It looks like the shattered reputation of Alex Rodriguez, the 38-year-old New York Yankees slugger with three Most Valuable Player awards who is facing a potential lifetime ban from MLB because of his connections to the performance-enhancing concoctions of Biogenesis.

The drug scandal from Bosch's now-closed clinic sprawls through baseball. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, who lawyered his way out of a failed PED test in 2011, already accepted a 65-game penalty. Suspensions for at least eight other players could arrive any day, in punishments second only to baseball's permanent bans of eight White Sox players for fixing the 1919 World Series.

Wipe away Bosch's Willy Wonka-like assortment of supercharged creams and lozenges and injections and the question beneath the scandal remains: What drives athletes like Rodriguez to brush off the consequences, trust their bodies and careers to a back-alley drug clinic and plunge head-first into the culture of cheating?

Commissioner Bud Selig boasts that MLB owns the toughest anti-drug policy in U.S. professional sports -- 50 games for the first failed test, 100 games for the second, a lifetime ban for the third. That's true. That hasn't prevented the commissioner from also overseeing the largest drug scandal in U.S. professional sports history.

Baseball's penalties, no matter how tough the talk, are a fraction of the World Anti-Doping Agency's two-year suspension for the first offense -- a punishment the organization hopes to up to four years by 2015. The group fronts the World Anti-Doping Code, used by over 600 organizations including the International Olympic Committee.

Braun may be sidelined without pay for the rest of the season, but seven years and $127 million remain on the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player's contract. The close call in 2011 didn't change his ways. Why should it? The life-altering reward dwarfs the deterrent's mosquito bite.

There's always a rationalization to take the pharmaceutical shortcut in the ultra-competitive world of professional sports. Prove you deserved the record-breaking contract. Return from injury or survive the pounding a body endures during the season. Hold off a younger player from replacing you. Keep up with guys on the juice. Provide an extra boost for a fringe player to grab the final roster spot. Ego. Fear. Competition.

And, truthfully, don't we love the drug-enhanced results as much as tearing down our heroes when the truth is exposed? Baseball's dope-fueled home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 jolted the game to life. Armstrong's overseas feats turned cycling neophytes into experts on the Alpe d'Huez and left U.S. and Texas flags fluttering down the 1.1 miles of the Champs Elysees during the final ride of each triumph. The drugs don't undo the thrill of the moment.

Besides, baseball enjoys a rich history of finding an edge over the 162-game marathon in places just as unusual as the Coral Gables clinic. Plots to steal signs. Corked bats. Greenies. Baseballs dripping with saliva. Various methods to scuff baseballs into submission, like Rays pitcher Joel Peralta's ejection last season against the Nationals for copious amounts of pine tar in his glove.

Or consider Adderall. Around one in 10 MLB players own an exemption to take the drug for attention-deficit disorder, according to MLB's drug testing summary from 2012. Two studies estimated the condition's rate among adults in the general population between four and 4.4 percent. Yes, that would leave MLB with a startlingly high rate of the condition. The stimulant's benefits have made Adderall a frequent culprit for four-game NFL drug suspensions in the last year. More energy. More alertness. More stamina. More productivity.

Sports, after all, mirror our quick-fix society. Adderall has been dubbed the "academic steroid" for its prevalence on college campuses. A 2010 study by the National Survey on Drug Use Health said college students between ages 18 and 22 were twice as likely to use Adderall as their non-college contemporaries.

We're a nation of pill-poppers. Forty-seven percent of U.S. adults are on at least one prescription drug, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with 2.6 billion drugs ordered after doctor's visits in 2009 alone. The National Institutes of Health put the dietary supplement industry at $25 billion per year. The same group believes 20 percent of the country has taken prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons.

We're searching for the same advantage as Rodriguez, Braun and the rest of the Biogenesis gang. Our faces just aren't smeared across tabloid covers and ESPN, while pursued by teams of MLB investigators and lawyers.

Four years ago, Rodriguez admitted doping with the Rangers from 2001 to 2003. The confession came when results leaked from MLB's 2003 survey testing. Rodriguez and 103 other players came back positive for banned substances in the first effort to see if mandatory testing was needed. None faced suspensions.

That didn't dissuade Rodriguez from the alleged needle-deep involvement with Biogenesis. Neither did a career once on an arc to the Baseball Hall of Fame and, perhaps, the all-time career home run record. Neither did signing the two largest contracts in the game's history. That wasn't enough. The possible consequences weren't, either.

He wanted more. He wanted an edge.

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