During the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, shot putter C.J. Hunter of the United States was excused from the competition after a positive drug test was revealed.
Born in D.C., Hunter was a standout at Penn State who had finished seventh in the shot in Atlanta during the 1996 Games. But his biggest claim to fame was he was married at the time to Marion Jones, the darling of women’s track and field who was hoping to win five gold medals in Sydney.
Is Jones also doing drugs, some wondered? No way, others howled!
Turns out, Jones wasn’t clean and she ended up forfeiting all five medals she won (not all of them gold) in Sydney.
Drug scandals have become even more prevalent in the years since Sydney and it is enough to make a cynic wonder about any significant athletic feat: clean or not clean?
A football star nearly sets a major record after returning to action less than a year removed from major surgery. A marvelous accomplishment, you’d like to think. Did he have some, uh, help, you also think.
A baseball player experiences a jump in power after being a capable but not scary hitter for a couple of seasons. That hard work is paying off, you’d like to think. Or he found another way, you also think.
The actions of a few are tainting the accomplishments of many. It’s really unfair to think that way, but it is also human nature.
Now comes the news that Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez’s name is in a report on a Miami drug clinic, a report that first appeared in the Miami New Times.
Gonzalez was one of many bright spots during the Nationals’ run to the 2012 National League East championship. Acquired from the Oakland A’s for a quartet of prospects, Gonzalez made the trade look like a steal in his first season with the Nats. He won 21 games against only eight defeats. He made the All-Star team. He finished third in the Cy Young Award voting.
He was fun to watch and quite personable as well.
And not even a home run he “powered” out of the park one night in Houston made you look at Gonzalez and wonder whether he was doing anything illegal.
The year he had for the Nats continued a steady upward progression. He won 15 games for Oakland in 2010, 16 in 2011 and then the 21 for the Nats last year. All reasonable and nothing fishy. His earned run average improved in similar fashion: from 3.23 to 3.12 to 2.89. His strikeout totals? Same thing: from 171 to 197 to 207 (and his innings pitched were almost the same for all three years).
There is absolutely nothing in there that would raise any suspicion of juicing. Nothing.
The Miami New Times report quotes Gonzalez’s father Max, who used an interesting mix of cliches to defend his son:
“My son works very, very hard, and he’s as clean as apple pie,” the elder Gonzalez said in the report. “I went to Tony [Bosch, who ran the clinic] because I needed to lose weight. A friend recommended him, and he did great work for me. But that’s it. He never met my son. Never. And if I knew he was doing these things with steroids, do you think I’d be dumb enough to go there?”
You’d hope not.
Gonzalez, first through his representatives and later on his Twitter account, issued a very strong denial:
“I’ve never used performance-enhancing drugs of any kind, and I never will. I’ve never met or spoken with Tony Bosch or used any substances provided by him. Anything said to the contrary is a lie.”
We’re going to shove the cynic off to the side and assume Gonzalez is telling the truth and hope nothing surfaces that proves otherwise. Because if it turns out what Gonzalez has done was illegally aided, there won’t be anything left that can truly be believed.