- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

This morning in Greensboro, N.C., USA Track & Field could add the death penalty to its bylaws — that is, banning first-time American drug cheats for life from competing in track and field.

USATF’s Athletes Advisory Committee voted unanimously Friday to support a vote two days earlier by its board of directors. A vote in favor of the change at today’s closing general session will make it official.

“Our educational efforts and anti-drug messaging were not successful in preventing a handful of athletes and coaches from making bad choices,” USATF CEO Craig Masback said in opening comments Wednesday. “We must admit that and take strong action to address our shortcomings.”

Today’s likely approval would put an exclamation point on USATF’s zero-tolerance plan announced Oct.22. “On Sunday, we need your support for a slate of bylaws changes that will empower the athletes and coaches who are achieving success honestly to rid our sport of those who try to succeed via cheating,” Masback told members.

The change in bylaws is a step in the right direction. It certainly has more teeth in it than the current two-year ban, never much of a deterrent to cheating athletes. But with it will come other challenges. How many innocent athletes might be banned for life? If this system of justice is not 100 percent correct, some athletes will suffer unjustly.

As a result, the athletes will have to maintain control over their lives, including anything and everything they put in their mouths or shoot in their veins. Gone will be the days of blaming the coach for taking some pill that he said was just a vitamin tablet. Gone will be the days of divulging, after failing a drug test, that you have been taking stimulants for some ongoing medical condition.

We could see court cases, not unlike the Butch Reynolds case years ago, as athletes fight for their lives. But some athletes, coaches and medical support persons who think they are smarter than the rest of us may think again. And those caught cheating will be expunged from the sport for good.

It’s a good policy, and one the USATF is challenging the rest of the sports world to follow. America is not the only place where athletes use drugs to cheat. Every day there seems to be a disclosure that some elite track and field athlete from some country other than the United States has been busted for banned substances.

The bigger question for sports-hungry America is, when will major professional sports follow USATF’s lead and adopt a zero-tolerance policy?

High achievement — USATF gives out a trunkful of awards every year recognizing the top track and field athletes in the nation, but one award goes to the top person in track and field.

This year the Visa Humanitarian of the Year Award went to Tisha Waller. The 10-time national high jump champion and ever-gracious competitor has put her athletic status to good use.

According to her resume, Waller is a speaker for the Anti-Drug Campaign in High School Sports, a division of the Georgia Drug Enforcement Agency; a student mentor for Atlanta children with academic and social concerns; a guest reader for Wal-Mart’s “Reading on Wheels — an Approach to Literacy” program; a monthly contributor to the United Negro College Fund and Breast Cancer Awareness; a motivational speaker for local schools, Atlanta-area Girl Scout troops, and track banquets; and a volunteer with Hosea Williams Feed the Homeless, an organization providing food and clothing to those in need during the holidays.

Weather wipeout — Here we go again with the nasty weather and race cancellations/postponements. Remember last February, when almost every race was canceled because of snow and ice? Race organizers, please post updated information on your Web sites with a phone hotline for your runners to call before they fight the weather to make it to your canceled event.

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