So You Want To Be a Professional Athlete: Ray Lewis, PEDs, Fans, and Another Can of Worms

2013-01-29-ray-lewis-media-day-4_3_r536_c534So you thought it was going to be smooth-sailing all the way through the Super Bowl? In what is bound to be another huge can of worms in the world of professional sports, it was reported on Tuesday, January 29th, that Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens DE, used a product containing substances banned by the National Football League while recovering from his torn triceps—this was reported by Sports Illustrated.

The information regarding Ray Lewis’ apparent use of “deer antler spray,” the natural product containing IGF-1—the banned substance, came to the press when Mitch Ross, co-owner of Sports With Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS), told SI that he had been in touch with Lewis shortly after the Baltimore star tore his triceps back in October 14th of 2012. When asked about the use of the natural supplement provided by SWATS and his communication with Mr. Ross, Ray Lewis denied both when asked during Super Bowl Media Day, Tuesday, in New Orleans. The Baltimore Ravens have also released a statement in which they state their backing of Ray Lewis and his statements.

When asked about Lewis’ use of the alleged supplement, head coach John Harbaugh stated that he had never talk to Lewis about the report but that he understood Ray had passed every single test administered. Ironically enough, this story has hit the news on the very same week as we’ve come to find out that Alex Rodriguez, among many other Major League Baseball athletes, have come under suspicion of having used PEDs, according to a Miami clinic. I guess here we go again.

It isn’t my intention, as a sports writer, fan of the game, and private citizen, to sit here and give a lecture on whether athletes should or should not be taking PEDs or any other sort of drugs to keep them in the game. At the end of the day, it isn’t a fight worth fighting and I will leave for others to pursue. When an athlete chooses to use a substance that it is banned by the league they play in, shame on them. Whether illegal or not, the day you sign that contract and decide to play in that league, you are stating that you are choosing to follow the rules and regulations of that league and governing body of that specific sport—whether professional football, pro baseball, MMA, whatever. When an athlete chooses to break the rules he has stated, in a contract, that he will follow, they are shooting themselves in the foot. There’s no way around it, plain and simple.

What I will speak on, however, is on how we as fans react when this information and details come up. As fans, our levels of fanaticism vary from person to person. Some of us watch the sport very once in a while, while some of us breathe it second by second. Nevertheless, what we have to realize is that whatever our level of fanaticism is, we are partly responsible for this culture of PED use that has come to develop in professional sports. Our expectations for greatness and never-ending sensationalism that added fuel, if not ignited this belief that as athletes, if they don’t “up” their game, they will be forgotten or left behind.

It’s hard to really narrow it all down to one specific area of the modern game, whichever sport may be your drug and love, and in no way I am blaming fandom for the streak of PED use which kicked-off in the mid-1990s. No, at the end of the day the athletes themselves chose to take whatever they chose to take. But it is important, and healthy, to take a step back and introspect into how, as fans, our attitude and expectations of the game and its actors (pro athletes) add this pressure to go beyond the limits of the human body, to keep with the game or just keep up.

Are the fans responsible for Sosa, Clemens, McGuire, and others’ use of PEDs? No, we aren’t. But, did the fans expectations of glory and record-breaking add fuel to the idea of using PEDs? Likely. Very likely. If we find out that Ray Lewis did use “deer antler spray,” and that this supplement does contain NFL-banned substances, are we to blame for Ray’s decision? Not at all. However, did our expectations of Ray Lewis’ last season on the NFL and the Ravens add motivation to the fire? Quite possibly.

Like I stated above, the fans are not responsible for the choices athletes make. But professional sports and all the other elements that derive from it (ESPN, pro Twitter accounts, etc.) all come out of a supply-and-demand system. There would be no Thursday Night Football game if there weren’t millions of Americans tuning in to watch. There would be no $140 football/hockey/baseball jerseys if we weren’t buying them. Plain and simple.

So when I say it is healthy for fans to look at their fanaticism and see how we are adding fuel to the fire through expectations of the game, I sincerely believe that we are part of the equation. After all, what would football be without them highlight plays and miraculous players who beat the crap out of each other on a weekly basis? Don’t we want them to come out and do that over and over again without stop? It’s something to think about.

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