Swifter, higher, stronger with an unfair advantage

Pam Tapper

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Pamela Tapper
Contributing reporter

In 1896, Baron Pierre de Coupertin initiated the motto, Swifter, Higher, Stronger for the Olympics. In his vision of the modern Olympics, I don’t think he had performance enhancing drugs in mind.  Unfortunately some athletes have chosen to use performance enhancing drugs to become swifter, higher and stronger.

When thinking of swifter we are reminded of a local favorite, track star, Marion Jones of Thousand Oaks, who won five medals at the 2000 Olympics, but was forced to forfeit all of them after admitting to using steroids.

In thinking of stronger, we’re reminded of Mark McGwire, who recently admitted, after accepting the position of St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach, that he had used steroids during his playing career, including his 1998 run to break Roger Maris’ homerun record of 61, by hitting 70 homeruns.

We are so consumed with role models and hero worship, and the media is the catalyst that helps feed this frenzy. We have all these athletes who excel and succeed to heights far beyond the average man, and we look up to them. Particularly, during the Olympics, the media loves to take an athlete and do a background piece about the athlete and how they started and how far he/she has come. We all watch these stories and root for the athlete with the best story. It helps ratings. If by chance the athlete happens to win their event, then the hype gets even bigger. We are all caught up in such a whirlwind, we go higher and higher, only to be deflated when one of our athletic heroes falls from grace and admits to taking performance enhancing drugs. He/she wasn’t a superhero after all; just another regular athlete who chose to use an unfair advantage.

When kids are little they feel helpless. Most adults are all taller and stronger than they are. They have the power to tell little kids what to wear and when to go to bed. Young children emulate super heroes, because they are even taller and stronger than their own parents and the other adults in their life. As children get older, they tend to look at athletes as adult super heroes. When they fall from grace, and are deemed cheaters it’s very hard to accept.

Cal Ripken Jr., short stop and third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles for 17 years gets some recognition, but not as much as some of the more glamorous athletes. Ripken has an unusual record. He played 2,632 consecutive games. He had some minor injuries, but he kept playing even with his minor injuries. New York Yankees, first baseman, Lou Gehrig, held a record of 2,130 consecutive games for 56 years. Ripken broke that record on September 6, 1995 by playing his 2,131st consecutive game.  He also hit a home run in the same game. It was considered to be the “Most Memorable Moment” in Major League Baseball history.

Three years later in 1998, Ripken voluntarily ended his consecutive streak at 2,632 games at the Orioles final home game. He also retired that year. He played for the Orioles, the same team, for seventeen seasons, from May 30, 1982 to September 20, 1998 and never missed a game. Although he wasn’t glamorous, he achieved great milestones and awards.

Looking at Ripken’s record and McGwire’s record we see some interesting comparisons. Ripken’s career batting average was .276. McGwire’s was .263. Ripken’s total runs batted in were 1,695. McGwire’s RBI’s were 1,414. . Ripken was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2007. He received the third highest percentage in the history of the Hall of Fame with 98.53%. Because of McGwire’s recent admission to taking steroids, he will probably not be admitted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the sports industry and the media need to shift their emphasis from performance to consistency. Maybe we need to focus more on function than form; more on substance than style. Instead of pushing our young athletes to be the biggest and best, maybe we should encourage them to show up on time every day. It takes no steroids to show up every day on time and in shape, it only takes discipline and inner strength.