Faceoff: Cheating athletes is a big deal

It amazes me how many sports fans, particularly those under 40, think their hardcore brethren and, especially, the media have made far too big a deal out of athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.

I don't know if these folks cheat on their taxes or cheat on their spouses or cheat at golf, or perhaps they're simply of the opinion that, hey, it's only sports, what's the big deal? After all, the saying goes, "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'."

But are we OK with cheating in other professions?

I'm guessing the same people who rationalize away the steroid use of baseball players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens or the blood doping and drug cocktails used by Lance Armstrong wouldn't feel quite so at ease about a policeman planting evidence or a doctor falsifying medical records or even a sportswriter making up quotes.

For every player who made the major leagues with help from chemistry there are hundreds who toiled in the minors or never even made it that far without cheating.

While Lance Armstrong was getting rich and famous winning his seven Tour de France titles while being chased by dozens of others using the same drug regimen, there were lots of poor cyclists at the back of the pack, riding clean, being forced to give up the sport because they couldn't compete.

All anyone should want in sports, or in life, is a level playing field. All fans of the games should want is an honest, all-out effort by athletes playing under the same rules.

And please don't make the argument that the end justifies the means. That players like Bonds and Clemens were only trying to recover faster to help their teams or please the fans. That Armstrong couldn't have raised as much money for cancer without cheating.

Hey, Richard Nixon did a great job in fostering relations with China, Bernie Madoff made a lot of people a ton of money and O.J. Simpson delighted us on the field as well as the big screen.

They still wound up pariahs. For good reason.

We shouldn't celebrate, or make excuses for, those who succeed thanks to performance-enhancing drugs, thereby legitimizing that type of conduct and ensuring there will be more of it. To do so says as much about those who ignore cheating as the cheaters themselves.