When It Comes to PEDs, Why Not Assume All Athletes Are Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Last week JP Pelosi described the toll PED use is taking on the fans. Neil Cohen offers a somewhat radical solution.

It seems like almost every day we hear about another athlete and doping allegations. Of course there’s Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriquez, Ryan Braun and Ray Lewis. But there’s also Gio Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, Francisco Cervelli and Hedo Turkoglu of the NBA’s Orlando Magic — just the 8th player ever to be suspended for steroids in the NBA (seriously, talk about a scandal waiting to happen).

GMP writers such as JP Pelosi and journalists like Bill Simmons of Grantland have been writing passionate essays about performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and the resulting damage caused by players who use them—damage that’s effectively killing the games they love. As Simmons points out, we’re now forced to question whether Adrian Peterson can return to the NFL less than nine months after major knee surgery AND almost run for the most yards ever in a single season. Is Peterson a freak of nature or did he have help?

Simmons argues that we need the same rigorous testing in all sports. It’s time, for example, to get rid of the NBA program that only tests players four times during the year. So, if your fourth test comes in March, congratulations, you can put whatever you want into your body through the stretch drive and playoffs. While Simmons is on the right track, assuming we all want our sports to be played by non-chemically enhanced players, I have a different idea.


In 1984, Bob Goldman published a study of elite athletes and PEDs. Now known as the Goldman Dilemma, he found that a whopping 52% of study participants would take a drug that would kill them in five years, if it guaranteed them an Olympic gold medal.

Holy crap!! Remember, we’re talking here about Olympians, all but a few of whom will likely never make even remotely close to the multi-millions available to baseball players, for example. Goldman replicated these results for 15 years.

For the record, a team of Australian researchers offered the same Faustian bargain to “regular” non-athletes and only 2 of 250 people surveyed said they would make the trade. Clearly, professional athletes look at the world differently. I propose we start treating them as such.


Our criminal justice system was founded on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. The “I never failed a test” defense is often held up as an athlete’s proof that he hasn’t used PEDs. Talking to you Lance and Ray.

AP Photo

But today’s elite athletes don’t deserve the presumption of innocence anymore. They used up all of their credibility—we don’t believe them and it takes up too much time and energy to figure out who’s clean and who’s not only to have our hearts broken again and again.

Therefore, I’m proposing to overhaul all major sports drug-testing programs. We need a new paradigm (yes, I finally used that word in a story), a new way of looking at things. The athletes have forced our hands and we need to move to a guilty until proven innocent system. It’s the new American way, right?

Here’s how it would work (I’m going to use baseball as the example but my system can be applied across all sports):

1. All professional athletes are assumed to be taking some amount of illegal PEDs.

2. Players can choose to be tested to prove they are clean. A player can choose not to be tested but they automatically go into the “PED user” group even if they aren’t actually cheating.

3.  There will be levels of cleanliness for players including:

a) Marginally clean: player submits to random urine tests

b) Moderately clean: player submits to random urine and blood tests

c) Most likely clean: player has all tests in (b) plus allows review of all doctor’s reports, bank, phone and electronic records for suspicious activity

d) Absolutely clean: player submits to all in (c) plus allows review of all bank, phone and electronic records for up to three people in their “posse” (A-Rod’s cousin, Gio Gonzalez’s dad, Clemens’ wife) with MLB allowed to choose at least one of these three people.

I recognize that privacy advocates will go crazy over this, but too bad. Professional athletes gave up their right to privacy by collectively abusing the system and frankly, if you tweet a photo of your eggs benedict, your privacy clearly isn’t much of a concern to you.


At this point, if you’re still with me, you might be asking why someone wouldn’t continue to cheat. And here’s the true meat of my proposal, because unless you’re clean, you’ll forfeit significant money and recognition, which is what, in addition to winning, drives many players.

Again, here’s how it would work using baseball as the example:

We start with the salary of the top “absolutely clean” player at any one position. From there, each level of cleanliness provides a max contract level for other players. For example, a “most likely” clean player can only earn a max of 85% of an absolutely clean player at the same position and there on down the line. Players in the PED user group are only able to earn a max contract of 25% of the absolutely clean player. If Derek Jeter rates as absolutely clean and makes $10 million per year, a PED-using shortstop will max out at $2.5 million per year.

Additionally, all players in the “PED user” group would automatically become ineligible for awards (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year), post-season salary share and All-Star games. They would also likely reduce their opportunity for corporate sponsorships.

And the kicker, they can play in the post season, but they cannot receive a ring if their team wins.

Now, I’m not delusional. There is less than a zero percent chance that my proposal would ever even be considered.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work.

AP Photo

About Neil Cohen

Neil Cohen lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and toddler son. A former corporate PR guy, he’s now enjoying his new gig as a stay-at-home dad. He writes about parenting, current events and sports at his blog Man on Third. You can follow him at @manonthirdblog.


  1. brindafella says:

    You mentioned Australia, but you did not mention the current Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) investigations into drug use among various sports, notably the four major ball-sports (Australian Football, Rugby, Rugby League, and Football [soccer]) but also touching various other sports (e.g. swimming, despite having a highly rigorous drug testing schedule that goes considerably further than any ball-game testing. see http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-13/amateurs-want-answers-for-drug-testing-disparity/4517400)

    Please note that baseball is a ‘minor sport’ in Australia, although there is a professional six-team Australian Baseball League that only a week ago crowned its winner, the Canberra Cavalry, winners of the Claxton Shield. http://web.theabl.com.au/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130212&content_id=41553856&vkey=news_t4066&fext=.jsp&sid=t4066

  2. Neil-
    I really like your writing at GMP. However, this article, like so many others about PEDs, falls into the same traps:
    1. It makes it seem as if baseball players are using more than other pro sports. As PEDs #1 benefit is RECOVERY from exertion, it would make sense that football, basketball, hockey, soccer players would all use at much higher percentates than baseball- especially that those sports don’t have testing anywhere near as good as MLBs. (The NBA’s is a complete joke, and the NFL is purposefully dragging its feet on HGH testing bc they’d suspend 80% of the league if they tested tomorrow)
    2. Cheaters will always cheat. There is no perfect machine to catch them. By all means, make testing and consequences clearer and stronger; make it harder for folks to cheat and get away with it, but there is no way to reduce to 0, because…
    3. Sports were always awash in cheating- players in Ruth’s day were shot up with horse hormones. Aaron was an amphetimine freak. Lyle Alzado, anyone? The only things that have changed are our outrage and our ability to find things out (but especially the OUTRAGE)
    4. If we spent the time and outrage on PED in sports on, say financial fraud, we’d really be onto something. the outrage is just not proportionate with the place of sports as the toy department of society.

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