OPINION: Does CrossFit Have a Drug Problem?
The use of steroids, performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), or banned substances is nothing new in the professional world of sports. Pro athletes who “pop hot” usually take one of two routes in handling a positive test and subsequent ban and/or fine. They either:
- Immediately come clean, apologize and serve their sentence, or
- Plead innocence – that the result was due to something they’d ingested unknowingly, and are thus appealing.
Bans are rarely overturned, and after a positive test, the damage is usually done: if you test positive, it stays on your permanent record, staining your reputation in the sport forever. Positive test results are usually treated as isolated incidents as it’s common to see drug suspensions in any one of the four major American sports (the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB) on a regular, recurring basis. The problem with steroids in professional sports is there is a line between isolated incidents and a systemic issue that needs addressing, and it seems CrossFit has stepped up to the doorstep of having to face a legitimate drug problem.
Major League Baseball’s steroid debacle hit a fever pitch in December of 2007, when now former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell issued an incredibly damaging report commissioned by the league itself that implicated more than 80 players for using PEDs, which included more than 30 All-Stars and seven MVPs. Some of the players admitted to using banned substances, some stood firm, and the game got a permanent stain cast upon it.
Barry Bonds, who still holds the record for most home runs in a season with 73, is largely seen as having an asterisk over his career due to the mountainous evidence pointing to him “juicing” during his playing days. Bonds has never fully admitted to using steroids, however the court of public opinion has already cast its vote, and it’s not in his favor.
The Tour de France was once seen as a fringe sport able to cross international media lines, largely on the back of its biggest star, American Lance Armstrong – once hailed as a hero for recovering from cancer to capture the yellow jersey seven consecutive years in a row from 1999 to 2005. He has since had his image completely tarnished and those trophies have been stripped from his case. Armstrong ultimately admitted to using banned substances to aid in cycling in a much publicized interview with Oprah Winfrey, but it’s safe to say that the Tour de France is a shadow of the event it used to be and it never recovered from the whole debacle.
Olympic Weightlifting has been plagued by steroid use for years, even decades, to the point that the sport’s reputation has been permanently damaged. Track and field has had its fair share of run-ins with athletes testing positive, and doping is an issue the International Olympic Committee deals with every two years when the Winter or Summer Games come around.
The public line of acceptance for steroid use in sports stands firmly along the edge of isolated incidents, and large scale patterns of behavior. If a league sees a cluster of positive tests, something is wrong, action is needed, and the overall reputation of the sport needs to be cleaned up with a thorough investigation into what went wrong and how everyone should go about fixing it. Baseball recovered from its doping scandal, largely because the league did some deep soul searching and lifted enough rocks to expose what was becoming an incredibly seedy underbelly.
If a sporting league sees a cluster of positive drug tests, something is wrong. Action is needed.
Which brings us to the sport of CrossFit, and the unprecedented news that – as of publication of this article, 14 athletes (four individual men and ten team athletes) have tested positive for banned substances related to a 2022 CrossFit Semifinal. Of course, not all of these have been made official by CrossFit yet, and most athletes are now beating the company to its punch by taking to Instagram to try and control the messaging, but it does not detract from the fact that the sport is currently in a tailspin.
In previous years it was not uncommon to see isolated incidents of athletes testing positive in CrossFit, and it did little to besmirch the reputation of the sport, however we have now entered new territory. CrossFit has crossed an uncharted line, and it’s clear there are major issues with the athletes, the company, testing at sanctioned events, and something needs to be said, and then something needs to be done. Noting which athletes have tested positive and then linking to your 14-page Drug Testing Program does not suffice, as the community wants real leadership from headquarters, not canned statements and benign releases.
CrossFit now finds itself at the precipice of a potentially new and damaging era: one where positive drug tests become its biggest driver of news. This is exactly the opposite of the kind of media the sport needs right now as it looks to go from fringe sport to at least getting mentioned in the mainstream sporting news realm. Mat Fraser’s recent interview in USA Today, in which the major American newspaper – known for only covering traditional sports with any real veracity – was a great feather in the cap for CrossFit when it comes to getting big name media recognition.
The community wants real leadership from CrossFit Headquarters, not canned statements and benign releases.
But now the company, the sport, and its elite athletes are squarely in a legitimate crisis, and damage control mode needs to be priority number one. CrossFit must nip this problem in the butt, get out in front of it, and get its athletes in line as it seems a lot of them aren’t adequately educated about what they can and can’t put into their bodies, and how they go about monitoring said issue.
CrossFit can go one of two ways from here, restoring its reputation, or burning this house down and setting the sport back years during a crucial post-pandemic phase when it should be looking to spread its wings and take its game to the next level. Where the company goes from here and how it handles this mess could determine the sport’s future, and give us all the answer to a very important question in 2022: does CrossFit have a drug problem?