The new hell of Antonio Pettigrew

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Approximately two weeks ago, Antonio Pettigrew changed his life forever. He admitted to a grand jury that he had taken EPO and human growth hormone from 1997 to 2003. During that time, he told the grand jury, that he was able to run closer to 43 seconds, his goal. These answers were given as Mr. Pettigrew was on the stand due to the fact, that among other things, Mr. Trevor Graham was his coach for those same six years.

Someone once told me that one creates their heaven or hell on earth, well, Mr. Pettigrew is in for some new experiences....

“It takes courage to accept full responsibility for such egregious conduct, and hopefully, Mr. Pettigrew’s case will serve as another powerful reminder to young athletes of the importance of competing clean,” said Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which handled Pettigrew’s case. That was the quote Mr. Tygart gave the Eugene Register-Guard a few days ago.

I do agree that Mr. Pettigrew did show enormous courage. He has admitted to breaking the most sacrosanct laws of sports, not to cheat, while other professional athletes, such as certain baseball players, are lying in front of not only grand juries, but senate committees! But, as some have said, when certain baseball players cheat on their wives for ten years, what is lying in front of a senate sub committee?

I feel espcially let down by Mr. Pettigrew. I have written about the guy for years. I have used him as an example of a guy who trained well, who took his sport seriously, and with a bit of luck, ran as a world class 400 meter runner for over a decade. Well, it seems that, at least for the last four years, Mr. Pettigrew was running with the help of some chemical enhancements. I remember meeting him in 1989 while he was in college and admiring his tenacity. He was featured on one of my favorite covers in American Track & Field, Winter 1999, I believe.

Better sports through chemistry? Chemistry has been part of the sports world for thousands of years. Remember, the ancient Olympics were cancelled for over 1700 years due to the massive cheating that became part of the Olympic sports festivals. If you do not believe that both caffeine and nicotine are drugs, just stand outside a Starbucks and watch the addicts (my preference is a Iced Caffe americano) go in, one after the other.

In the real world, Mr. Pettigrew's cold corner of hell started the day he bought into Mr. Graham's alleged suggestion to take EPO and human growth hormone. Consider that Mr. Graham has nearly a dozen athletes who have either tested positive, been banned or in process of being banned. It was Mr. Pettigrew's decision, he took EPO, he took HGH. He did it for six years. He put sports in a place where any action justified the result.

In return for his honesty, Mr. Pettigrew is giving up his medals from 1997, 1999, 2000 and others I believe. It is ironic that his 2000 medal was hard won, not only on the track, but off the track. First, Jerome Young, who tested positive in 1999, lost his medal, but due to the findings of the sports arbitration board, Pettigrew was allowed, along with the other athletes to keep their medals. Now, Pettigrew and Michael Johnson have given their gold medals back. The Harrison twins, who also tested positive and were coached by Mr. Graham, have not given their medals back.

My problem with Mr. Graham is that, as a world renowned coach, and Trevor is a world renowned coach, he took advantage of his position. Giving athletes great workouts and telling them they will be better if they use two to eight different chemicals to enhance their workouts. Our society has determined that it is wrong. But, when your coach tells you that this is what you need to succeed, the tempation is huge. These athletes were special. They were part of the chosen ones. Because, first of all, you need money to successfully cheat, you need someone to get you the drugs, you need someone to make the drugs and someone to encourage athletes to go to Graham. There is alot of guilt to go around. And there is not only one coach in the sport suggesting drug use for improvement to athletes. Cheating is thought to be an epidemic at elite levels-while I do not believe this is true, I do believe that even the suggestion of a top performance today is colored by the possibility of drug cheating.

Mr. Pettigrew is a track coach. He is probably a fine track coach, but now, that he has admitted his misdeeds, his every move will be scrutinized. But, the thought of him loosing his ability to make a living makes no sense. Mr. Pettigrew's career will have several asterisks after his 1997 races until the finish. It will not his drug admission and his career will become part of a modern ethics play.

In American society, most of us understand that, if one takes responsibility for his or her actions, and takes their licks for their misdeeds, they will be given another chance. This does not mean that the former felon is not watched and perhaps over watched, but they are given a chance.

I believe that Mr. Pettigrew should be put on probation and be made to speak to his team and admit his wrong doings. He should also be asked to speak to other teams about his issues with drugs and allow the kids to speak to him. How did he hide it? How did he live with it? Perhaps, thru a situation or series of situations like that, Mr. Pettigrew will see the mistakes he made and he can learn from his errors. And perhaps his athletes will learn from him that cheating has consequences. Mr. Pettigrew is the poster boy for drug cheating now.

But Mr. Pettigrew will have many a dark day ahead of him. He will be blamed for everything but global warming. He will be ignored by friends, chastised, criticized by people doing the same thing he was convicted for, and he will receive the sports equivalent of the Amish custom of shunning. It will not be a pretty time for the next several years.

This process of cleansing our sport is long in coming. USATF getting out of testing must be applauded. The WADA and USADA folks, while well meaning, need to make sure that their tests are tight, that they test during the right times of the year and that they focus on the elite of elite, testing them incessantly to show that the sport and the top athletes are clean.

Antonio Pettigrew made a huge error. He made the decision and he is now reaping the results of those actions. He has showed some class by not lying, which he could have done. He will pay the price and will deal with people pointing fingers. If he and others learn from this, that will be a benefit of the situation.

There will be others, unfortunately. But, for our sport to survive, for our sport to recover and grow, our sport must be cleaned up. And it must happen now, we have no more time....

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