Philadelphia, PA – Yes, Vijay Singh admittedly used a banned substance. Yes, the World Golf Hall of Famer should be punished. But let's be sure to keep his indiscretion in perspective.
For years now, sports fans have been mercilessly bludgeoned by the seemingly endless doping narrative. One by one, their favorite athletes have been revealed as cheats and liars, delusional sociopaths and frauds.
The result is one of fatigue. People are sick of the charade and when fresh PED stories break, the alleged perpetrators are lumped in with the rest of the rotten batch; another set of untrustworthy athletes.
Although golf has largely avoided the doping miasma, Singh's involvement in the latest scandal -- originally reported by Sports Illustrated's David Epstein and George Dohrmann -- was treated by most with the same kind of beleaguered response.
- Most major sports have drug cheats, why not golf?
- Singh allegedly altered a scorecard and was suspended by the Asian Tour in 1985. Why couldn't he be capable of another deception?
- How did he not know that IGF-1 -- a banned substance on the PGA Tour -- was in the deer-antler spray when the tour specifically issued a warning to avoid the product in 2011?
All of these are valid and expected questions by an increasingly jaded public, but they fail to acknowledge the main point of the Sports Illustrated report.
Epstein and Dohrmann's argument is not that Singh or Ray Lewis are the next swollen-headed Barry Bonds or roided-out Mark McGwires, but rather that they are part of a larger group of hyper-competitive athletes who rely on sketchy, unproven science to gain an edge.
The report paints Mitch Ross and Christopher Key, the men behind S.W.A.T.S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids), as modern-day snake oil salesman, personable hucksters with a flawed product. It also states that "deer-antler spray does contain IGF-1, though in small quantities, and deer IGF-1 may not even work in humans."
The benefits of S.W.A.T.S.'s products seem dubious at best, but Singh seems sold, telling Sports Illustrated that he uses the spray "every couple of hours ... every day" and that he's "looking forward to some change in (his) body."
The soon-to-be 50-year-old comes across more as a misguided victim of a hoax than a calculated drug cheat. He seems like the guy pumping up his Reeboks because he thinks he's going to dunk, or the kid chugging an energy drink before a baseball game because maybe it'll help him cover more ground in the outfield.
Singh's naivete is almost refreshing. The 34-time PGA Tour winner appears genuinely excited at the promise of these products. He also seems altogether unaware that deer-antler spray contains IGF-1. Why else would he be so candid with a national reporter?
In the end, though, IGF-1 is a banned substance and Singh should be punished for breaking the rules. But let's not lump him in with the Lance Armstrongs of the sporting world.
Singh was getting a boost from what may turn out to be a glorified placebo. We've all looked for that slight edge, he just happened to pay $9,000 for some snake oil.