Why Athletes Risk Everything by Taking Performance Enhancing Substances

With news of Maria Sharapova failing a drug test at the Australian Open and receiving possible sanctions from the International Anti-Doping Agency for the use of banned substances, the sports world is once again thrust into the use (and misuse) of substances with performance enhancing benefits. At risk are lucrative endorsement contracts with global brands such as Nike, Porsche, TAG Hauer, Evian, and Avon. In fact the multi-year contract with Nike is reported to be worth $70 million. The enormity and frequency of this issue in the sports industry, especially in light of the upcoming summer Olympics in Brazil, was one of the sparks that ignited my creative juices and led to the plot behind The Murder That Never Was.

Performance Enhancing Drugs
Performance Enhancing Drugs and Supplements

Doping has been a newsworthy and controversial topic for many years. Some of the athletes who have been sanctioned were, in my opinion, less guilty than others. They were taking banned substances for pain and/or health issues. For example, oxycodone, a pain medication, is banned. Beta blockers, a medication sometimes prescribed for people who suffer from frequent headaches, is banned. Tamoxifen, used in the treatment of breast cancer, is prohibited. Even alcohol and marijuana (legal in some states) is off limits. Some of those athletes, as is presumably the case with Sharapova, weren’t aware that the substances they were taking had subsequently been banned and added to the 2016 List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.

But others were. So why take the risk?

As a writer who carefully crafts the personality of my characters by understanding people in real life, I’d pondered the “why?” for quite some time. Knowing me, I’m sure my readers can guess my motivation. ARod (Alex Rodriguez), of course. With the discovery of his PED usage and the ensuing epic battle between him and Major League Baseball that dominated the sports scene, I began closely following the story. After all, you all know what a huge New York Yankees fan I am, and how religiously I keep up with the players’ careers. The Rodriguez scandal and his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs was in the limelight for months—what he did, why he did it, what punishment he received, how he handled that punishment. I dug a little deeper, and read about the astonishing number of athletes who went that route, despite the fact that it’s obvious so many of them would have succeeded without the boost offered by the drugs. But, in many cases, it started with an injury. Then,

Alex Rodriguez - New York Yankees
Alex Rodriguez

when performance lagged, the pressure of constant media attention in professional sports intensified. The daily press conferences. The questions about an athlete’s health. The quest for answers as to why they weren’t performing as well as before. Not to mention a great athlete’s craving for perfection, for success, for being even better than the best. All this was too great a temptation to refuse.

I realized this went far beyond US sports. Just watch as the drama of the upcoming summer Olympics unfolds. Medals will be contested, decisions will be overturned based on drug testing. And everyone’s eyes and their national pride, including mine, will be glued to the TV and the Internet. So, performance enhancing substances and the Sharapova incident is a hot topic in the world of sports, as it is for THE MURDER THAT NEVER WAS.

What happened is that my interest in Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees, and my fascination with understanding “why” ignited the next part of my familiar writing process: “what if”.

“What if there was a performance enhancing drug that could catapult already brilliant and talented people, both mind and body, into being the future stars and leaders of the world? What if there was a genius who could orchestrate a scientific discovery that would allow just that? What if, under the cloak of secrecy and the manipulation of innocent people, he’d work tirelessly and go to any lengths to make that happen?”

And what would happen if Forensic Instincts had to stop him and the criminal enterprise members who did his bidding before he killed everyone who stood in his way—including one of FI’s own?

The reality of what was. The question of what could be. I wound up contemplating the question of which is scarier, fiction or reality, and the answer I came up with, was both. And, ultimately, what could be more frightening than when the two come together and create their own, horrifying reality?