Boxing's PEDs issue impossible to ignore

What's more tainted: the beef they serve at Erik Morales' training camp, or the sport that made Morales famous?

Whether or not you buy Morales' excuses, whether or not clenbuterol fits your definition of "performance enhancing," whether or not you believe someone should have pulled the plug on the main event of last Saturday's Showtime-televised card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn -- these are all small-picture questions.

The larger-picture view is that boxing, like almost every other sport these days, has a very real PEDs problem. You can take each individual case and find some sort of justification to sweep it under the rug. But at a certain point, the collective evidence becomes too troubling to ignore. If boxing hadn't already reached that point before Morales' "B sample" grabbing headlines, it certainly has now.

For most of the past decade, it was one name here, another name there, some testing positive, some implicated without ever testing positive. Fernando Vargas. Shane Mosley. Orlando Salido. Evander Holyfield. James Toney. Roy Jones Jr. and Richard Hall, both, after fighting each other. There would be a noteworthy incident every year or two, but it never threatened to change the way we viewed the sport.

Six months ago, if you had told me 75 percent of the boxers in the world were juicing, I'd have called you a nut-job conspiracy theorist.

Now, I can't help wondering whether 75 percent is too conservative an estimate.

Between May and October, Lamont Peterson, Andre Berto, Antonio Tarver and Morales -- all current or former major belt holders -- failed drug tests. (And if you really want to get your pink underwear in a bunch, you can lump Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. into that group as well, for spending more time with lowercase roach than uppercase Roach in training camp.)

There's no logical reason to believe that more boxers are using banned substances now than there were in the past. If anything, you'd think fewer would be using, on account of increased testing and their peers getting caught. So whatever PEDs problem boxing has now is probably a problem it has had for decades.

It's just that in 2012, for the first time, those of us who would like to pretend this problem doesn't exist have no choice but to acknowledge that it does. For all we know, boxing is no cleaner than baseball was in the "magical" summer of McGwire and Sosa, no cleaner than cycling or track and field or pro wrestling.

Boxing is not clean. Therefore, by definition, it is dirty. And that makes everything messy. For many of us as fans, that's the worst part of all of this. It's not necessarily that we demand a drug-free sport. It's that we're selfish and we want a sport in which we can appreciate the athleticism, skill, power and heart displayed by our favorite warriors without having to think about the asterisk loaded into every glove.

There are some who believe the sport is headed in the right direction, that you have to bust fighters and cancel bouts to eventually get to a better place. There are others who view all of the needles and urine containers as a waste of time because they believe all PEDs should be legal.

I don't have all the answers. In fact, I don't have any of the answers. There are no solutions out there that will satisfy everyone. The only thing uniting all boxing fans is a desire to see quality fights, and at the moment, the reality of fighters turning up with drugs in their systems is at odds with that desire. Peterson-Amir Khan II and Berto-Victor Ortiz II -- two very attractive fights -- were canceled. And every fight that doesn't get canceled takes place underneath overcast skies.

For those of us who tried hard for many years to convince ourselves that boxing didn't have a PEDs problem, this has all become, for lack of a harder-edged word, uncomfortable.

And that's without even dipping a toe in the waters of how this might affect Hall of Fame voting in the years to come. Can you imagine an International Boxing Hall of Fame without Holyfield?

Go ahead and imagine it. We live in a world where a boxer tests positive and still fights on Showtime but another boxer tests positive and can't commentate on Showtime. We live in a world where phrases like "testosterone pellets," "B sample" and "contaminated meat" are all part of the vernacular. We live in a world where some things we once believed to be true we now believe to be highly uncertain.

It was so much simpler to be a boxing fan when we could all just look the other way. But the events of 2012 have made that impossible. Especially when we all suspect that the only thing that makes 2012 different from every year that came before it is that more boxers are getting caught.