In recent years, it was Jose Canseco and Marion Jones and Floyd Landis, all accused and all admitted users of performance-enhancing drugs.

And baseball has been up to its neck in news about its players using or being accused of using performance-enhancing drugs for at least 10 years. That includes a congressional investigation and hearings.

More recently, the subject of performance-enhancing drugs came up again, this time during the voting for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. That was three weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, it was the Lance Armstrong TV interview and his coming clean about his blood doping and use of performance-enhancing drugs for the best part of 10 years on the professional cycling circuit.

Now, on the same day, we're bombarded with news that Baltimore Ravens' middle linebacker Ray Lewis is alleged to have used a banned substance said to be a performance-enhancing drug -- a deer antler velvet spray, whatever the heck that is -- in his attempt to speed up his return to the NFL after an injury to a torn triceps muscle.

And a half-dozen well-known baseball players -- Alex Rodriguez, baseball's highest-paid star, topped the list -- are accused in a published report of having purchased performance-enhancing drugs from a clinic in Florida between 2009 and 2012.

All of the baseball players -- Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Gio Gonzalez, Bartolo Colon, Nelson Cruz and Yasmani Grandal -- have either denied the report or have not responded to it at all.

Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star, a three-time American League MVP and a five-time home run champion, is alleged to have bought human growth hormone and other PEDs from Biogenesis of America LLC, a now-closed anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla.

But he says no, it didn't happen. However, his name is listed 16 different times in documents made available to the New Times, an alternative weekly newspaper published in Florida.

Keep in mind that in 2007, he denied on national TV having ever used performance-enhancing drugs or steroids. Then in 2009, Rodriguez did admit using PEDs from 2001 to 2003, when he played for the Texas Rangers. Which means he lied in 2007.

But he also said he's been clean since.

And now this. What to believe? What to believe?

Naturally, MLB is investigating the allegations. And if it's true, all hell is going to break loose, mostly because at least four of these guys -- Rodriguez, Cabrera, Colon and Grandal -- have either previously admitted or were caught using PEDs or elevating their testosterone levels illegally.

Cabrera, Colon and Grandal were suspended for 50 games each by MLB last year for elevated testosterone.

Lewis has denied cheating. Same for the six baseball players. Same for Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro, all of whom are Hall of Fame candidates.

For 10 years, Armstrong denied cheating, too. When he won seven consecutive Tour de France races, he claimed he was clean. He wasn't.

There are unintended consequences to all these denials for PED use or blood doping, or elevated testosterone or steroid injections.

All these lies start to add up.

And people become so desensitized to it, they stop believing it when athletes are accused of breaking the rules but say it's not true.

We want to believe them -- I believed Armstrong for 10 years, like a lamb being led to slaughter -- but now we don't believe a word they say. Our first instinct today is they're guilty, when it should be they're innocent until proved guilty.

Clemens, Sosa, Palmeiro, Armstrong, Landis and Jones -- all of them -- have ruined it for all the professional or high-amateur athletes who claim they are clean.

Now when they're accused -- Ray Lewis, for example -- my first thought is he's probably guilty. That's not fair, of course. And it's true that Lewis does carry some long-ago baggage that might taint the public perception of him in some quarters.

But the bottom line is the accused (all of them) are innocent until someone proves them guilty.

That's been done often enough -- finding them guilty, I mean.

So that ship has sailed.

And those who enter the fray now for the first time are at a disadvantage.

We want to believe them, but we can't.

Because there have been too many denials, later proved to be lies.

So now they're guilty until they manage to prove themselves innocent.

That's what the world of sports has come to these days.

Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick