The blog began to help YOU. Today, we are going on a small tangent, to help US. Unless you’ve been vacationing on a deserted island, you’ve likely heard news that’s gotten more coverage than the debates: Lance cheated. DOPESTRONG is born. Unless you believe in the tooth fairy, you likely didn’t get any news you weren’t expecting. In fact, who really cares. These are AMAZING atheltes, who train VERY hard. And the drugs they took allowed them to go “X”% faster. So what? I think its safe to say that the entire peleton was doping as well. The playing field was essentially level. You still got to see a good race. The race you were hoping for. In fact, while we are at it, let’s go ahead and encourage the use of performance enhancing drugs. In the spirit of competition, let’s ensure everyone has access to anything and everything they need to succeed at all costs. Who cares if some of them die along the way due to side effects, as long as we all see a good show. In fact, maybe it would make things more fair if we just had the all drug olympics. (so worth watching this!)
Let’s take a step back. its not fair for anyone to point fingers at Lance until we have a little chat. Lance didn’t cheat by himself, neither did the other cyclists who recently came forward as part of the USADA investigation. Neither did all the other cyclists, runners, baseball players, football players, swimmers, etc who have gotten busted for banned substances. They had motivation, and help to stay on their chosen path: cheating.
My cousin, and former elite cyclist, wrote an excellent perspective on this: “Lance is rich, but Phil Knight is richer.” Let’s be clear here. We’ve created a society where you are rewarded for all the hard work you’ve put in to stand atop the podium, knock one out of the park, or place a superbowl ring around your finger. This desire for excellence is exactly what makes sport, well, sport. There are vast lessons to be learned by committing yourself to achieve excellence on ANY level – whether it be your first marathon or your first international podium. In fact, I don think there is any more noble calling than to push your body as far as you can. I trained and competed for years, and dedicated my career towards helping others acheive their personal best in their athletic pursuits.
We also live in a society where people want money. We don’t get paid for showing up, we get paid when we win. Most professional endurance sport athletes make far less then you think – perhaps 20-30K a year. Pro women typically make much less. But if they get a big break, they might get a huge bonus to pay for travel to races, pull themselves out of debt, buy a new car, or send money back to provide a home for their family. When you stare at the podium or your bank account, you know that there is one specific decision you have the power to make that will improve both: cheating.
And you’ll have support, and even praise for this decision. Your sponsors will be singing your praises as you help market their products with the best form of marketing known to man: winning. They’ll shower you with money. You’ll be on magazine covers. You’ll be the focus of a parade. You’ll be on Letterman. No sponsors are going to stop you here. You are the showpiece.
And you may think that its limited to the sponsors. Sorry. Its deeper than that. Look at the statement by USADA and you’ll see there are some issues that intimately link USA Cycling into the doping ring. And cycling isn’t alone. At our annual Running Medicine Conference, we had the USADA come in and give us a talk on testing and screening of athletes. In their presentation 5 years ago, USADA described a situation where USA Track and Field submitted 12 samples to the USADA for testing. When 10 out of 12 samples came back positive, USADA asked for the names of those positive samples. Apparently, the tubes got “mis-marked” and the names were never revealed. Let’s look at this this way. When you have the sport’s national governing body, coaches, and the athletes all wrapped up in the same decision to win-at-all-costs, its clear that doping became the norm, not the exception.
So when you say to yourself “how can all this be happening?” Remember that we are all part of the problem. We need to establish limits. Where does an aid become illegal. Is it when its injected? Obviously taking substances that have been identified as “performance enhancing” and on the banned substance list is illegal. Its “unfair” that this sector of athletes has access to these substances. But let’s make the call here. What else is unfair? The benefits of altitutde training programs are undisputed. Is it unfair that one rider can afford to “live high and train low” while his arch rival is living at sea level and holding down a full time job? Some of you may think that this is an odd comparison, that altitude doesn’t play a role in many athletes training. Well, look at it this way – almost everyone reading this likely knows an athlete who has an altitude tent. That costs money. Is it fair that some athletes have money to help buy a tent to help their training while others don’t? How far can we allow things to go before the playing field is level? In my article, an Upgrade for our Bodies, I talk about the future role of technology in performance. Gene manipulation anyone? Performance enhancing surgeries? We are going to have to make a clear distinction between using technology for good vs. using technology for evil.
And we are going to have to have some type of collective pledge to bind our athletes to the “right thing” and focus our efforts. Back in my sports psych class in college, I remember discussing a paper study. They asked athletes if they would take the option to guarantee them a gold medal at the Olympics, even if it meant that they would die within 4 years. A huge percentage said they’d take it. And before you say athletes in these studies were insane to go to such lengths, I’d look within. Because there is a time in everyone’s life when you have to ask: “what’s it going to take to be the best I can be?” And if you’ve never asked yourself a question as serious as this, then its pretty tough to be able to relate to the situation that these dopers have to face. But if you’ve trained in a hyper-competitive environment, you’ve likely had to make some serious decisions. As have your competitors, and as will your kids.
I’m not condoning the actions of dopers. Its just plain unfair to decide that you are above the law, and take matters of competition into your own hands. But I’m not pissed at Lance either. Well, that’s not entirely true. I feel horrible for the cancer survivors who have had a sham pulled over them. They are facing issues much more severe, than sport – like life and death. Everyone deserves a hero, but when death is staring you in the face, I think you deserve the truth. When my kids look up to their future role model, they deserve the truth. And when you step up to line, toe to toe as an athlete on race day, you deserve the truth. I hope that sports in general take time to come clean, and we take serious consideration on what we’ll allow, and establish new limits. Its going to take a massive crumbling down of the old ways to fix where sport has gone. Look around you – its happening before your eyes. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Citius, Altius, Fortius = Faster, higher, stronger. The Olympic creed. The most noble of creeds to achieve excellence for you and for your country. Let’s make sure that “we” keep noble in this creed.
In my opinion, the part that we ALL play in this is paying attention. Sponsors reward athletes for cheating — we reward sponsors by paying attention to the games and making their advertising dollars meaningful. My solution? I opt out. I ignore the whole three-ring circus. I do not watch TV, I do not pay attention to the Olympics, I do not lend any credibility to pro sports. Beyond myself, my small group of friends, and my community, it does not exist. Sports is about my experience in it, not others. I will not help make sports a business.
This extends to things like football and so forth, too. “Going on strike” and telling others about it is an option that is available to all of us. For me, I never honestly cared about spectator sports, so it’s an easy option for me; others get a lot of enjoyment out of watching sports, but I wager if they considered their complicity in rewarding the cheaters, they could come up with some creative ways to enjoy their life and the sports they’re interested in, while boycotting the professional aspects of it.
Great article Jay! My experience is a lot like Baron’s – I’ve ditched cable TV and largely given up on pro sports. First my beloved Hartford Whalers crushed me by leaving town when I was a kid, then I find out that the Red Sox won a couple of World Series with a bunch of juiced sluggers on their roster. I do still enjoy watching the Olympics, but can’t help but wonder how many athletes at that level aren’t cheating in some way. I understand why it’s done, just wish it didn’t have to be this way.
Yup – we don’t even have bunny ears at our house!
I do try to keep up a bit with the results, but I think the main message is this: do sport because you love it, and you love WHO it makes you. The second an athlete loses sight of this, all the temptations begin to creep in.