Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why Do We Hate Athletes Who Cheat?

Armstrong gives Jan Ullrich "The Look" as he passed him on the final climb of L'Alpe d'Huez after feigning fatigue (2001 Tour de France)

Lance Armstrong may be one of the few "guilty as sin" athletes not to be totally rejected by his fan base. In baseball, people like Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemons, to name only a few, lost a lot of their fans and likely any chance at being elected to the Hall of Fame because of performance enhancing drugs (PED).

Interestingly, this is less true in the NFL, where I have little doubt that the athletes are at least using testosterone injections. The "random" test is on the day of or day after the game, so you piss in a cup and go get your shot. Testosterone levels will be back to normal by the next week's game, and you will have healed quicker and better than you could have without the drug.

We seem to get - consciously or not - that modern professional football might be a sport that demands drug use. On the other hand, it's a sport set up to facilitate PEDs, and when someone does get caught, it is generally not a top-tier player.

So why do we get bent out of shape about athletes using PEDs? Why does it warrant hearings in Congress (which is a complete and total farce and waste of tax dollars)? Why will Barry Bonds, who was probably the best hitter the game has seen and holder of the career home run record, never make it into the hall of fame?

Here is one possibility:
Athletes must work "near the edges of endurance and the outer fringes of metabolic stability. Conditioning and diet allow the athlete to engage at the highest levels of human body performance, incredibly close to the breakdown points of cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive systems. With the body close to its limits, the pressures, and the years of effort and expense for training all on the line, it is no wonder that some of our heroes suppress these intense feelings by succumbing to performance-enhancing and pain-relieving drugs. The surprise is that we are disappointed in them when they are found out, not because we are doing any better in holding it all together without prescribed or recreational pharmaceutical support, but because the weakness of the hero exposes our own insufficiencies and guilty sedations."  

~ Alan Fogel, The Psychophysiology of Self-Awareness: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Body Sense
Maybe Fogel is correct, maybe if we see our heroes falter, see them as human beings like ourselves, it reminds us that we too are flawed. It seems most people in this country would do anything to avoid those feelings.

I think part of the reason I support drug use in sports, however, is because I can identify with them. I have been an athlete. I know how hard it can be to stay in peak condition for months at a time, fighting off injuries, fatigue, and other stress. I've played four or five full 90-minute, tournament-level soccer games in a single 3-day weekend, and if there was drug I could have taken back then to perform better, I might have done it.

When I watch the three major cycling races (Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana), I have no idea how they could ride for three weeks at the speeds they do without PEDs. It's no wonder there are more cyclists suspended for PEDs than in any other sport on the planet.

We held up Lance Armstrong as an almost super human hero - until we found out that he too is mortal. Then we judge him and take away his victories, in itself a silly decision since all the other contenders in those races were also using PEDs.

We, as a nation, cannot understand the pain he endured to win those races because we cannot bear the pain of our daily lives.

We are a nation drugged on sugar, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, antidepressants, tranquilizers, sedatives, narcotics, and on and on, what right do we have judge athletes who use PEDs to be the best in their particular sport?

The athletes at least have a goal - we are just numbing ourselves to avoid life.

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