This is going to be a long post. You’ve been warned.
I’ve long had a beef with Lance Armstrong, but it had nothing to do with what he did or didn’t do to prepare for competition. I dislike bullies, he happens to have a black belt in bullying. This isn’t about Lance. It isn’t about Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire and it isn’t about records or any Hall of Fame. This is about cheating. Or what we call cheating. Personally, and this is weird, what these guys have done, I don’t really consider it to be cheating. Technically, sure, they cheated. So first, let’s look at the definition. Pardon me for going all Bill Clinton here.
Cheat: Verb- Act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage.
Yes, athletes taking steroids are doing so to gain an advantage. But every athlete is looking for an advantage. Somehow we’ve arbitrarily drawn a line so certain drugs or treatments are considered an unfair advantage. I don’t know all the rules, in all the sports, about which medications or treatments are allowed and which aren’t, but I know some. I know that a baseball player with a sore shoulder can get cortisone shot for the pain. I’m also not a chemist, but I can Google with the best of ‘em. Cortisone is a steroid hormone. The common use of cortisone is to provide short-term pain relief. So you know, it allows a player to feel better, so they can perform better. That’s okay. There are side-effects, as with any medication, and none of them are all that appealing; anxiety, depression, cataracts, and glaucoma. Those are only some of the side-effects. Just those that I don’t need a medical dictionary to talk about.
A pitcher can have his elbow blow up (not the correct medical term) and have surgery to repair the damage. He can then come back with a stronger elbow than he had before. Some have even come back with a more effective arsenal. No one considers any of this cheating, but the result gives the athlete an advantage. Why, because it’s not against the rules? Well if an NFL player gets called for holding, he broke a rule, but no one will call that guy a cheater. If we’re going to say that, technically, Armstrong is a cheater, isn’t every offensive lineman also a cheater?
Gaining an advantage over the competition is what separates athletes. The best athletes are the ones who push themselves the hardest. They’re the ones that practice with the most intensity. They find a way to gain an advantage over the competition. The “level playing field,” is always brought up in these conversations about cheating. I call BS. The level playing field is the field of play for each sport, and the equipment the competitors are allowed to use. As long as none of that is tampered with, you have a level playing field.
As someone who strongly believes that individuals should have equal rights, I don’t, for a second, believe we’re all equal or created equal. Some of us are born shorter (ahem) some of us stronger. Some of us are born smarter; some of us are born with challenges. We’re not really “equal” in the truest sense of the word. And neither are athletes. What an athlete does in order to prepare for competition shouldn’t be our concern.
Fans love to discuss where a great player ranks among the all-time greats. When we have those debates, the ones that our wives roll their eyes at, we totally ignore the fact that there’s no “even playing field” between eras. Adrian Peterson just had one of the best statistical seasons of any running back in NFL history. He did this, not even a year after tearing his ACL and MCL. 20 years ago, an injury that like would have likely ended his career. Yet, thanks to medical advances, he came back and performed better than he ever has. So we marvel at this, as we should, but had he used certain drugs, we’d call him a cheater and discard his entire season, and probably his entire career. It just makes no sense.
What they put in their bodies can absolutely be a detriment to their long-term health. And that’s worth discussing, both for their benefit and to educate anyone else considering using the same tactics. But the general public really doesn’t care about their health. We love the violence of football. We want these people to play through pain that we’d never consider. And we want them to be stronger, run faster, jump higher, hit a ball further, play through pain we can’t imagine and believe it all happened because ate their Wheaties.
I was telling my wife about my idea for this post last night, and she asked if I have a problem with authority. I do, I absolutely do. Not that I’m some rebel, but hypocrisy drives me batty. It doesn’t mean that I think Bonds and Armstrong are righteous, heroic guys. They’re both jerks. But they’re both, in my opinion, the best to ever play their sports. They broke rules, even some laws. Rules and laws that I feel are completely ridiculous. I’m much more upset by the athletes who are arrested for assaulting their significant others or driving while intoxicated. Basically, doing anything that harms someone else or puts the lives of others at risk is worth our attention.
The line that we’ve drawn in the sand is more of a wall, and it’s time to tear down that wall.