Friday, August 24, 2012

Lance, Melky, and Bartolo

Since I'm not focusing my blog so much on training for and racing in ultras, I feel like I can remove some of the artificial boundaries that I'd created in the past, when deciding to address a news topic or not.

I have reviewed concerts here.  I even wrote a couple posts about the scandal at Penn State when it first broke.  I've decided to stay away from that one since then though.

But, in the past two weeks, we've seen two baseball players suspended for 50 games for using testosterone, and then yesterday, Lance Armstrong lost a court case and decided not to fight USADA any more on its doping charges.  I have to say I'm confused how the US Anti-Doping Agency thinks it can strip 7 tour titles from Lance, but I don't really care.  Last year's MLB NL MVP was also caught, but used a technicality to avoid his likely well-earned suspension.

I don't care at all about how many drug tests anyone passed.  Or failed.

What interests me the most is a culture of denial and hero worship.  And yes, that applies back to the Penn State issue as well, but that's for another day.

Baseball players have been using drugs of one sort or another for generations.  Perhaps Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" was the first book to really address this issue, but it wasn't new.  Painkillers and amphetamines were the early choices.  Do we really think that those huge guys who play football every Sunday got to that size strictly through hard work and not with the addition of some performance enhancing drugs?

Tour riders have been using drugs for generations as well.  Tom Simpson died during the Tour de France in 1967, with amphetamines and alcohol in his blood.  There is even a report of a rider dying in 1886, during a one-day classic, due to a mixture of cocaine, strychnine, and caffeine.  There have been many deaths linked to EPO in cycling.

It takes amazing talent and dedication to even approach the top level in most sports.  If an athlete gets to the national or world class level, but can't quite break through to winning championships, you are talking about someone with an amazing desire to win who is falling short.  If that person begins to suspect that his or her competitors are "juicing", why not go along?  Now, maybe this is silly, because the results would be the same if everyone juiced or no one juiced.  But, there's always going to be one person who wants to win at all costs.  As soon as one juices and starts to excel, the next will come along, and then another, etc.  Along with that drive and desire, I imagine it takes a big ego to need to succeed at that level.  Heck, Barry Bonds's head got physically bigger during his career, and it still couldn't contain his ego.

The big home run guys of the 1990s were impressive - not just their stats, but their physical presence.  Mark McGwire could take a short swing that looked like it wouldn't get the ball out of the infield, but the ball would travel over 400 feet.

Caminiti, Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro, McGwire, Canseco, Clemens - think about it.  Did any of these guys look "normal"? In many cases, their physiques changed dramatically at an age that should have been past their physical prime.  Why?  Anybody who doesn't know the answer is simply in denial.  Even utility middle infielders got huge in the 1990's.

The backlash against steroids is an issue of concern to me.  That backlash has made it difficult for me and and many other men to get treatment for truly low levels of testosterone.  I think a similar thing is happening with opiates in this country right now.  They are so abused that many doctors are becoming more and more afraid to prescribe them when they do make sense.  I wonder how many current baby boomers will endure excessive pain near the end of their lives due to an increasing backlash against opiate abuse.

Testosterone has very legitimate medical uses.  So do opiates.  Even amphetamines.

But, we also have a culture that glorifies athletes.  To get to the top, athletes will do whatever it takes, as long as they don't get caught.  The medications listed above, variants on those meds, and masking agents are all part of the repertoire of many athletes.

Maybe some are clean.  Maybe many are clean.  Maybe most are clean.  But, blind hero worship is just that - blind.  I'm not here saying that Lance cheated or didn't.  There are 17 years worth of data there and I don't know the answer.  Melky got caught.  Braun got caught.  Colon got caught.  Caminiti confessed.  Bonds and Clemens were tried.  Others had to testify before Congress and admit to doping rather than risk being tried for contempt of Congress.

Whose fault is all of this?  If we didn't glorify sports and athletes, I'm guessing this would happen a lot less.  So, instead of pointing fingers at the athletes, and feeling let down by our heroes, perhaps we should all consider taking a look in the mirror.


Jeff Farbaniec said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Farbaniec said...

"...a culture of denial and hero worship..."

I think you have to throw Greed into the mix as well.