A Lance Through the Heart? Not Mine…

Maybe it’s time to abandon the idea of competitive sports in which you rely 100% on your natural body, exercise, nutrition and practice. Maybe it’s time to stop looking for the cheaters who use performance-enhancing measures beyond the ones I just mentioned.

If there’s any legacy that cyclist Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall has left me with, that’s it.

Let’s stop worrying about who’s taking what and get down to the real problems of sports. Better yet, let’s get down the real problems of society and push sports more into the background.

On Twitter today, I saw a link posted by movie critic Roger Ebert to a New York Times article that described how Lance Armstrong was able to get away with things like blood doping and thwart the testing procedures that would have revealed he was doping for so many years.

The revelations in that article didn’t make me lose any respect for Lance Armstrong; granted, I haven’t gained any either. For at least a dozen years now, I haven’t made any habit of putting my loyalties behind specific cities, teams or individual athletes.

My take-away lesson from the article about Lance Armstrong’s blood doping is not that he’s a bad guy. What I came away with is this: Apparently, these activities are rampant in the cycling world, as they are in so many sports, and the problem is that measures to police use of performance enhancers don’t work.

So, tons of people are taking substances they aren’t supposed to, and competing, and not getting caught. It’s just that Lance Armstrong was such a consistent winner and jealousies came to bear that he has been singled out. Clearly, many of his competitors have cheated, too, but the spotlight is on him now, and they continue on with their activities.

Many people are outraged by the idea of Lance Armstrong winning and having done blood doping. But I look at it this way: His competitors were, by and large, doing the same thing, and he was still beating them.

Doesn’t that still make him the better athlete, when so many strong cyclists also using performance enhancers still can’t beat him?

You can talk about the cyclists who have played it straight and get screwed over by all the cheaters, and you’d have a strong point, but my concern is singling out a specific person as the villain when he isn’t the lone offender. Also, demeaning his athletic abilities and work because he doped his blood. I mean, it’s not as if he took a pill that magically made him a good cyclist. He still had to work out, sweat, push, endure pain and injury, eat properly and employ racing skills in order to win. Did he have an edge? Yes. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t work hard.

Cheating is not the same in all circumstances. Now, in sports if you bribe judges or referees to ensure that you win, that is somewhat comparable to stealing the answers to a test and memorizing them. You have chosen to slack off considerably or perhaps do no work at all to ensure you win or get a good grade. You have taken the effort largely out of the equation. Those who use performance enhancers still have to work hard and compete, and sometimes their choice to give themselves an edge results in health problems later.

Now, from a moral standpoint, I think what Lance Armstrong did was wrong. It’s just that I don’t think it gave him so much of an edge it made him unbeatable.

Also, let’s consider the “why” of all this. He did it because we have put such a high premium on professional athletics and celebrity. We have made the rewards so great because of our misplaced priorities that people are driven to win at any cost, because it’s how they will make it big and get the long cash. We created the problem—all of us: owners, promoters, media, fans, etc.—and we have compounded it by making governing bodies that do a shit-ass job of policing athletes.

I would love if everyone competed on a level field, with no drugs or other enhancers involved. But hasn’t it become clear to us by now that the use of substances by athletes is a pervasive and all-too-common activity? Do we benefit by singling out one or a few just to send a message that still won’t be heeded? Sending a message to drug users by jailing people for stupid crap like possession of marijuana certainly hasn’t helped anyone but people who construct and operate prisons, so why would taking down a doping athlete make any difference?

Better would be to stop making sports such a high priority. If we stopped funneling so much money into sports that could be better used for things like charitable causes, research and development and things like that, athletes won’t be so driven to cheat with drugs.

We all cheat in life, at various levels and in various ways. We all use tricks to get ahead at times.

But it’s only when the prize for which we are shooting has been made so enticing that we through caution to the wind and cheat massively and disastrously.

That’s why Wall Street and the finance industry failed us and crashed the economy recently. That’s why a lot of angry and scared politicians right now fling out blatant lies with no shame these days.  That’s why Lance Armstrong and every other athlete caught for use of performance-enhancing drugs did what they did.

Because we’ve made the rewards to them so valuable.

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