performance-enhancing hypocrisy in professional sports

In today’s news, there were articles about Usain Bolt’s reaction to Tyson Gay’s reduced ban for doping. Both men are decorated athletes, with many considering Bolt to be the fastest man on earth for the multiple records he has set the past few years.

Gay got a backdated 1-year suspension last year when he tested positive for steroids at the 2013 US Championships. His ban was reduced because he cooperated and provided evidence willingly (which resulted in his former coach getting an 8-year ban…). Bolt wants Gay to be completely banned from the sport:

“It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard… The message should be: ‘if you cheat, you’re going to be kicked out of the sport’.”

He also said:

“It really bothers me… I respected him so much over the years… then to find out that he was on drugs… I feel like he let me down and let the sport down. … You have to drive fear into athletes, to make them think about the consequences of their actions…”

I have a lot to say about this, and very little time, so we’ll keep it in bullet form for now:

  • Unless you’re some freak of nature, you cannot (and you would not even be allowed to by your coaches / doctors) compete consistently at your sport without performance enhancement drugs.
    • The human body simply cannot sustain the kind of continuous pounding required to train and perform at that level, day-in day-out, for years;
    • No one wants to see some normally athletic person run, or throw, or hit, or bike, or skate, or ski, or golf (golf? You say. Yes golf. According to prominent golf trainers, at least the top 100 players in the world are on performance enhancers)… if sports are not exciting, and constantly breaking records and pushing the boundaries of the body’s abilities, they would lose a lot of their appeal and get boring quickly. Imagine what would happen to beer consumption alone!
      (yes, there is also the blind loyalty of “fans” to their teams, and patriotism… and nationalism… and all of that brainwashing of the masses with such distractions from any real social issues that will continue to happen, but that will be the topic of another entry…)
    • The supplementation required by these athletes comes in all sorts of shapes and forms, and it targets very different needs: stimulants, beta-blockers, synthetic hormones, and anabolic steroids. In other words, they may help with: reducing the time required for recovery (imagine how much more gain you could generate if only you cut your recovery time by 2 or 3 times…); reducing pain; giving energy to train harder and longer;  burning fat; getting more endurance because of stronger bones and ligaments and leaner and bigger muscle tissue; better control of the nervous system with adrenaline pumping in the blood, etc… and the lines between what is legal and what isn’t can easily be blurred because of technicalities.
      • While there are substances that have already been identified as illegal, different organizations and countries have different laws;
      • Research is continuously ongoing, and new products are introduced regularly. (whether it’s armies strengthening their fighters, or sport teams and coaches trying to show results, or mega “nutrition” and “supplement” corporations pushing the results of their latest chemical lab experiments on teenagers trying to look like bodybuilders). For instance, this is why you can have guys who win “natural” bodybuilding shows and claim to be “natty” (meaning natural), when there isn’t much “natural” about their muscular development – except that the substances they used were (knowingly or not) not on the prohibited list yet. And that is why some products, such as pre- and post- workout shakes and creatine, or supplements found on store shelves everywhere — “work” or “work better” than others.

This entry is not about whether I agree or disagree with taking any of these substances, or whether anyone should or shouldn’t take these substances. Athletes competing at those levels are being paid to stay competitive and win, otherwise they are not marketable. So they must do whatever is needed to stay in the game, even if it is at the detriment of their health, or if it means breaking the law.

This entry is also not about why professional athletes have no choice but to deny taking these substances before their fans and the public (because they would have to pay huge fines, go to jail, be banned from their sport, lose their contracts, be socially stigmatized, and ruin their lives and those of people they care about… each of which is a good enough reason on its own to lie). They know the risks, social, physical, legal… but it’s a transaction that is simply part of the definition of being an athlete competing at those levels. It’s just part of the game. Countless passionate amateurs of most sports openly say that they would be willing to give away a few years of their lives if it meant winning this or that championship, gold medal, or trophy, or being known as the fastest, strongest or best in so and so sport. And these are just amateurs, saying this while not having any stakes in the game, and who do not eat and breathe the sports like those extremely competitive athletes do…

No, this entry is about the hypocritical bashing that some of the athletes are willing to spew against other athletes, especially ones in their own circle, in their own sport, when one of them is “caught” (as if it’s a big surprise that they’re all doping) and the story is sensationalized in the media. As if Usain Bolt could ever have broken world records without performance enhancement substances!!! And yet, he can look in the camera and say things like how he lost respect for another sprinter because he just found out they’re on drugs… are you kidding?! You really couldn’t reply to the question in a more respectful and polite manner, keeping it at the level of generalities so that you are not lying nor being a hypocrite. We know there is a reputation and an image to preserve, and you are now the voice and face of a sport. But there may be a less hypocritical way to answer these questions to the media.

Depending on where you are in your cycle Usain, I am guessing that you would not be willing to publish the results of your urine and bloodwork right now? All it would take is one doping test at the right time, and the world would see the same story published, only your name would be there instead of Tyson Gay’s, and some other poster-child for the sport will be there, disappointed and feeling like you let him, and the sport, and planet, and the rest of the history of human civilization down… And then people may not be as forgiving. Let he who is without dope, cast the first stone

Gotta run…

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