Friday, May 27, 2011

Losing faith in greatness

Did you hear – one of Lance Armstrong’s teammates is saying he took performance enhancers! 

Is this news? I think it’s about the third time we’ve heard this from teammates of Armstrong, who continues to adamantly deny, deny, deny.

Armstrong’s biggest argument is that he is the Most. Tested. Athlete. Ever.  and he has never failed a test. And that certainly helps his case. But we’re at the point where even that doesn’t convince the public. It seems that athletes are always one step ahead of the tests, proven by the fact that Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire never failed a test.

The sad thing is, we aren’t surprised by drug allegations anymore – not just from Armstrong, but from any athlete. We’re to the point where, if you told me Babe Ruth shot up before games in the 1920s, I wouldn’t be shocked. Athletes are tattling on each other, hocking their “exposes” and hoping to get exposure – and a book deal – from their so-called honesty. 

But Armstrong’s story was just so great, that we hoped for so long that it was true. As more and more of his teammates are saying he used, that story seems to dim.

What do I think? To be honest, I can’t decide. I want to believe that he did it on his own, but I really can’t. Evidence proves that just about every cyclist used “liquid gold,” and for Lance to be so dominant over athletes who were juiced up … well, it just doesn’t seem possible that he did it clean. 

The sad truth is, we are no longer trusting. When we see athletes do great things – like Usain Bolt breaking, utterly obliterating, world records on the track – we are skeptical; when Albert Pujols slams 50 homeruns, we are cynical. We’ve reached the point where we have a hard time believing any greatness is natural.

Then there’s the argument that, “if everyone was taking it, then the field was level,” which almost makes sense in my head.  But then I think about the few athletes who would never take performance enhancers based on principle and integrity. Those athletes have to suffer, both financially and physically, to try to keep up to those who don’t let something like illegality get in their way. It’s not fair, it’s not ethical and it says a lot about the character of the athletes who cheat.

We all like to think that our favorite athlete wouldn’t cheat – but then Big Papi is suspended for drug use, and all of our trust is shattered.

The funny thing is, we are more enraged when it’s an unlikeable athlete who is caught cheating, or in the case of Bonds, not caught. We make excuses for the “good guys” like David Ortiz, we forgive Shawne Merriman, but we demonize Bonds and Roger Clemens because, frankly, we don’t like them very much.  

A few years ago I did at story at Fort Belvoir, Va., on a retired Airman who did natural bodybuilding. He only entered contests where testing was prevalent, because he never wanted his results to be questioned, and he never wanted to be at a disadvantage because he played clean. I had so much respect for him – not only for his dedication, but for his refusal to take the easy way out in a sport where it’s not only accepted but almost expected for the top athletes to juice.

The bottom line is this: taking performance enhancing drugs is cheating. It isn’t OK because “everyone else is doing it” or because it helps an athlete “heal from injury.” It is illegal, it is deceitful and it is unethical.

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