Monday, May 23, 2011

Losing Face

Even though I don’t report on doping anymore last night’s 60 Minutes piece is too much to pass up commenting on. The show got me to click the doping label on my blog to see what I’ve written in the past and how accurately I was conjecturing. By recent accounts it seems as though I was doing okay. Anyone interested in doping in sports, particularly cycling (not that it’s so different elsewhere), might want to give it a perusal. Today I’m adding one more tidbit on my personal doping history for your entertainment.

To me, and most of my friends, the only thing astonishing on 60 Minutes last night was that it was actually playing on 60 Minutes. Tyler, nor anyone else, said anything we didn’t know (or at least thought we knew). When Tyler said “I’d bet my life” that every other team was doping it was nothing different than what I’d heard from many other racers over the years, except that it was on the record.

Velonews added a different perspective with Neal Rogers’ article:

Scott Mercier: Former Postal rider says Hamilton’s charges ring true

Mercier’s account is level headed and hard to discount. Riding for Postal in ’97 he was offered a doping regimen. When he couldn’t complete the training he was given without it he took the other path and resigned from the sport.

Mercier packed the drugs with him and said he contemplated using them but ultimately decided against it. He attempted the training program anyhow but found himself unable to recover and instead left the sport and moved to Hawaii. In the years that followed, he said he “assumed that anyone that had stayed on as a professional was using some sort of performance-enhancing drug.”

“In the off-season races, or the shoulder season, the big races in America, or anywhere other than Europe, you could compete with some guys, but in Europe you just couldn’t,” he said. “I’m not sure that I really viewed the doping as cheating; it’s just that I could not live with the hypocrisy and lying associated with it.”

On a personal note this was the same decision I made in college. I doubt that I had Mercier’s talent, and always stated my choice was lack of commitment because I didn’t see my upside as worthy of the risk. Doping, back then, was not the controversial topic it is today. If you were serious that’s what you did. The rest of my thought process was identical. I knew similar athletes to myself who doped and were better, so I assumed the guys with extraordinary talent were doing the same. It was not a value judgment as much as a rational observation.

My friends always seemed confused as to why I didn’t dope since I’d almost habitually test my body’s limits with very little regard for its welfare. I’d experiment with diets to the point of starvation, hydration til I’d go into electrolyte shock, and exercise until I couldn’t get out of (or make it in to) bed. But, to me at least, doping was less interesting because we knew that it would work. And if it was already known then there was little to be gained from the experience. Winning, and maybe money, I suppose, if you’re into such things, but winning by knowingly cheating has always rung hollow, which leads to my final anecdote.

My friend Phil and I were discussing something once about training and volume and challenges, likely a birthday challenge, when someone at the table, upon hearing that all of our numbers weren’t witnessed, said “what’s to stop you guys from just making stuff up?” Phil and I looked at each other, shrugged, and said we’d lose face.

Looking up colloquial definitions of losing face I see it referenced as losing public respect, which is something I find as mixed up as our society is in general these days. Our interpretation is different. Losing face was only about a self reflection. As long as you were attempting the right thing you could not be totally wrong. If you were deceitful, no matter the outcome, you had lost face to yourself. One of us added, “and then we’d have to commit suicide.”

Which brings me back to The Grand Boucle of deceit. As Tyler tried to point out last night, Lance was only doing what everyone else was doing or, at least, everyone else who had a physiological chance of winning the Tour de France was doing. Does that make him so wrong? And, ultimately, no matter how this turns out in public, he’s eventually going to have to reconcile that one with himself because it’s the only self that matters.


Matt Withers said...

I 100% reject the notion that something can be OK because everyone else is doing it. That said, I think there is a slippery slope between usage of say aspirin, then hydrocodone, on to harder drugs and doping. Or between creatine and anabolic steroids. What exactly is the metric?

The decision to make a particular substance illegal should be viewed as a complex one, and from what I've seen of the behavior of the governing bodies of most sports, they generally seem to be self-involved and often sadly undereducated. The backstage look at the judging in PUMPING IRON 2: THE WOMEN comes to mind.

Ideally all competitors should have a level playing field, but it's not like the random happenstance of injury, the quality of coaching available, early developmental opportunities and sponsorships you manage to land don't create a huge imbalance in what certain athletes do and do not have.

So I guess my feeling is that if you knowingly break the rules, no matter your reasoning, I think that sucks and I can't respect the athletic accomplishment thereof.

However, most sports have allowed, through inefficacy or ambivalence, an atmosphere that sends the message that to win you must cheat. It's a problem, and it's a bummer.

One day we'll all probably just cheer on giant mech warriors on an apocalyptic battle field anyway, so doping won't matter anymore :-)

Ben Woods said...

What brought me to birthday challenge, to general surgery initially, an what keeps me pushing my boys to work hard and work completely is a sense of honesty. I still go back and read the accounts of Steve, Katra, that dude in Madison who can do a thousand pull-ups, and wonder that my failed challenge still eats up memory next to those brutal and unique throwing down of ones training on the line.

This subject speaks to a disconnect in peoples heads that is costing us our future. It's no longer viewed as cheating to cheat, just like it's not viewed as cheating to scam Medicaid the way I see it scammed every day I work in the ER. The act of cheating these days never gets the press that getting caught generates, speaking to the focus of the average viewer.

Why don't I like sports anymore? Too much of this BS. I'd rather get onto the Gym Jones website and watch people destroy themselves, mustering up the chutzba to get after my next training session with a little more commitment.

It's late, I ramble, but good grief they should shut that whole sport down if doping is that ubiquitous.

Steve Edwards said...

Nice rants, guys. Yeah, sports is a tough one. Watch Bigger, Stronger, Faster, a doc about PED history in sport. It's been ugly out there for a long time. Also, if you click on doping you'll see an SI article from the 60s that sounds almost no different than an article written today.

But I dunno, I just read about the Mavs comeback last night and thought it was great. I'll turn on Eurosport in a bit and catch the Giro TT today. Maybe my lineage is too deep but I still like the games, no matter all the problems.

Ben Woods said...

(the Force Factor ad that came up this morning below yer last post, Steve, was a nice touch of irony)

Steve Edwards said...

Someone commented about that on Facebook, too. Funny. But, you know, those ads are personally generated by the habits of your computer. Someone out there must fancy you a doper!

Ben Woods said...

I'll have to have a talk with our Anesthesia Dept as both computers I've used today have had that Marvel Comics-looking freak in the Force Factor ad right below the blog, and both computers have been in the hospital....

Matt Withers said...

B,S,F is on Netflix and have been meaning to catch it for awhile. It definitely seems like sports history is held up as a pristine example of heroes and grit. So it creates a false impression that we're comparing two different times when the reality is that achievement in both eras is probably much more influenced by cheating than we'd like to know.

I also love sports, football being my favorite and I know there's tons of PED going on there. It doesn't bother me at all while watching the games so I suppose I'm comfortable with a certain willful ignorance.

It's also tough because for the most part we get mad at the cheater, but not the suspected cheater. So really it kinda comes down to wanting athletes to be good enough at hiding what they're doing to keep us from having to acknowledge that maybe we don't care so much about what they do behind the scenes as we'd like to think.

And if those ads are generated by the computer, then somebody thinks I love The Situation because I keep getting Nox Edge ads featuring that overtanned idiot. That makes me more uncomfortable and sad then any doping conversation :-P

Matt Withers said...

Watched B,S,F. Probably the best doc I've seen since SUPER SIZE ME. It's rare that I'm sent back to the beginning on my feelings about an issue, but the flick did such a good job of rocking my base assumptions about steroids that I did just that.

Clearly steroids have lost the PR battle for whatever reason, and have been vilified, often by those same people benefiting from their use.

The health worries about their use also seem seriously overblown. Certainly if those same side effects were common in a drug that made a dude's junk bigger it'd be on the market and distributed worldwide in no time.

So do I think PED's should be allowed in sports now? No. And it will probably take me some time to crystallize exactly why it just feels wrong to me.

I know that as a Type I diabetic I face significant challenges that a non-Type I athlete does not, but have never felt like using PED's to make up the gap. After all, much of what matters to me is what I can achieve, not what a clever drug cocktail can help me achieve. Then again, I'm chasing my personal limits, not fame, glory or riches. I might feel differently if genetics had placed me in reach of that level.

And maybe that's it. Perhaps we judge sport by how we measure ourselves.

This is an issue with many gray areas, but for me, anabolic steroids. misunderstood though they clearly are, still have no place in legitimate human sporting achievement. And if that means we have to raze the record books, I'm good with that.

Ben Woods said...

My biggest question is if BJ Penn endorses Force Factor because it works or if he needed a trendy sponsor (he is my all-time favorite MMA fighter)?

What is the word on the street on Force Factor (even if it doesn't contain creatine)?

Trainer T.s Fitness said...

I think Matt Withers said it best.......

And maybe that's it. Perhaps we judge sport by how we measure ourselves.

"This is an issue with many gray areas, but for me, anabolic steroids. misunderstood though they clearly are, still have no place in legitimate human sporting achievement. And if that means we have to raze the record books, I'm good with that."