Thursday, January 17, 2013

Steroids and the Blind Eye

Cue the “high horse”...

We’ve all read by now that American hero and cyclist Lance Armstrong has admitted to Oprah that he, in fact, used performance enhancing drugs during his run at the top of his sport.  Immediately upon learning that he would be admitting his usage, so many in the news jumped on their high horse and started condemning anything and everything that Lance Armstrong is.  Facebook and Twitter exploded with attacks on him.  Quite frankly, it’s gotten ridiculous.  Before I get into this, I don’t want you to think I am defending him in any way.  I honestly don’t have enough facts to make any kind of informed judgment.  I just want to put out a few thoughts.

There are a few things that blow my mind about this situation.  There are a variety of people mentioning that Armstrong tore down the people around him.  He has cost people jobs, money and a variety of other things as he covered his tracks.  The interesting thing to me is that now we have people tearing him down…for tearing people down!  That is the sheer definition of hypocrisy.

Most likely you have lied about something in your life.  No one reading this is perfect.  People lie all the time and continue to build on that lie, regardless of the consequences.  The problem with Armstrong is that his lie was on a much larger scale than others.  He has a unique story of inspiration that adds a wrinkle so hard to accept.  It’s difficult to balance his deception with the positive things done through his Livestrong Foundation.

The situation with Armstrong is no different than any other professional athlete who chooses to utilize illegal substances to get ahead.  I can’t help but always think that if you know a person lives in a dirty world, you can’t be surprised when they are exposed as dirty.  The cycling world is one of the dirtiest sports in the world that almost annually has someone (or multiple competitors) busted for steroid use.  How naïve are we to think that Armstrong was the lone, upstanding athlete in this corrupt sport?

The fact is that the onus of steroid use in sports is on the shoulders of the fans (as much as the athletes), who routinely turn our heads and pretend it isn’t prevalent.  We like to pretend that our sports heroes are all natural, despite physical evidence showing otherwise, and then condemn them the moment they are exposed.  It’s not just cheating after their career is over.  It is also cheating when they are chasing Roger Maris’ home run record.

Major League Baseball was in awful shape coming off of a strike shortened season of 1994, which cost fans the World Series.  Attendance and television ratings had sagged.  The league needed something to bring people back around.  Enter Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.  Despite the obvious physical change we had seen in them, the nation got caught up in the chase for the home run record.  We rejoiced and were ecstatic when McGwire blasted record breaking homerun number 62.  We cared about the accomplishment.  It wasn’t until his career had ended that we started to care about how he did it.

We wanted to attack and condemn Jose Canseco for exposing steroid use, but at least he had the guts to admit it.  He never denied his steroid usage.  He wrote the book that blew the doors off of Major League Baseball.  Somehow he became a pariah, when in fact he was the one honest guy in this entire situation.  If his book had not exposed the rampant use, would MLB have done anything?  I sincerely doubt it, but once Canseco’s book came out, they were backed into a corner and had to respond.

It’s time we stop jumping on a high horse and acting like these guys are the worst thing on Earth for trying to gain an advantage.  The fans are just as guilty.  We support the guys who hit the most homeruns, who hit the hardest in football, who punch the hardest or the American dominating cycling (a sport we don’t even care about as a nation).  The layman will never understand the world of the professional athlete; a world where there is always someone coming up that is bigger, better, stronger, faster.  It never surprises me when one of them has been exposed as a cheater.  They do anything they can to gain an advantage.  Unfortunately some have to resort to illegal activity to accomplish it.

Don’t act for one second that any cheater in the world, in sports or business, wouldn’t do the exact same thing as Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire or the guys of Enron did.  It means they are human and made mistakes.  It’s what makes us human.  We make mistakes.  We try and fix those mistakes, but sometimes we handle that incorrectly.  Just because you haven’t done something on a grand scale like they have, it doesn’t give you the right to judge them.  You may not agree with their decisions, which I don’t, but they have to live with the repercussions and not me.

Before you pledge your unrelenting fandom to someone, you might want to make sure it is someone you know you can respect.  At the end of the day, though, fans never truly know their sports heroes.  The best thing about sports idols is not only marveling at their on-court or field achievements, but sometimes you can learn a little something about life outside of those athletic moments.

One thing we have to learn about these situations is that none of us were there.  We really don’t know what they did or did not do.  We don’t know how they treated others.  We hear sensationalized stories that bring in readers and viewers.  It could be the truth.  It could be someone with an axe to grind.  I’ve learned that there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Regardless, jump off the high horse and stop pretending we’re innocent in all of this.



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