Wednesday, January 16, 2013

If Lance Armstrong is Wrong, Vote against PED Baseball Players

Open season has begun on Lance Armstrong—again. His ferocity, arrogance and success generate immense distrust and accusation. His American success in Europe’s second most corrupt sport, cycling, spawned envy, cynicism, attack and hero worship. I was one of the hero worshippers for his success in a European sport, his beating cancer and his devotion to a foundation that helped give hope to cancer fighters. I still wear my Live Strong bracelet given to me by my son for my own struggles. Now I know and cannot deny that Armstrong had created a massive and systematic blood doping apparatus that drove his seven wins. He pressured his entire team to join. Hedenounced his doubters and regulatory organizations. His hubris created the opportunity for a second round of indictments that brought him down.

Now everyone and anyone, including disillusioned ex-supporters such as myself, are excoriating him, demonizing him and doing their best to belittle even his cancer work and battles. The media demonstrate its typical blood lust that galvanizes them whenever they can destroy another icon or public figure. Some of this goes deeper though and  emerges from long suppressed anger and envy of the journalists and organizations whom he had dismissed and attacked over the years. For many of us, however, I believe it arises from a righteous anger not just at him and the myth he represented but from our own, my own, sense of betrayal. But he did not just betray me or us, we betrayed ourselves by investing so much belief in him and connecting him to precious ideals of integrity, commitment, and devotion. This belief permitted me and us to forgive his arrogance and deny the mounting evidence. This anger at Lance Armstrong burns as much against our selves as it does against him.

I do not think I am a prig. I do not expect my heroes to be perfect. All of us make mistakes; all of us sin. I try to respect and admire people in their domains of achievement. I can admire and respect a sports figure whose accomplishes  reflect focused mental and physical discipline and skill. I do not expect the achiever to be a saint or perfect in the rest of his or her life just as I would not expect it of an artist, lawyer, or doctor. People will be selfish, vain, self-interested and sometimes driven by passion to do stupid things. They may betray their families, make bad investments, lose their temper or let the false hubris of fame and celebrity get to them. I accept this as part of the human condition. My heroes do not have to be perfect humans, just women and men who accomplish great feats in domains of life I follow and admire.

My issues with Lance Armstrong go deeper than he broke the law of his sport in order to win and the issues apply to others like the recent controversy about whether baseball performance enhancing drug users should in the Hall of Fame.

I think we should note that if we jump on the hate Lance Armstrong band wagon, we need to be very clear that we also have to reject all the putative baseball hall of famers coming up for votes like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens—they should not be voted into the hall of fame and rewarded for their own inhuman accomplishments. You cannot have it one way with Armstrong and another with the PED baseball players.

There are a slew of baseball guys, most known and identified in the Mitchell report, who achieved their outsized success because drug use gave them greater returns in strength, recovery and speed for the same training effort of their peers. I use Bonds and Clemens as surrogates  because they epitomize the endless self-righteous denials, riches, arrogance, iconic status, perverted athletic skill, and counterattacks that characterized Armstrong.

I want to address three issues surrounding Armstrong and the baseball PED users that disqualify them all from our respect. In Armstrong’s case, these lead to his victories being taken away because he used performance enhancing drugs—he is stripped of victories and titles. Baseball has no such way to deny the full moral worth of ill begotten gains such as wins or records, but baseball can, at least, deny these players entry into its hall that recognizes great athletic achievement. I wanted to focus on athletic achievement. Nothing about the Hall of Fame says you have to be a good person, otherwise Ty Cobb would not be there.

What are the problems with what Armstrong, Bonds and Clemens did? At one level we could say they broke the rules of the sport and even broke the law of the land. This is clearly true of Armstrong and only true for Bonds and Clemens later in their careers. I don’t want to focus upon the law breaking. I think they do not deserve our respect and adulation for three moral failings in their performance:

1)            They lived a lie in their sports. Each presented their achievements to others as their own human scale accomplishments. They presented their achievements as earned on an equal playing field of talent+work+skill+endurance. All three were fine, even great athletes, but that did not satisfy them. They took substances that deliberately augmented their human capacities beyond their normal physiological and mental responses given regular well conditioned diets and training. The issue is that the drugs and doping did the work, not the human being. Now the human may train and act, but relative to the baseline of their peers, their increase in strength and other dimensions were caused by the drug, not by the human effort.
         This is the lie, the lie  they told themselves and to others. “I achieved this.”—but the I was an illusion augmented by technologies that caused the same amount of training effort to return more mass and speed and efficiency. They lived a lie as augmented humans.
2)            They competed unfairly. We all know the argument—everybody did it. Well everybody did not do it—although that is less true in cycling than baseball. This deception-based unfairness had two ugly dimensions.
a.    First, other competitors who competed based on their own physical and mental training without physiological augmentation suffered at their hands. They stole a competitive advantage over every player who was not doing it. Their won unfairly because the other players did not have this augmented advantage of quicker speed, recovery time, muscle mass or aerobic efficiency.
b.   Second their using pushed others to use and degraded the tone and culture of the sport. Other athletes succeeded less or had their careers cut off because they could not compete with the augmented humans. The success, adulation and lying of the augmented humans motivated others to live a lie and pretend their accomplishments were based on human effort, skill, and training.
3)            They lied to everyone else about their actions. Sometimes they lied under oath to formal organizations, regulatory bodies and congress. Let me be clear, they did not tell the truth. They deceived others by claiming they did not do what they in fact what they did was augment their strength, recovery time, reaction time and efficiency by taking drugs that bolstered these beyond their own efforts. They gained money, fame, and advantage over others, hurt other’s careers while lowering the culture of their sport. When confronted with the truth, they lied, attacked others credibility, stonewalled to protect their reputation and endorsements. 

I am deeply angry and despairing facing the truth about Lance Armstrong. I am deeply upset with myself for all my defenses of him and my invested belief and capacity for denial to protect my ideal of him and my ideal of myself. What I know is that all the reasons that I cannot respect Lance Armstrong apply to the baseball PED users.

  •           They lived a lie and let drugs augment them not their own effort;
  •      They competed unfairly and won because they deceived and created an unequal playing field. Doing this they ruined careers of good athletes and demeaned the culture of their sport;
  •          They denied the truth, attacked the credibility of their opponents, lied to friends, supporters, the press, their fans and governing organizations. They are liars.

Just being a liar should not disqualify them from the Hall of Fame or their records, unless they committed perjury. But letting drugs replace effort, winning and achieving on an unequal playing field and ruining other careers--these disqualify Lance Armstrong from respect and recognition for his athletic achievements and they should keep the PED users out of the baseball hall of fame.

1 comment:

  1. He has betrayed his fellow competitors and denied other clean athletes their place at the rostrum, there is no sport that deserves such a competitor that is a serial person lacking in integrity and it is a disgusting sham that sees such a cynical ploy to try to re enter the sporting arena. he should be continually castigated and relegated to obscurity, and never ever allowed back into competitive sport.