This week Lance Armstrong dropped his defence against the accusations he doped while riding professionally. Opinions on the web very. As I’ve posted earlier my opinion is that he realized that it was a kangaroo court and even if he managed to prove his innocence this time around they would just keep coming back with more and more outlandish forms of “proof” until they got him. He walked away because you can’t beat someone who won’t let little things like evidence get in the way of what they are convinced is the truth. Especially when they have a government supplied unlimited budget to keep coming after you. On the other hand, the head of the doping agency is crowing about how this proves that Armstrong was guilty (it doesn’t) and proves that the agency has cleaned up doping in Cycling (they haven’t).
The real question though is why are we continuing this farce? What’s the point of even trying to keep dope out any more. It’s well understood that athletes dope. If they didn’t, that is if the doping agency was ACTUALLY doing any good, then they wouldn’t keep catching people doping at every major sporting event. The athletes wouldn’t try. Seriously, how many people try to slip in a turbine powered Indycar? How many jockeys ride underweight? How many heavyweight boxers keep brass knuckles in their gloves? The answer is practically none. They know they’ll get caught so they don’t even try. This is just a race between the athletes that dope and the testers that try, and fail, to keep up. The ones that get caught are just the ones that are bad at doping. Professional Cycling tests but it’s understood that most of the riders dope to one degree or another. The same goes for all the other professional sports.
It’s just stupid and hypocritical to pretend that the Doping Agency is accomplishing anything.
However, the hypocrisy is rooted deeper than just chemical enhancements. In the recent Olympics Oscar Pistorius ran on prosthetic legs. That he didn’t do well is not the point, he was competing at an international level. That the legs were designed to make him run better than he would have naturally is without question. He was born without lower legs. By definition the blades improved his performance. From here on it’s just a matter of upgrading and refining the engineering until someone on blades breaks the world record. There’s been a good deal of speculation about particular MLB pitchers that have had “Tommy John surgery” and then pitch better than they did before the “repair”. This surgery is an artificial improvement just like performance enhancing drugs. During the 1998 Home Run Record Chase there was speculation that Mark McGwire benefited from some reconstructive surgery on his arm hat made it mechanically better than his natural arm. As some have pointed out athletes already perform on artificial surfaces with artificial shoes and artificial training methods, all of which are designed to improve their performance. These are artificial improvements. What’s next, upgraded eyes for shooters? Webbed feet for swimmers? Upgraded pass-through lungs for runners? Artificial arms with long fingers to act like an Atlatl for javelin throwers? They have established the precedent for allowing cyborgs to compete with naturals in an artificial environment. Within a decade, un-enhanced humans, will not be competing at the top levels. That is of course assuming, as I do now, that it’s not already the case. Who’s to say that the person who held the record for the 100 meter in 1950 would not, with modern shoes and tracks and training methods, break the record today. Is it not likely he would be just as good as Usain Bolt is, especially if he were doing and using the same things Bolt does? We are already artificially enhancing athletes performance. Why do we get all righteous and make a special case of chemical enhancements and not surgical, technological, or environmental ones?
There is no significant difference between mechanical and surgical improvements and chemical improvements. At this point they should just say fuck it. Anything you want to do to your body to get better is your business. You want to mount a canon in place of your left arm to win at the shot put, go for it. You want to web your hands and replace your feet with flippers to swim faster, go for it. You want to load up on every drug in the world so you can win at wrestling before your heart explodes at 35 go for it. It’s your body and your funeral.
Maybe if they stopped acting so self righteous and were honest for a minute they’d take off the restrictions. They’d stop pretending that some improvements were OK and others are the depths of depravity. Then people would see sport for what it is really all about: money and ego. It isn’t national pride. It isn’t lives on the line. It isn’t even a statement of spirit and commitment. Sponsors want their money’s worth. Athletes want sponsors to pay so they can fulfill their narcissistic dream of being “Number One” even if it’s only for a fleeting minute before they fade and become a bar trivia question. Fans wants their circuses to distract them from the real world. Anything that lets these forces all win is for the best. Somehow we’ve arrived at the situation where a governing body is ruling on who wins and who cheats based on indefensible and arbitrary standards of what is acceptable.
I just think a little intellectual honesty, by which I mean ending this silly pretence where we pretend to ban some enhancements and pretend others are acceptable and don’t provide an advantage, would be a step forward. Lance Armstrong won the Tour de’ France seven times. He did it without doing anything that the rest of the top riders weren’t doing too. It’s hypocritical to pretend we are ‘cleaning up’ cycling by banning Armstrong after he’s retired, while giving the wins to his competitors who did the same damn thing, and possibly more. It’s just as hypocritical as the first person running on blades that stands on a podium will be. It’s just as hypocritical as the first pitcher that gets in the Hall of Fame for his work after having his arm rebuilt will be.
Athletes do whatever they can to win. I just want to see a little honesty about that.