In this sports roundtable at The Atlantic, Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens discuss their reactions to the prospect of Lance Armstrong’s upcoming interview with Oprah Winfrey, and I must say I’m most closely aligned with Hruby.
The best outcome would be for this to open a real debate about the whole idea of “fair competition” in any arena, and the essential silliness of organized sport of any kind.
Back in the day, it would have been considered ungentlemanly in some circles for a real amateur to even practice his sport before the event, and now we have some individuals selected at a young age and intensively trained with healthy stipends from advertising sponsors so as to enable total devotion to the sport and access to the best available equipment. The silly “rules” about what equipment is “fair” and what is not (eg ruling out certain “unfair” fabrics for swimsuits) only level the playing field among those who can afford the best of what is “legal” and still leave those who can’t at a significant disadvantage.
When it comes to drugs and doping, the “rule” really is simply “don’t get caught”. There is no pretense that the use of substances not yet declared out of bounds is “cheating”; it is considered perfectly acceptable to take drugs which enhance performance by combating a particular medical condition so long as they don’t produce the same test results at performance time as drugs which improve the performance of everyone. There is at present no censure of drugs and doping outside of some arbitrary time frame and the definition of an excluded substance is essentially that it shows up in whatever tests are being applied (even if those tests show positive because of something that would normally be considered a necessary medical intervention).
According to present rules, it would be “fair” to feed a child hormones to enhance future athletic ability so long as there would be no detectable evidence of that treatment at the time of actual performance.
Is it “fair” to subject some children to a distorted life of single-minded pursuit of an athletic (or academic or artistic) objective? or is it unfair to permit the child to choose such a life? even for Mozart, if the lack of such experience would have held him back from reaching his full potential? (But what about one who has the same motivation and apparent early talent but turns out to never reach the same level of mature brilliance?)
So what should Lance Armstrong say? It depends on whether or not he actually lied about what he did and/or about the contents of various test samples he supplied.
If he did lie then he is a liar. But if he did not and if he either had positive results or failed to attend required test sessions (perhaps out of fear that they would show against him) then the worst he is guilty of is a miscalculation. If the rules require attendance which he missed or if he attended and showed positive then it doesn’t matter whether he took a banned substance or something else which produces the same test results. If he broke the rules he loses the trophy but is no more blameworthy than a player who gets a goal disallowed for being offside. There may have once been a world where the player who had scored the offside goal would halt the game and forego the goal on his own initiative if the linesman failed to call it. And if so that would have been a better world than this one. But in the disgusting world of modern organized sport such nobility would only be considered a weakness.
update:Apparently a bunch of slimy hypocritical baseball sportswriters who all looked the other way when it was happening have decided to punish the drug enhanced players of the 90s (but didn’t have the gumption to actually award any of those they claim did not partake!)
And here’s another comment on the hypocrisy of it all.