Fantasy League

This seems to be the week of doping news. First, Armstrong’s investigation is dropped. Then Contador’s case is overturned and the rider is suspended and stripped of wins he accrued while apparently riding clean. Moments ago it was announced that Jeannie Longo Ciprelli’s home was the subject of a doping raid. And what will tomorrow bring? Well, the proverbial other shoe will finally drop in the Jan Ullrich case. Ullrich? Remember him?

Whether you believe Lance Armstrong raced on bread and water or was as supercharged as a Corvette, the case wound to a close with nothing like a conclusion. What we’re faced with is a succession of doping scandals with finishes that can’t be called resolutions. No matter whose side you’re on in any of these cases, you’re probably not happy with the outcome.

In any discussion of doping and cycling the conversation seems to take an inevitable turn. “What if there were no rules against doping?” It’s impossible to discuss the toping without something electing to remove the moral implications of cheating and just asking the obvious question of what the ramifications might be if we simply allowed professional cyclists to take oxygen-vector drugs, anabolic agents, amphetamines, pain killers and—holy cow—even cortisone.

It’s the ultimate parallel universe fantasy for cyclists. No ethical dilemmas. No charges of morally repugnant cheating, just a scenario in which the absolute fastest guy is the winner.

Allow me a brief digression if you will. While I consider myself an athlete and someone interested in many forms of physical fitness, body building has always creeped me out in the same way that shows on surgery do. I’m fascinated at some visceral level, but before I can examine anything truly interesting I get so grossed out I have to flip the channel.

Some years ago I found myself in the curious circumstance of dating someone who worked for a bodybuilder in his 60s. Yes, you read that right. Body builder. Sixties. He could have bench pressed me for an hour, maybe two. He, and his numerous friends, were “naturals.” No, don’t think hippy commune; he and his friends used no anabolic agents. And the funny thing was that they didn’t need testing to tell the difference. It was readily apparent in the physiques of competitors. The “naturals” didn’t have the crazily herniated muscles that seemed to bulge to the point of an unprotected astronaut’s head in outer space. Pop!

Here’s what surprised me, I found the physiques of the naturals interesting to behold. They had arguably done the same amount of work to get to the competition and for the guys in the open categories, you’d see someone rather Incredible Hulk looking alongside a guy who wouldn’t frighten children. It was a juxtaposition on the order of eagle and pterodactyl. Yep, both birds, but….

I could identify with the naturals at some elemental level. I suspect looking at the juiced up guys had the same effect on me that looking at kiddie porn would. It just felt wrong, not something I wanted to continue to gaze at.

Okay, with that out of the way, let me pose a scenario: Suppose that two different Tours de France were run in 2013. Let’s imagine that WADA folds and Pat McQuaid throws in the towel and allows the rise of a top-fuel category. On July 1 there are two different pelotons ready to roll. Both have adequate TV coverage ensured for the three weeks of the race.

And let’s pose yet another hypothetical: Suppose for an instant that you had time enough in your day to watch as much of both different races as you wanted. Say four hours or more.

Would you really watch all of both races? Or would you favor one over the other?

I know what I would watch.

Sure, I’d tune in to the top-fuel race. But I’d do it for the prologue, a couple of sprints and then the odd mountain stage. At a certain level it would be kind of like watching top-fuel dragsters. It’s cool at first, but after a while that straight track gets boring. I find grand prix and touring car racing much more interesting. And World Rally Championship? Whoo-ee! Put real-world challenges in a race and that has a big effect on my interest level.

So, I’d be glued to the natural race. I can identify with those guys. They are me with more talent and discipline. I understand the choices they’ve made. The guys in the natural race have a similar, if not the same, moral compass I do. That matters to me.

You see, I don’t think you can ever completely repeal the taint of doping. There will always be a threshold you’ll have to voluntarily cross. Some of those willing to cross it never saw it in the first place. To some, cheating is a semantic point, a distinction of no great import. Racing, after all, is about winning and losing. Right?

Let’s try this a different way: I couldn’t ride with a guy who was a bike thief. Similarly, someone who will do anything possible to be as fast as possible isn’t someone I understand. That inability to see how respecting a social contract is an important part of how a community derives strength by creating bonds between people means that he and I simply won’t connect. If that part of the social contract is meaningless, then what about the other bits? Is my car safe? Is he going to try to seduce my wife? Where does it end?

So those guys in the top-fuel division? I’ll never really understand that thinking and as a result, I’ll never really understand those riders. But understanding them isn’t even really the issue.

Drug testing, after all, was a response to a PR nightmare that makes the current flaps over Armstrong and Contador seem like spelling bee cheating. The major events that have led to overhauls in drug testing were deaths. No scandal is worse for the sport than a death. One need look back no further than the 2011 death of Wouter Weylandt at the Giro; there wasn’t a news outlet that didn’t cover the tragedy that day. Instantly, our non-cycling friends asked us why we participated in such a dangerous sport.

And that’s the rub. Any time an athlete dies—no matter the cause—sport is scrutinized. This isn’t specific to cycling. In a world where all doping is okay, rider deaths would surely increase. Given the blind eye and lip service Hein Verbruggen paid to the heart-attack deaths of Dutch cyclists in the early 1990s due to EPO, it’s unlikely the UCI would feel any great motivation to address the issue. That leaves the audience, teams and sponsors to deal with the fallout.

When you consider the devastation that a rider’s death plows in his family, his team and through the company personnel at each of his team’s sponsors, it wouldn’t take long before family, fans and sponsors would begin to cry out for an end to the deaths. But as we know from the studies performed by researcher Bob Goldman, more than 50 percent of Olympic athletes have said they would take a drug that would ensure they would win a gold medal—even if it was guaranteed to kill them within five years of taking it.

While we don’t know if you can transpose those results 100 percent to the pro peloton, it’s not unreasonable to surmise that if that drug was available something like half of our living Tour de France champions would be dead today.

Hannah Arendt wrote, “No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes.” And if death is not a punishment, then nothing is. We can’t depend on the athletes to choose sanity, so we must do it for them.

, , , , , , ,

41 comments

  1. dstan58

    Padraig, I’ve been asking this question for years. Let sport go to a two-tier system; natural & unlimited. Let the marketplace decide. Me, I’m opposed to drug use, but I am only one and I don’t get to set the rules.

  2. Paul I.

    I agree with you Padraig. It’s not just about athletes “choosing”, it’s also about young, impressionable cyclists new to the peloton feeling like they have no choice but to dope, and not even understanding the risks that they are submitting themselves to.

  3. Jack Kane Racing Bicycles

    I posted this on the Red Kite Facebook page:

    Yes, I’m quoting a movie… To quote Alfred, from the Dark Knight — “Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.”

    Our sport is being dragged through the darkest of hours right now, going after amazing riders, ruining record books, and pushing away loads of sponsors, but it has to start somewhere. Once riders know their lives will be severely “changed” if they dope, it will deter some. No, it will not deter them all, but it will deter those that do not want to bring shame to their sport, family, and name.

    Great riders cannot get paid if there are no sponsors in the sport — that’s some motivation right there. That is why I love cycling. We have the highest of high standards.

  4. michael

    On a lighter note…..

    Everyone, please search google/you tube for the SNL sketch “all drug olympics”, pulled from an episode circa 1988’ish or so. Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon. Absolutely hilarious comedic take on the rush to use anabolic’s so prevalent in the late 80’s post-Ben Johnson doping in Seoul.

    Was that sketch part of your inspiration for this post Padraig?

    ;)

  5. Richard

    The sport is nowhere near as bad as it has been in the later 90s and early 00s. If ever there was a case for split categories, it was then. Today there are still those willing to risk their careers, their health, their team mates jobs and their sports reputation, but the numbers are falling rapidly.

    Saying all that, the one big problem with split categories is that those who cannot afford the best drugs or just aren’t good enough to win at that level, will enter into the clean category and continue doping just enough to win or be competitive. Creating a category for cheats will never create a clean sport for the rest. In every sport at every level there are those looking to bend the rules and sometimes past breaking point.

  6. Anthony

    Practically speaking, I think part of the answer would be to greatly reduce the penalties for doping. I read an article to this end somewhere, I am sorry I can’t link to it but if anyone knows please do.

    As it stands now, a two-year (or more) ban means we get this huge, drawn out process of appeals, counter-appeals, lawyers, media, 4000-page binders… Facing that kind of severe penalty, especially riders who are late in their career, their best option is to fight it to the bitter end. Here we are almost two years later finally getting a verdict.

    What if the rider could accept a ‘positive test’ — no admission of guilt or cheating, or tainted beef, just accepting that the test was positive for some reason.

    Contador tests positive, accepts the result, is kicked out of the Tour and forfeits anything gained from that race, followed by a short suspension or a fine coupled with increased testing for a period of a year.

    You could escalate the penalties as you go so that repeat positives would eventually lead to the kind of penalties we have today. But under that scenario maybe we wouldn’t be sitting here changing the results of all these races from 2011.

  7. David Hendry

    The only problem I see in your argument is that you still cast the dopers as cheats. If the rule isn’t there, they are not cheating. In all our sports we agree to compete in a certain activity governed by rules. The common factor is knowing what those rules are. If I show up to a basketball game and tackle the guy with the ball he would rightly be upset because tackling isn’t allowed in those rules. A football player though would expect the tackle. If there were no rules against drugging the drugger would not be flaunting the norms. A few decades ago there were no rules against taking drugs. There were however rules against training for the Olympics for longer that 3 months. I may have the actual time limit wrong but not the intent, the IOC didn’t want athletes who were full time participants. THis was still in the rules in the 1970’s and the result was simple. National sport bodies held their OLympic trials inside the time window so an athlete could be training for something else till he was picked for the team and only then was he training for the Olympics. The scenario is the same everywhere and every time. As soon as a rule is written coaches and athletes look fro what they can do to get an advantage over their competition and certainly outright cheating is one of the things. AS for the medical danger of doping I couldn’t agree more the athletes will risk their lives to gain the financial and social benefits of being a winner so they should be protected from themselves by anyone who loves the sport.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments. This is a touchy subject.

      dstan58: I don’t think this is something we can allow the market to decide; lives are in the balance. Besides, this isn’t something that can transition gradually as a result of market forces. Either we ask them to race clean or we don’t.

      Michael: I’ve got to go watch that sketch again. I recall being in tears from laughing so hard. There’s a good chance I missed a fair amount of it because I was laughing so much. It wasn’t an obvious inspiration, but my wife often wonders what’s going on between my ears, so there’s a chance it did. And thank you for a moment of levity. It’s appreciated.

      Richard, Steve and Grolby: You touch on an issue I just didn’t want to get into in this post: Creating an unlimited category won’t prevent someone from wanting to cheat in the natural category. There’s no end to cheating.

      Anthony: It’s important not to confuse the punishment with the process. We could cut suspensions to six minutes and that wouldn’t change the amount of time that the case takes to adjudicate. In the Contador case, because the testing took some time to perform, he stayed in the race. They simply didn’t have the outcome in July. Eliminating suspension won’t change that.

      David Hendry: You’re absolutely right. I do see doping as cheating. I’m unable not to see it that way because I see it as a fundamental refutation of the social contract. It’s a limitation on my part as a writer, but then my mission is to try to identify an approach that won’t alienate fans and sponsors and that compass informs what I write.

      Mark: I dig your passion, but we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. I see banning doping as no different from a helmet law. Frankly, I’m surprised by this development. I really didn’t realize how similarly I saw those two until this afternoon. As to your extrapolation, you gotta admit, it’s pretty silly. I have my doubts I could find someone who finds my writing for RKP to be life threatening. And if we find him, please get a good picture of him in his tinfoil hat. While I agree that many rules are in a sport’s best interest, I don’t think you can find many instances, at least, in cycling, where what’s in the sport’s best interest isn’t also in the athlete’s best interest. Your final statement goes to the heart of my argument; deaths are counter-productive to commercial success.

  8. mark

    “We can’t depend on the athletes to choose sanity, so we must do it for them.”

    You just lost all credibility with that line.

    For starters, even without the dope, many athletes have “lost sanity.” Your typical Cat. 1 on the local race scene has made sacrifices to get there that most people would never consider doing and may call insane.

    By your reasoning, where does it end? Does someone else have the right to limit the number of posts you can publish to Red Kite Prayer because beyond a certain threshold the effect on your family life is unhealthy?

    The governing body sets rules because without rules it’s impossible to determine a winner. The rules are based more on the sport’s best interest than the athletes’. Fans don’t want to think their heroes are cheaters, and they don’t want to see their heroes dead, so we have doping rules. If cycling could be more successful commercially without doping restrictions, I suspect we would already have done away with them.

  9. Steve

    Sadly, we all know what would happen. It would be only a matter of time before doping was discovered in the no-doping peleton.

  10. grolby

    I have the same question I have every time this comes up: how does having an unlimited league reduce or eliminate the incentive to cheat in the no-doping league? I don’t see how it does.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Mark: I understand your view. The problem I have stems from the ramifications of someone with no helmet and no health insurance pounding his melon into the ground and then saddling the public with millions of dollars in unfunded health care. It’s scenarios like that that cause me to think we must protect the public’s interest. I’d be all for a situation where someone demonstrates that they have good sense and healthcare and therefor the right to ride motorcycles or bicycles with no helmet because they won’t unduly burden the people. I’m also for drivers’ licenses that grade your ability to speed relative to your skill level. Alas, the government isn’t willing to go there, so in the spirit of a blind law, I think a helmet law like we have here in California makes sense.

      CAT4Fodder: Here you go—

      A) Um, I don’t know … maybe publicity? Crazy. Consider Red Bull. They are all about ultimate human performance.
      B) Plenty. Consider Arnold Schwarzenegger.
      C) See above comments.

  11. CAT4Fodder

    As for the two tiered system:

    A) Why would any sponsor want to sponsor a team in the “Doped to the Gills League”?
    B) What athlete (from a marketing standpoint), would want to be associated with the “Doped to the Gills League”
    C) So you mean to tell me that the no doping league will be “clean”? Right…….I am sure no one would think to themselves about going into the no-doping league (which is going to be favorable from a PR standpoint, and dope in order to dominate that league…

    Which means you will be right back into the current situation we have now.

    People complain that cycling (more than other sports) get taken to the woodshed the most. And this is true…but there are reasons for this:

    Cycling is really the only endurance style sport in which there is actual money professionally. This causes two problems. One…doping has a bigger impact on results in this sport than in the stick & ball sports. Most endurance sports are power-to-weight (or at least power-to-CdA ~ co-efficient of drag).

    It is a team sport, but like baseball, it is an individual sport and a team sport all at once. (This is why baseball also gets more scrutiny than football or basketball). There is skill in cycling, no doubt. But it is hard for most of us to really comprehend that in-race, and let’s face it, for GT winners, so much still comes down to power-to-weight.

    Cycling is a sponsor driven sport (i.e. – there are no gate receipts)…Promoters and teams have to deliver something besides just victories. When an NFL player gets busted for steroids, it is not as if his team suddenly is worried that its revenue stream will dry up.

    Unfortunately, cycling is uniquely situated in which its athletes benefit from doping more than most other sports and is at the most risk of severe financial turmoil due to doping. Essentially, it is the only Olympic sport which really falls into this category, and therefore, its situation is really the fault of anyone in particular, but just due to the inherent nature of the sport itself.

  12. Simon

    Is it being unnecessarily provocative to say I’ll watch the one without race radios?

    Doping won’t go away, ever. Cycling needs to stop burying itself, celebrate the efforts made, and get on with the sport. If doing that means stopping trying to be WADA’s poster boys – well hey, it hasn’t hurt tennis. Or Football. Or American football. Or Baseball. Or any other sport.

  13. JohnG

    Padraig,

    Did you get that photo of the first body builder from a still of the movie “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”? That really is a freakish picture.

  14. gmknobl

    Your last sentence is the excuse for the much derided nanny state. But I agree with that statement as it applies here. Of course, it also states the futility of the death penalty also.

    However, you won’t stop doping even with a no-holds-barred league. And thus, what is you purpose here other than to pose a nice mental exercise. I think this exercise is useful.

    Still, I believe the best way to ensure a lack of doping is to make everything more transparent. I also believe that there is the will with the riders to create an open testing system which would reduce the chances of doping and increase the chances of dopers getting caught. They can write their own charter for testing which is more fair to their lives than it currently stands. Teams can help them in the creation of such a charter too. Working together, it will be more effective and more feasible than what currently stands. It will be more fair to riders and teams alike. They IOC and UCI can come along if they like but will end up losing power in this arrangement, which is all right by me, but one of the reasons you see them fighting any such arrangements as such cooperation is only a step away from riders and teams forming unions with real power or forming an entirely separate league.

    I believe the days of the UCI should be numbered if there is bravery in the cycling world, a different type of bravery than facing the chances of death on the road, which is an ever-present danger. It’s a type of bravery that says you will have no income if things go wrong but you’re willing to chance it anyway. That’s harder to take for many people and more scary too them. This is especially true for those with families and why so many riders are willing to accept that death penalty chance to cheat. I mean, what’s the difference between risking your neck on the road and risking your neck with that pill? But risking your chance to have a good or even modest living when you worked so hard to get here? That IS harder and requires more bravery. Yet that’s the type of bravery needed by cyclists and teams in order to improve the sport and take it out of the royalty-run, IOC-related essentially medieval past. I hope to live to see this. With people like Vaughters and Bruyneel, perhaps this can happen. I hope it does.

  15. gmknobl

    There needs to be an edit button in this posting system.

    Second paragraph second sentence should read. “And thus, what is your purpose…?”

  16. Fat Monte

    Every law and/or rule prohibiting the ingesting of a substance into the human body has failed. From Prohibition to the War on Drugs, we’ve learned we cannot legislate morality or override free will. Professional cycling (and sports in general, see Major League Baseball asterisk era) is/are the microcosm of this societal phenomenon.

    This is all a puritanical exercise in futility. The hyper-competitive world of professional racing will always seek to “get away” with an advantage. Will always attempt to justify or introduce yet another new or different performance agent.

    So treat cycling — all professional sports — like the space program. All bets are off. Do what you want. But you must — each of you — keep a detailed log of your regimen. You must use sanctioned doctors. You must abide by your medical team’s decisions should they decide your immediate health is at risk.

    In this way, we learn something. How new treatments work. Which drugs are beneficial. Which can be applied to society at large as new medical treatments for the ill or aged. What new applications these drugs or treatments may have. What side effects to expect from certain regimens.

    Let sport trickle-down new advances in medical science. Let athletes — those who are willing — become the guinea pigs for the rest of us (since they’re going to do it anyway). Admit that doping will always be with us, so at least we cast off the secrecy and put each athlete openly in a doctor’s care.

    In short, use human nature to benefit humanity. Stop trying to repress it.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Fat Monte: Your comparison to the space program (I’m assuming you’re referring to NASA) is exactly why unfettered doping will kill the sport. The disasters of Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia caused widespread revulsion and calls for the dismantling of NASA. Societies don’t tolerate death as an acceptable outcome, even in war. No-holds-barred doping will result in deaths and cause sponsors to flee the sport.

      As many have pointed out, we’ll never get rid of doping, but if you want sponsors to stick around the sport, we need to do what we can to prevent as much doping as possible. Think about how had Riccardo Ricco died last year he would have gone from town idiot to poster boy for why cycling is a dirty sport. Sponsors would have fled for cleaner sports like baseball. Please not the use of irony in my last sentence.

  17. Tom

    “…as we know from the studies performed by researcher Bob Goldman, more than 50 percent of Olympic athletes have said they would take a drug that would ensure they would win a gold medal—even if it was guaranteed to kill them within five years of taking it” Everyone always asks, “What’s wrong with the world today?” Here’s your answer. Many people have no sense of perspective. Whether it’s getting something without doing the work (dopers, cheaters, thieves) or valuing popularity/fame over being able to help improve the world, many don’t have the proper perspective. I’m trying to make sure my kids know what’s important and, it sure as heck isn’t sport over family and friends.

  18. Mike

    In sport as in life, there are cheaters. Unscrupulous businesspeople, casino card-counters, people who cut in theme-park lines. Cheats. People who want the brass ring without all the work or chance.

    I have a pretty easy time with this issue. I agree with Padraig–doping is cheating. Dopers don’t want to be free to take PEDs; they want something no one else has. Rules give them something they can cheat to win.

    Doping is no different from, say, cutting a mile off the course with a secret shortcut, or hopping in a car for part of the course. We all agree that would be cheating, right? And is there still value in the victory vs. the guy who didn’t hitch a ride? We don’t concern ourselves with that form of cheating in today’s media-enabled world, but they did it in the early days. And for the same reasons dopers dope. Drugs are just the latest tool of the cheat.

  19. CAT4Fodder

    Padraig:

    In response to your responses:

    A) If sponsors were “cool” with doped cyclists, why are we even having this discussion right now about sponsors fleeing the sport?

    B) Bodybuilding is entirely different animal from cycling. Bodybuilding also does not require the dollars to continue as a sport, and so it can be supported by the only sponsors which have an interest…i.e. – supplement companies. If cycling (including all teams and races) could be supported by industry oriented dollars alone, then great….but it has not proven that it can and it needs to seek funds from non-cycling sponsors.

    C) Again – once you create the “No Doping League”, someone will decide to go into that league and dope, where theoretically, it will truly provide them with the advantage they are seeking since in theory, most of their competitors will not be juiced.

    As for Red Bull….and this is an honest question. Does anyone know why they pulled out of the Team Pegasus deal? I ask, because my initial understanding is that they pulled out due the doping scandals of 2010, including Cantador.

  20. Adam

    I agree with Padraig 100% on this issue and I’ll add another reason to be weary of allowing unfettered PED’s. You may be fine with allowing a 30 year old Grand Tour contender to gamble with his health for fame and fortune, but it would have the trickle down affect of 16-21 year olds trying to make it into the sport being de facto pushed into drug use when he may not understand the full ramifications of his actions.
    For a great Malcolm Gladwell article on the lingering affects of drug use on East German woman athletes read about Christiane Knacke-Sommer here: http://gladwell.com/2001/2001_08_10_a_drug.htm

  21. mark

    Tom: regarding the sense of perspective and priority, be careful not to impose your priorities on someone else. Family, friends, and making an honest living are all noble. But there are some for whom the pursuit of athletic success or similar are their greatest reward, and without that pursuit their lives would be as hollow as yours would be without family and friends. Your values are not universal.

  22. CAT4Fodder

    Padraig:

    I want to clarify that I agree that unfettered doping is a dangerous road to go down. My initial post and follow-up post were in response to the idea of a two-tiered system not being a viable option for the reasons I posited above.

    Again- cycling is one of the toughest sports in terms of dealing with doping both because of the impact doping can have on an outcome and performance, as well as the money involved is sensitive to the implications of doping.

  23. grolby

    In addition to mark’s comment, I would also caution Tom from drawing broad conclusions from a (relatively informal) study of a very narrow group of people. Olympic athletes are generally there because they have both talent and an unusually strong competitive drive. Ask the same question, or one like it, of the general population and it’s unlikely that you would get the same answer.

  24. Simon

    Something which I’m curious about is exactly what it is that’s given such a push to the anti-doping efforts in cycling. I’m under the impression it has something to do with veiled threats from the IOC to the UCI to do something about it at or around the period of Festina. Could anyone correct me or expand?

  25. Rick Vosper

    I’m not trying to claim any sort of precedence here, but I wrote a very similar letter to the editors of Winning magazine way back in the fall of 1984, so it’s not exactly a new issue.

    Mine was a lot snarkier than yours, Padraig (perhaps one reason it was never published), but it’s interesting that I proposed naming it the Top Fuel class, too. GMTA, as we used to say.

  26. Fat Monte

    I think you’ve taken my “space program” analogy and run a little too literal with it.

    By invoking the space program, I mean that many of the scientific discoveries that were created for NASA, its astronauts, their rockets, etc eventually found its way to uses for the general public.

    The carbon your bike is made of, for example.

    We can use athletes, and not just cyclists, who will always seek to be faster, stronger, longer through chemistry to test-bed techniques and medicines out in the open, and under the care of medical teams.

    What’s different with my approach, other than it’s not a lie, or hidden? And that it could end up benefiting society by advancing medical science?

    As for the resulting deaths…(back to the space program for a minute, which I totally do not want to continue using as a metaphor), our nation has not decreased funding for NASA, or abandoned the shuttle program because of two shuttle disasters. The public did not cry out to stop sending people into space because some astronauts tragically died. The shuttles were grounded because their “use-by” date was years ago.

    That we haven’t had any cyclists (or baseball players for that matter) fall over dead in the midst of competition already has been a minor miracle. And all efforts should be made so that they do not die in the future.

    In fact, I don’t want to see Mr Musclehead (pictured above) fall over dead, either.

    But continuing to drive doping underground all but guarantees that somebody will die someday. Without long-term studying of doping, we guarantee that more athletes will die soon after their days in the arena are over. See Lyle Alzado and his generation of NFL players for proof of that.

    And, truth be told, I do not see, even in the worst of circumstances, many corporations bolting from cycling if (and when, under the current secretive doping environment) a rider dies directly or indirectly due to doping.

    The most corporate-driven racing in the world — motorsports — unfortunately has several on-track fatalities a year. Everyone mourns. There’s a moment of silence, and the schedule picks up again the next week. Risk is inherent in racing. Fans get it. Sponsors get it.

    Lets try another metaphor/example: abortion.

    We can talk abstinence. Birth control. Sex education. Morality. But human nature is what it is — people have always had sex. Will have sex. We tried to legislate morality in this instance, too. Laws in this country outlawed abortion. And human nature being what it is, people still had sex, and still had abortions. Making abortion illegal just drove the practice underground, made it far more dangerous, and claimed the lives of many women.

    That’s where we are now in sports. Doping is underground, where there’s far more risk, reckless, unsupervised experimentation, unscientific and unmonitored practices.

    Where is there more risk to the athlete? Underground doping? Or open, medically supervised doping?

    Where is there more benefit to society? Pretending our athletes don’t cheat and won’t break or bend rules to win? Or allowing them to do what human nature has always done when it comes to competition, and having medical science something in the process?

  27. Wayne

    On the need for protecting athletes from themselves:

    It is popular these days to say that the government should remove itself from personal choice in regards to guns, drugs, helmets, seat belts and other individual decisions. I find it helpful when thinking about these issues to imagine the result if government were to step out of the picture. Would anyone oppose athletes deciding to take and then as a result die on the course? It has happen in the past and would increase if all were made legal. Historically the risk of death has been shown to sometimes be very popular with fans. I feel certain that there will always be those willingly to take insane risks to win and especially to get paid. Look outside of cycling. Would you watch gladiators fighting to the death if they had the choice to do so?

    Ultimately I think there are very few that would be happy with no government involvement at all. We are really discussing what level that involvement is best.

  28. Mike

    Why do people insist on conflating a nanny state with rules of sport? While the merits and problems of a nanny state is a good political discussion to have, it is not applicable to the rules of an organization like professional cycling.

  29. Pingback: Gruppo Frazionato #4 | Non Pro Cycling

  30. Mike

    Ahh, the classic Photshopped Flex Wheeler photo. It’s pretty impossible to get that big first of all. I’m all against steroids but some people bash the hell out of body building by making it seem like it’s an obnoxious sport. I’m referring to the professionals who most of them indeed take steroids. However, they do work hard and this generation of body building now is all about size sad to say. Here is the ACTUAL ORIGINAL photo of Flex Wheeler.

    http://www.bodybuildbid.com/articles/bodybuilders/imgs/flex-wheeler/flex5.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>