Understanding the Doping Mind
Most of the cycling world has been abuzz since yesterday when the first links appeared to Jonathan Vaughters’ op-ed piece for the New York Times. It’s rare that we direct readers to another site, but if you haven’t already read the piece by Garmin-Sharp’s director and you follow pro cycling, then this piece is required reading. You can read it here.
What’s notable about Vaughters’ piece isn’t that he openly admits that he doped. It’s simply an item on his resume, a resume that includes lifelong cyclist, former pro and lieutenant for the U.S. Postal Service Team. What is significant is that Vaughters uses those details to establish his bona fides as an authority on how to create an environment where an athlete isn’t forced to confront the choice he faced.
There’s a tendency to immediately sum up any rider found to have doped as a cheater. It’s an easy equivalent to draw. And because doping provokes such a passionate response in cycling fans—me included—it’s easy to reduce the offending rider to a black-hat-wearing villain. As it happens, it’s easier to condemn than it is to understand. Been there, done that, sent the postcard.
Vaughters weaves a deft journey through the many factors that contribute to an athlete’s choice and while there is ample opportunity to dodge responsibility, he acknowledges that it was a choice that he alone made. What his essay best illustrates is a point I’ve written about on multiple occasions, that most doping comes as the result of coercion, either explicit, such as from a coach (it’s worth noting that his callout to “the boss” was a shot across Armstrong’s bow), or implicit, as a result of the sense that one is being left behind by the competition.
Since its inception Slipstream Sports has run what is arguably the cleanest program in cycling. If for no other reason, Vaughters deserves our attention, has earned the right to make the case for how we can clean up cycling. Will the UCI listen? That’s the question.
Image courtesy Slipstream Sports