Why You Shouldn’t Care About Lance Armstrong

Every professional athlete is cheating, in some capacity. 

I’m not saying that every successful athlete is taking testosterone shots to their back side three times a week.  I’m not saying that all pros are ingesting HGH at carefully selected points during the month.  But on some small level, every modern athlete is cheating. The level at which that cheating is crosses over from “strong work ethic” to “performance enhancing” is arbitrary.  Sports science and sports medicine have both developed to the point that we need to consider the possibility that we need to get rid of the idea of cheating via PEDs all together. 

That Lance Armstrong allegedly was “blood doping” during his seven Tour de France titles matters not.  After all, as was pointed out today, 41 of the 70 riders who finished in the top tens of those races has been busted for PEDs as well. This is a sport where one could argue that you weren’t even really competing unless you were cheating.  And that’s pretty much true for all sports in the modern era.

While the extent of the cheating varies from sport to sport, it exists in every major professional sport.  It’s a product of the unquenchable thirst to push the boundaries of the human body farther and faster than they’ve ever gone before.  A wide receiver loses a step or two, get him off the field!  An outfielder only has warning track power, cut him!  Shooting guard X can’t even dunk anymore, leave him on the bench! We’re all to blame for it which is why we shouldn’t care that it exists in any capacity.  These athletes are obligated to cheat if they want to compete at the insane levels required of professional sports.

Let’s just get this over with really quick. The common misconception with PEDs is that athletes use them primarily to get stronger.  While getting stronger can be considered a nice consilation prize, the primary purpose of using PEDs is to recover more quickly from injury, however major or minor that injury might be.  Basic excercise “injures” the muscles in some small capacity and through the body’s natural processes, the muscle rebuilds itself stronger for the next time.  The faster that rebuilding process takes place, the better.  By having muscles that aren’t injured, the body is more responsive in athletic activity.

Ask yourself an honest question, at what point does an athlete’s use of a foreign substance constitute cheating in your mind?

How can a person honestly argue that ingesting a protein shake after a workout is any different than using HGH?  The desired outcome is the same.  Both protein and HGH work to help the body recover from the workout.  Why is one substance perfectly normal and accepted as a legal rehabilitation method while the other is not?  Protein powder is a manufactured substance, mass produced for the sole purpose of helping people recover from workouts.  Why isn’t HGH available in the same capacity?

The ONLY, and there is only one, ONLY argument that can be used to stymie the use of performance enhancing drugs is with regards to the safety of the human body.  To which I’d counter, regulate it!  Regulate it like alcohol.  Regulate it like tobacco.  Make people aware of any health problems that come with its abuse but then let them have at it.  To come up with an explanation that some substances provide individuals a significant advantage while others do not is as asinine as the NCAA trying to justify the existence of amateur athletics.  There is no point anymore.  Let’s get rid of the hypocrisy all together and just admit it happens and try to regulate it so that some teenager doesn’t cause long-term damage to his kidneys by secretly shooting himself up too often with anabolic steroids.

And this doesn’t even get into the really ground-breaking area of PEDs, the type which Armstrong’s case ventured into.  What if performance enhancing drugs come from the very body with which they will eventually go back in to?  That’s sort of complex.  Here’s the easy way of saying it: how do we feel about guys like Kobe Bryant having their blood withdrawn, spun in a centrifuge, and then shot back into parts of their body?  It’s not a natural process but the ingredients, if you will, are all natural.  Are we as a society really going to try to sit down at a table and figure out which procedures like this are okay and which ones constitute cheating?  I don’t see columnists and sports anchors across the country crying foul over Kobe, but I’ll be god damned if Lance Armstrong dropped a little EPO into his blood!  That’s a god damn shame I tell you!  A shame!  And, oh yeah, what does EPO stand for again?

Exactly.

If there’s one thing that history has taught us during steroid scandals, it’s that the scientists and the athletes are always three steps ahead of the people trying to regulate it.  There are vastly superior resources devoted towards always pushing the bounds of sports science as opposed to regulating it. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and emotions to keep insisting that we need to continue persecuting the alleged “cheaters.”  Instead of having another pointless Salem Witch Trial, why don’t we take a proactive step and actually encourage safe experimentation and consumption of these products?  End the charade once and for all and I promise we’ll all be a lot happier as sports fans.

So seriously, sit down today and try to come up with “the line” at which you consider an athlete cheating today.  Hit me back in the comments even at which point I’ll dissect your argument 1,000 times over for its flaws and hypocrisies.  And if you still think PEDs are the devil, well, you’re probably a fan of the BCS and Skip Bayless.

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My Own Personal Baseball Conspiracy Theory

I had to unload this on you because it’s been bugging me for months after someone at ESPN (I think it was Buster Olney) tweeted randomly one morning that baseball teams were surprised by the alarming spike in oblique injuries in baseball in the last year or so.  To anyone who’s followed baseball in the past ten years, this should automatically alert every red flag and warning sign you have about performance enhancing drugs (if you’ll remember, knee, hamstring, and leg related injuries spiked during the steroids era because players lower bodies couldn’t support the massive increase in body mass gained in the upper bodies).  The question though is why?  The New York Times ran a piece about it today, and unfortunately they don’t come to any definite conclusions either.  Check the story out and keep this in the back of your mind for when the real reasons get revealed five years from now in an SI story detailing HGH abuse in baseball.  From the New York Times:

But now they are. The muscles are particularly important to baseball players, who use them to rotate their bodies as hard as possible to throw a ball and swing a bat, and increasingly those muscles are being injured and putting players like Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria on the disabled list.

Why this is happening is not really clear, but happening it is. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ head trainer, Stan Conte, was so intrigued that he stayed up through the night last week going line by line through a list he has assembled of the roughly 7,000 players who have gone on the disabled list since 1991.

“I had to do that because those injuries weren’t always called obliques,” said Conte, who has spent several years trying to build mathematical formulas to predict the physical problems that players may encounter. “Until the late 1990s, they were called rib cage injuries or abdominal injuries or lower chest injuries. As M.R.I. technology got better, the diagnosis became more particular and we began to see them called oblique injuries.”

For continuity, Conte then grouped everything — what used to be called rib cage or abdominal injuries two decades ago but are now called an oblique — under the term “core injuries.”

And what he found was that four players had gone on the D.L. with core, or oblique, injuries at this point a year ago. But in 2011, the total is already 14 — 12 players at the start of the season and 2 more since then. It is a small sample, Conte acknowledged, but he said it was significant nonetheless because the increase was in contrast to the general pattern since 1991.

That pattern, Conte said, showed that the number of oblique injuries had risen slightly in the last two decades. But over the last eight years, Conte said, the number had actually remained flat, leading to an obvious question: Why is there such a big increase this year?

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, who watched one player after another sustain oblique injuries this spring, said the whole thing remained a mystery to him.

“We’ve had two appendectomies, which I wouldn’t have really bet on,” he said referring to Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox and Matt Holliday of the St. Louis Cardinals, both of whom underwent that procedure earlier this month.

As for the oblique injuries, Girardi said, “I can’t really tell you why it’s happened.”

“Players are strong now and they take swings,” he said. But why that might lead to more oblique injuries, Girardi was not willing to say. “It used to be the hammy,” he said of the hamstring pulls that once dominated injury discussions. And no one, Girardi said, seemed to know why that was the case, either.

All the warning signs are there, I’m telling you!  Sudden mysterious rise in one specific injury?  Check!  No plausible explanation from anyone in the game?  Check!  Girardi comparing it to the spike in hamstring injuries from a generation ago?  Check!

This is going to get big.

[New York Times]

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“Bad Meat” Caused Failed Drug Test Says Tour De France Winner

Is the sport of cycling still making the news?  Although I have a feeling this suspension and drug test might get overruled, this latest development can do nothing but further diminish Americans interest in the sport.  From the NY Times, “Contador, a Spaniard formerly on the Astana team, could lose the title he won this year and face a two-year suspension.  He learned about the positive test for the banned drug clenbuterol, a weight-loss and muscle-building drug, on Aug. 24, nearly a month after winning the Tour, the statement said. He had tested positive for the substance on July 21, one day before the race’s decisive mountain stage.  Contador, who has signed to ride for the Saxo Bank team next year, said he ingested the drug accidentally.  ‘The experts consulted so far have agreed also that this is a food-contamination case, especially considering the number of tests passed by Alberto Contador during the Tour de France,’ his statement said.”

Food contamination, gets you every time!

[NY Times]

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