Thursday, November 05, 2015

Cheating for fame, fortune, and immortality

I have had several people ask me why so many superstar athletes use performance enhancing drugs. In my humble opinion, athletic cheaters cheat because they want fame, fortune, and immortality.

Superstars in baseball sign 10-year, $200 million contracts. Mediocre plays earn $5-10 million over the span of a generally short career. The same is true in basketball and football, and probably even more true in sports like cycling, track, marathoning, etc where a handful of superstars make huge money and everyone else make $100-300K per year (if that much).

Why cheat? Because it's worth it!!! No punishment that could be enacted by an athletic body could possibly be enough to dissuade cheating given these economics.

We, the public, have created this by making stellar athletes into super-heroes and role models. We follow everything they do, buy the products they endorse, pay money for their jerseys and signatures, etc.

The solution will come when we start treating them like what they are -- great athletes and nothing more. Then the rewards will be more sane, the urge to cheat will be lower, and reasonable punishment (e.g. shame) will dissuade most from trying.

In addition to the major league sports, I follow track and field as well as road cycling (not as much). As far as track and field in the U.S. goes, except for the individual sprints, the times are slower, throws are shorter, and the jumps are shorter than they were years ago. The average performance among all competitors seems to have improved though, especially among women.

This leads me to believe that track and field in the U.S. is pretty clean. The techniques for catching violators has greatly improved, and the punishments are pretty severe. I think it's important to keep the sports clean because no young athlete should be put in a position where they feel they have to ingest potentially toxic or carcinogenic drugs just to be competitive.

As far as past violators go, I think that needs to be handled on a case by case basis depending on the severity of the infraction and behavior afterward.

We've turned athletes into caricatures by defining them through a series of athletic accomplishments and back-stories. Why? And then they disappoint when failing to live up to the caricature.

Then we wonder why modern athletes, entertainers, and others hire publicists to control their public image, and people get mad at that because they think they are being duped. And the blame? Us. We created the caricature, the bigger than life image, with no supporting evidence. Why do we do it? I don't know, because apparently I was born without that gene.

Superstar athletes have people controlling their public image; the public all but requires them to do it. They are not in my family, not my friend, and not my neighbor. Athletes do not teach my children at their school, and nor do they have political power in my community.

Apparently I am the anomaly. That's ok with me. I admire the accomplishments of these great athletes and entertainers, but my "relationship" with them doesn't go beyond that.

So I don't care about their back stories and their personal lives. I don't feel "cheated" if they took drugs or slept with 100 women while married. And I'm raising my children to view them the same way. I suggest some others try it as well. It might give you a little less to talk about at the water cooler, but it will get you focused on what really matters.

The Beatles wrote and performed some of their greatest music while under the influence of illegal drugs. And because of their use of these PEDs, they are considered one of (if not THE) greatest musical group of the last century, and Paul was knighted by the Queen of England. Fans relish in how their use of psychedelic drugs positively transformed music.

Where is the outcry? Do you feel "cheated"? Funny how selective we all are in condemning our heroes.

I am fascinated by the psychology of people who create artificial heroes and then destroy them for their flaws. It seems to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we treated athletes, actors, and musicians as entertainers -- enjoying the moment with no expectations beyond that -- we wouldn't have to destroy them later.

My post is about the obsession with celebrity. I don't care what they do. Let their friends, family, govt (if criminal) and god judge them, not me. I worry about the people who affect my life and the life of my family.

If this were about the teachers at our school or my neighbors I would express a very different level of concern.

The argument that celebrities somehow affect our lives by their actions is based on the premise that we put them on a pedestal and use them as a basis for evaluation in our lives. Take away that premise by never assigning them that status in the first place, and their actions become their own problems, not mine.

I'm not condoning anyone's actions. I am pointing out that if I don't assign "celebrities" an artificial status of "perfection" to begin with, then I have no need to worry about judging them later. I enjoyed watching Lance Armstrong race in the Tour de France many years ago. The pleasure was fleeting, as is all entertainment. My "relationship" with him ended when the event ended.

I am not condoning anyone for taking drugs, I am pointing out the hypocrisy of how people treat various kinds of celebrity "heroes". I am also pointing out that I don't understand the need for such hero-worship, and that without it, the need to personally judge these individuals goes away.

So, for me, since I appreciate their talents but don't treat them as anything more than people talented in their specific arena, I don't judge them. If they affected my life (like a local school teacher, a relative, or a neighbor) my reaction would be very different.

We treat sports “heroes” better than Nobel Physicists or ground-breaking doctors and chemists. The rewards are so great that doping is a no-brainer.

I love sports and enjoy the tremendous skill and great moments. But when the moment or the event is over, it’s back to real life.

Sports is entertainment, like going to the movies. I respect the skill of the athletes, but I don’t idolize them. They are a diversion, not a place to focus any more attention than just the moment.

If we are going to treat sports “heroes” as gods; if we are going to make them the focus of our lives, shower them with money and adoration, and then to be able to tear them down the first time they disappoint us, then there will be steroids in baseball, and EPO in cycling, and something else for sprinters, and something else for basketball, etc.

And therein lies the problem. Why are athletes ever anyones “hero”? They may be great athletes, but does that make them “heroes”? Did they save lives? Did they make the world a better place? Their charitable work is commendable, but “heroes”?

Derek Jeter is a great sports star, but he is not a “hero”. Same with Lebron James.

Maybe if we didn’t make sports stars “heroes” they wouldn’t be so tempted to “cheat”. Why do we make them bigger than life? Why do we buy their jerseys and the beer or breakfast cereal they endorse?

I appreciate greatness, but greatness is very different from “hero”.

A hero is a NYC firefighter who climbed the WTC on 9/11 risking their own life to try to save others. A hero is Mother Teresa who gave her life to help those who couldn’t help themselves. A hero is MLK who risked (and ultimately sacrificed) his life to deliver a message that changed society. A hero is a great chemist or doctor who works tirelessly to find a cure for a horrible disease. A hero is a father or mother that works 3 jobs so they can give their children a chance to have a better life than they did.

We should all be challenging ourselves to be our children’s heroes by working hard, giving of ourselves, and being good people. Don’t pass off that role to Derek Jeter or Lance Armstrong.

OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

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