Monday, June 28, 2010

Deception, drugs and sport

By Tom Grant
PhD student, University of Idaho Center for ETHICS*

Cyclist Floyd Landis spent four years and millions of dollars claiming he was innocent of using performance enhancing drugs as he fought to regain his title of 2006 Tour de France champion, which was stripped from him after he failed a drug test. Then in May he abruptly changed his story, saying that not only had he used steroids, a synthetic blood booster known as EPO and blood transfusions to boost performance, but also that seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and Armstrong’s longtime coach Johan Bruyneel had helped him learn the proper techniques of drug use.

Landis called his drug use “misjudgments” but said he felt no guilt about using performance enhancing drugs.

“I did what I did because that’s what we [cyclists] did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 or 12 years of hard work to get there,” he told ESPN.

Armstrong and others responded by questioning Landis’ credibility. "This is a man that's been under oath several times and had a very different version," Armstrong said. "This is a man that wrote a book for profit and had a completely different version. This is somebody that took, some would say, close to a million dollars from innocent people for his defense under a different premise, and now that it's all run out, the story changes."

Landis may have documents to support some of his claims. Federal investigators may also help the truth come out. Federal investigator Jeff Novitzky, who led the BALCO Investigation that ensnared Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, among others, is now reportedly interested in the allegations against Armstrong.

But controversies over performance enhancing drugs point out that some sports seem to have created cultures of lying. Landis isn’t the first one to admit to lying about performance enhancing drugs. Bonds, Jones, Mark McGuire, and Alex Rodriguez are a few of the superstars who were caught and finally admitted their drug use. From here on, they’ll be remembered as liars.
At one point in their life, winning became more important than their credibility and honesty.

They knew that use of steroids or blood doping was cheating. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have lied about it. During their years of deceit, they became heroes to many people. Landis was defended by many as having been falsely accused of doping.

Now that Landis is telling another story, the “truth” comes out that his former story was a lie. Why tell the truth now with his athletic career virtually over? It would appear that truth has a different value on the outside of sport than it has inside sport. McGuire admitted his drug use to gain a coaching job. Jones confessed only when facing criminal charges for lying to investigators.

“Truth,” in these cases, seems to be more about serving self-interests than following principles of good character.

In fact, some sports may create cultures in which deceit is acceptable when victory is in the balance. Deception has already been part of sport, as one athlete or team tries to fake out another. But how does public acceptance of deceptive strategy inside the sport lead to private acceptance of an illegal tool such as corked bat or a spitball, or an illegal substance such as steroids.

The Landis case is an opportunity to consider how lying affects athletes. According to Landis, the pinnacle of his career was based in deceit. He felt he had to use performance enhancing drugs to succeed because everyone else was using them, and then he had to lie to prevent others from discovering that he cheated. Now he says, “I want to clear my conscience….I don’t want to be part of the problem anymore.”

Our question is where do athletes begin to be part of the problem? With the first shot of EPO or use of blood doping? Or does it start long before that, with an athlete’s first lesson that it’s okay to lie about stepping on the out of bounds line or using an illegal move — as long as the referee didn’t catch them?

Here’s Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll’s take on deception, doping and why coaches have such a difficult time teaching athletes about the line between deception as part of the game and lying to get ahead.

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