Who are we to judge Lance Armstrong?
I may not like the fact that Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs to win most of his races including le Tour de France seven times. The fact that he lied about their use and covered it up for so many years is more upsetting. However the truth is that no cyclist in that race could ever complete one day’s worth of racing without an excessive amount of pharmacological help.
Have you ever watched the race? How can any human being ride uphill for 37 kilometers in high altitude mountains with low levels of oxygen? The race itself is ridiculous and almost forces any athlete to find something to use to enhance his ability to perform.
If we assume that the top five cyclists in le Tour de France did use performance-enhancing drugs, then the playing field was even and Lance Armstrong was still the winner of each race.
All the news media are so quick to condemn this man, a survivor of testicular cancer and the creator of Livestrong, one of the greatest philanthropic cancer charities in the world. And of course when he is ready to confess and bare all, it must be to Oprah. To those of you who are religious and confess their sins regularly or once a year, you may think that God is a male figure that can listen to your confession and forgive you your sins. However, when it comes to the news media, there is but one true god and she is female and once you have confessed to her you may never be forgiven but exploited forever. The fact is, do any of us, including Oprah have the right to judge Lance Armstrong.
Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire with a weight problem. Over the years she has probably used a multitude of diet pills, some prescription, some non-prescription. She has suffered from bouts of depression and taken drugs for that condition. At the height of her career when she was looking slim and smiling, was she using any performance-enhancing drugs? Probably. So should she be judging Mr. Armstrong for the rest of us to see? Of course those interviews earned her and Lance huge amounts of money.
Lance Armstrong had testicular cancer and after chemotherapy and surgery his testes no longer had the ability to produce testosterone, the one hormone that males need to survive in this world. So for the rest of his life he injects synthetic testosterone so that he may need a normal life. Obviously he abused this situation and used more than was prescribed. He also used Epoitin (erythropoietin), a drug originally designed to increase the red blood cell count of people undergoing chemotherapy. It was then used by many athletes because it is the red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles of your body and if you can produce extra red blood cells you will have more oxygen delivered to those muscles.
It is interesting that erythropoietin is a banned substance because it produces oxygen-rich blood, but it is acceptable for athletes to use hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Stimulants such as Dexedrine, Adderal and ephedrine are banned but the use of caffeine and nicotine is acceptable. However if you have a cold and take a decongestant that contains pseudoephedrine, if caught you will be disqualified.
But for those of you who condemn this man for cheating, what if it was suggested to you that Ritalin or a similar drug could enhance your child’s ability to concentrate and allow him to be more focussed in his scholastic studies? Would you refuse to allow your child to use the drug even if it could bring his marks up from a C average to an A? When my children were going to university they used phosphatidyl serine and high potency fish oil. Both of these natural supplements enhance brain function. Was this cheating? Should they have declared the use of mind-enhancing supplements to their teachers?
Most people have a caffeine beverage before starting work. I would think that the use of such a stimulant in the morning and maybe a few more times during the day may enhance their working performance. Many people are deathly afraid of public speaking and yet a beta blocker called propranolol can lower their heart rate, stop them from perspiring and allow them to make that presentation while at the same time not affecting the clarity of their thoughts. The drug is also used by students who get nervous and may forget learned information before an exam. I would call this a performance-enhancing drug but its use is perfectly acceptable in our society.
If you have a very long week coming, have to put in lots of extra time at work and still attend to many functions in your social life, will your child miss one or two tablets from his Ritalin or Dexedrine prescription? And when the week is over and you are complimented for your great work at the office and how smooth you were at those social functions, will you declare the use of those performance-enhancing drugs? In the city of Hamilton where Stelco and Defasco have been the two largest employers, Tylenol# 3 is the most prescribed painkiller drug to their workers. I play baseball with a lot of retired steelworkers who constantly take this narcotic. As fellow ballplayers we accept the fact that they are in pain and must have this drug in order to play the game. We don’t judge them or condemn them.
It doesn’t matter what the era, there are always drugs that help us cope. In the seventies the Rolling Stones coined the phrase “mother’s little helper “which was a reference to the drug Valium. This was their drug and it helped them cope with their new found freedom on the marketplace while still trying to raise a family at home. Today, people under stress take anti-depressants, the modern day version of the performance-enhancing drug to help us cope with everyday stress.
In sports we really look down on athletes that take performance-enhancing drugs. This year four great baseball players came up for nomination to the Baseball Hall of Fame and because they were all linked to steroids none of them mustered enough votes to get in. The voting is done by sports writers, notorious for excessive drinking, smoking and the use of drugs and yet they are so judgemental. The greatest baseball player ever to play the game, Pete Rose still is condemned because he wagered on games. He didn’t even take drugs. Of course the athletes that use the most drugs are the ones that enter the Olympics. The Olympic Games were originally sporting contests between great athletes. But even the Greeks tried to enhance their performance with exotic herbs and animal testicles. The only thing that was banned in the original Olympics was black magic – casting a spell on your opponent. Now they have become pharmacological contests between the trainers and doctors who find newer and better ways to pharmaceutically enhance the performance of a human being and the testing labs that have to keep creating new procedures to detect these drugs. We already have two separate Olympic contests, the main one every four years and the “Special” Olympics for physically and mentally challenged athletes. How about a third category, a drug free Olympics for those who choose this route while the rest of the athletes can compete in a drug Olympics for different medals.
Mature males today have entered their own sexual Olympics with the use of Viagra, Levitra, Cialis and even natural supplements such as DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). Are these the same men that condemn Lance Armstrong for using drugs? If a man over fifty is afraid of losing his job to a younger 25 year old university graduate, is it permissible to use a testosterone gel to increase his strength, stamina, muscle mass and make him look younger and stronger. And yet testosterone is the principle anabolic steroid used by most athletes.
After you finished a round of golf and had a very good game will you declare to the rest of your foursome that you used an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen or naproxen or a natural supplement such as Nutri-Flex or Serrapeptase or will you just accept the accolades of your playing partners?
Athletes who use testosterone increase their muscle mass, reduce their body fat, thereby increasing their strength and stamina. Their use of epoitin provides a larger number of red blood cells to increase the amount of oxygen delivered to their muscles. These drugs enhance their performance but as long as we do the same thing in our everyday lives we should not judge these athletes.