If you were a professional athlete and could get away with using performance-enhancing drugs, would you do it? I would like to say I wouldn’t, but these days I’m not so sure anymore.
Lance Armstrong is the latest disgraced athlete to admit to using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during his illustrious cycling career. The news was expected after the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) 1000-page report which was released last year. According to the report, “hotel rooms were transformed into blood banks as riders were given late-night transfusions, doctors were paid off and competitors were warned about tests in advance.” Armstrong was later stripped of his 7 Tour de France medals, given a life-ban from racing and basically forced out of his Livestrong cancer foundation. He now faces a number of lawsuits and legal issues from years of denied doping and legal action that he took against people and organizations that accused him of cheating. Based on the current legal cases, he is going to be liable for substantial amount, but for someone worth $125 million, he should be alright.
So is using PEDs worth it?
Armstrong had less than a 50% chance of survival when his testicular cancer spread to his lungs and brain. He wasn’t supposed to live, let alone compete in the grueling world of professional cycling. His entire life was cycling, and soon his passion and livelihood would be gone. Would you not be tempted to dope? Cycling was far from being a clean sport when Armstrong made his comeback. While many other competitors were disqualified for for testing positive, you have to assume at the time, many more got away with it.
So Armstrong went back to cycling and had legendary success. He won the hardest and most prestigious cycling race 7 times. Not once or twice, but 7 times. Maybe he could have got away with it had he kept it to 2 or 3, but that’s a different story. He built a multi-million dollar brand and started an extremely well-known and successful charitable organization. If he didn’t use anything, would he have had the some success? Of course not. Hate him or love him for what he did on a bike, Armstrong founded a charity organization that is responsible for raising nearly $500 million for cancer. They have worked with over 550 organizations worldwide fighting cancer and helping cancer survivors. Along with the financial support, Livestrong has provided a priceless amount of exposure and publicity to the battle against cancer.
I can never condone someone for blatantly cheating. Then to follow that by fighting for years and years, trying to prove his innocence, while losing friends and support, and then to finally confess to Oprah. But before Armstrong is vilified for what he did, cheating in a sport that was riddled with cheaters, ask yourself, what would you have done? Remember that this started before the use of steroids was general knowledge in baseball. Before the public wanted all of our sports clean. Why wouldn’t you take PEDs? Because it’s unethical, sure, but the rest of the competitive field is using them. They destroy your body, not much of a concern for someone who just came back from cancer, and is the only life he knows. I’m not saying what he did was right, but I can see myself being tempted as well.
But why confess now of all times? It could do with him being past his statute of limitations for perjury when he denied using illegal performance enhancers under oath, but that was past back in 2010. I believe he’s confessing to avoid the same fate of Pete Rose. Rose was an all-time great baseball player, banned for life for gambling on baseball games. Rose denied for years and years until eventually coming clean 14 years later, after he had been forgotten. Armstrong is now on the path of redemption. He faces a difficult task because unlike athletes, like Michael Vick, who won support by continuing to play his sport well, Armstrong is retired from pro cycling. He can’t show the world that he can do it without the drugs. He doesn’t have the same problem as Rose because his name still has so much public pull. It has been said that he is working with the USADA to point out other athletes that have been doping, and that’s a start.
No matter how much he is able to help clean up sports, he will never get back his championships and titles. But at the end of the day, he used drugs in a drug filled sport and came out a $100 millionaire and an international icon. Wouldn’t you do the same?