Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A modest proposal

I’m no fan of dopers. I see why pros do it. There’s money at stake, and the guys that win get most of it. But that doesn’t make it right.

When I hear rumors of doping at the amateur level, though, I’m dumbfounded. Seriously? You’re a Cat. 4 and decide that upgrading to Cat. 3 is so important you’re willing to dope to get there?

I race because it makes me happy. I can’t imagine anyone being happy with a result he cheated to get. If there’s a bunch of money at stake, I can see someone cheating anyway. But when the winner gets back in cash what he paid as an entry fee, there’s just not that much incentive. And yet it happens.

One of the problems with dopers is that there’s no way to know for sure who’s doing it. Sure we have the guys who test positive, but they wouldn’t have been doping if they thought they’d get caught. And the main reason to think they wouldn’t get caught is past experience. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that there are guys who are doping and not getting caught. At the amateur level, there aren’t even tests.

I’ve heard it suggested multiple times that doping rules should just be done away with. If someone is willing to accept the risk of side effects, more power to him. Allow unrestricted doping and see just how much athletes can achieve. Or create two leagues, a doping league and a clean league. If you ever ring the dope-o-meter in the clean league, you can never compete there again.

The prospect of running redundant leagues for the same sport is problematic, however. First of all, it would be expensive. Multiply the cost of everything times two. Second, we as fans don’t want to admit that star athletes aren’t just well-trained and genetically gifted, but also juiced to the gills.* As long as there’s testing in sport, we can pretend like these are legitimate performances. There’s also the question of which would be more popular. Are we ready to embrace a world where the doped league outshines the clean league in television ratings and therefore sponsorship dollars? It’s much easier to just bury our heads in the sand.

*Remember William “Refrigerator” Perry from the ‘85 Bears? At 6’2” and 302 pounds, he was MASSIVE. Now we have high school kids that size. I spent a lot of time in the weight room in high school. I watched a lot of tall kids between 6’0” and 6’5” desperately try to bulk up to get above 200 pounds. You think a high school kid that’s a relatively lean 300 pounds is natural? Think again. There might be one on every five teams. But not five on any one team. 

A simpler solution would be to just require all doping manufacturers to put a substance in their product that turns the user’s skin purple (this is easier than you might think—according to a well-informed acquaintance who works in the pharmaceutical industry, anabolic steroids have this side effect, and chemicals must be added to counteract it). Doping tests would be completely unnecessary because it would be obvious. In fact, we could use the chemicals already added to steroids to color code the drugs: purple for anabolic/androgenic products such as testosterone and HGH; orange for blood boosters such as EPO; and green for stimulants such as amphetamines. Then we’d not only know that someone is doping, but in what way.

Organizers and competitors could be left to decide how to handle it if someone entered an event but had the wrong-colored skin. Cyclists could pull a Theo Bos at any point during the race to take out a doping competitor.

If the athletes took matters into their own hands, officials would have to decide how to respond. Would it be justifiable if the person taken out had orange skin? Would promoters have signs saying “colored racers not allowed” at registration? Would colored leagues be established to provide the dopers a place to compete if they were shut out from competition? Such matters are not without precedent.

Sponsors would similarly have to decide whether they want a purple-skinned running back pitching their product on television. Would we as viewers eventually become numb to it, accepting green, orange, or purple skin as typical of our heroes? The multi-colored Olympic rings would take on a new, albeit likely more appropriate, meaning.

Would the phenomenon become so rampant that children begin dying their skin, not for the performance benefit, but so they can look more like their role models? It would be like Star-Bellied Sneetches, except in real life. Actually, I can really see this happening. Look what’s happened with athlete tattoos, after all. They’ve gone from a subtle statement of belief or aesthetic to ridiculously ignorant and misguided ideological billboarding in less than a generation.

Maybe orange, green, or purple skin would eventually become no different than having a tattoo, however absurd. In fact, tattoos are a great test case here, because as ludicrous as I think they are, I’m the last guy that’s ever going to give MMA fighter Melvin Costa crap about his tattoos. But that doesn’t mean they won’t keep him from competing.


  1. Perhaps the anti-doping agencies are fighting the good fight, but seems like it just makes it more of a circus. Almost makes favor the OK doping stance. It's not like athletics are fair to begin with given genetic advantages. But then it would just be about who could afford the best drugs.

    What does sport even mean in these days of performance enhancements? I've become jaded and can't really care much about pro sports anymore. I treat it as entertainment, not much more. My own person athletic endeavors, and those of friends and locals, are what I enjoy.

  2. The sad part is that the drugs would not work for everyone. If I were hopped up on EPO and roids it would make no difference. All of you guys would still kill me going up hill. By the way I was that guy in high school eating everything and working out all the time. Just so I could get up to 190 lbs at 6" 4" tall. The kids these days are better fed (protein and other supplements) and some are definitely on drugs. When I was in high school there were rumors about a local high school and some of their star players taking animal steroids. They were all about 40 lbs of muscle heavier than the best players at my school. And the best part was that they were losing their hair at 17 years old.

  3. I would be interested in this just to see how much difference the doping makes. Greg Lemond said doping can turn a mule into a stallion. I have never believed it could actually help that much, but holding a sprint a few seconds longer and climbing a few seconds faster are often the difference between winning and not.

  4. Steve, this article gave me a much better understanding of the difference drugs can make: