The whole world watched as Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah that he used EPO, human-growth hormone, testosterone and other drugs to help him win his 7 Tour de France titles. Actually, many learned about his confession second hand since, not that many people get Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network. The part that was really interesting is how Mr. Armstrong said he doesn’t consider himself to be a cheater. He said he looked up the word “cheat” in the dictionary and said the definition—to gain an unfair advantage—doesn’t describe his use of performance-enhancing drugs. “So many other riders were also using them”, he said, that “the playing field was level”. This got me to thinking, if leveling the playing field is what some of those in the show and high end genetics world consider that they are doing?
Much has been said about dairy cattle show ethics over the years (Read more – The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Dairy Cattle Show Ethics), as well as the ethics of those breeding and marketing top genetic animals (Read more – Business Ethics and Marketing Dairy Cattle and Has Genomics Knocked Out Hot House Herds?) and also dairy cattle photography ethics (Read more – Dairy Cattle Photography: Ethics and Copyright and Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?). People feel very strong on both sides of this argument. Others simply wish to enjoy cattle shows without having to think about the ethics, politics, economics (Read more – RF Goldwyn Hailey: Cash Cow or Cash Hog) and social issues.
Show Ethics and Major Sports They Have a Very Similar Past
The one thing that caught my attention was how for the most part show ethics have mirrored those of the cycling world as well as most other major North American pro sports. Baseball, Football, Basketball and Hockey (yes we are Canadian so we have to acknowledge Hockey) as well as cycling have all gone through major transformation in their perspective on performance enhancing drugs.
At one time, using illegal drugs or doing unethical practices was seen as a necessary evil in order to compete at the top level. As Armstrong says the need to take banned substances was like saying “we have to have air in our tires and we have to have water in our bottles.” Well, in the show scene, at one time, it was pretty much the same. For the most part in order to compete at the highest level (there are exceptions) you needed to push the limits in order to win the prize.
Villains or Lambs to the Slaughter?
Lance Armstrong is to cycling what Jose Canseco is to Baseball (Read more – The Big Bad Wolf of the Dairy Industry). Both have been tagged as the poster child for their drug era. Both sports want to put this dark time behind them. The debate boils down to whether these two are really the rare villain or are they the greatest of their time who performed on the stage demanded by the spectators of that time?
It’s funny when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in pursuit of Roger Maris and his single season home run record, the world watched with great amazement. Television broadcasts interrupted prime time shows to show a McGwire towering blast. Previously, interruptions were restricted to an act of war or a Presidential address. Similarly, everyone loved the great story of Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories. But now as the full story comes to light everyone looks back and labels them as horrible people, as evidenced by the treatment of Armstrong in the media, and how both McGwire and Sosa were shunned in the recent Hall of Fame voting.
Have Things Really Changed?
The question now becomes “Has the cheating stopped? Or are those being tested just one step ahead of the testers?” There has been great debate in the media whether baseball and the other major sports are really clean, or have the users found new and better ways to elude detection. In the case of Armstrong, there was regular testing at the time but he was able to elude detection. It was not until recently that new tests were developed that they were able to confirm his use, since they had his blood samples on file (Something the major pro-sports have not started until recently). This has me thinking, has the show ring and the genetics market really cleaned up their act? Or are they just staying one-step ahead?
The Bullvine Bottom Line
In the 90’s and early twenty first century, drug use in sports was so endemic that the moral culpability of individual players who start taking steroids after the use is widespread is much more ambiguous. Much like the dairy cattle show scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I am sure there are those that will tell you it never happened. There are also those who will try to tell you that the Apollo Moon landing was a hoax or that there really were UFO’s recovered at Roswell. Even better, that the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) are controlled by the big A.I companies and they just want to beat the little guy down. The major lesson is that you can’t waste your time pointing the finger at individuals but, instead, we need to keep working together to improve the industry as a whole.