Victory At What Price?

Victory At What Price?

A 1997 Sports Illustrated article* painted a scary picture of the motivations and standards behind a sampling of American athletes.  They reported the results of a poll of 198 Olympians and aspiring Olympians.  The athletes were queried based on two scenarios. 

First, you are offered a banned performance-enhancing substance with 2 guarantees: 1) You will not be caught. 2) You will win.

Would you take it?  195 athletes said yes.  3 said no. 

Second, you are offered a banned performance-enhancing substance that comes with two guarantees: 1) You will not be caught.  2) You will win every competition you enter for the next five years, and then you will die from the side effects of the substance.

Would you take it?  More than half of the athletes said yes.

What a statement this article makes about how much athletes value winning.  What they are willing to risk.  How little they value themselves, their health.  With what disregard they treat their opponents and the game.   

Is it really any surprise, then, that a decade later there are so many professional athletes in hot water for using banned substances in professional sports?  What is their reasoning? “I’ll never get caught.” “Everybody is using them.”  “Just a little help to stay on top for one more season.”  “It won’t really affect me the way they say.”

The East German Olympic coaches took this risk 3 decades ago when they experimented with these substances in their athletes.  Now this population suffers hugely increased rates of cancers, infertility, depression, eating disorders as a result.  Even with this evidence, the incentive to gain the slightest competitive advantage in sports is still overwhelming.  So much so that both amateur and professional sports bodies have seen the need to regulate these substances, “to protect these athletes from their own instincts,” says Jim Bouton, a retired NY Yankees pitcher.

Is this our instinct?  Is this how we are created?  Or do we have the capacity to rise above temptation and compete according to the rules?  To do the right thing, even when no one is watching.  Even when there is a lot at stake?  After all, if we cheat to win, what have we really won?

How about you?  Your friends?  How would you answer in the 2 scenarios?  How much is winning worth to you?  How valuable is life and health and self respect?  What kind of person is your sport helping you become?  

I believe athletic competition can speed us in the right direction, if we respect the process, and trust the Processor.  

*Michael Bamberger and Don Yeager, “Over The Edge,” Sports Illustrated, April 14, 1997.

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