February 13, 2013
During the early 2000s, when you opened up Sports Illustrated, who was on the cover? Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds are just a few of the featured athletes who experienced careers of stardom and fame. Now, magazines and newspapers release articles about Armstrong and Bonds entitled “The Truth at Last” or “A Massive Fraud Now More Fully Exposed”. Both were found guilty for the illegal use of stimulants, or performance-enhancing drugs. While society has witnessed this spiked popularity of sports doping, individuals jump to conclusions to either condemn or defend these athletes. Without considering the middle ground, individuals have formulated their own, often unfair, judgments. Although this public outcry is necessary and expected, it is vital for society to send a clear message on its treatment of doping. If we consider doping to be a mistake or an example of failure, then a failure is only beneficial if we learn from it. This controversial time calls for a period of reflection for the athletes and our society.
In this paper, I will seek to examine the societal consequences for athletes who dope. Sports have emerged as a major industry in the United States, so these controversies demand that society look at the causes and implications of doping. To further my understanding in this topic, I will address four questions: What is the role of the athlete in society? What have been or should be the consequences for convicted athletes? What is the goal of these consequences? How do sports move forward? Defining the role of the athlete is an important starting point because there is an apparent conflict of interests between society and its athletes. I believe that society should consider these questions before determining the athlete’s consequences. For example, if society only emphasizes the need to “win at all costs”, then an athlete could fulfill his/her role by doping. However, if athletes are expected to succeed and to play fair, then the athlete’s consequences should address this two-pronged goal.
Three case studies attest to this apparent conflict of interest mentioned above. These athletes have reached their goal of winning, yet their accomplishments have been tarnished by their convicted use of stimulants. This leads to a divisive society, unsure how to deal with baseball player Barry Bonds and cyclists Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis. Currently, the public is involved in Armstrong’s recent controversy as the superstar admitted to doping in January 2013.
Society condemns Bonds, Armstrong, and Landis because they did not play fair. However, their consequences remain uncertain. These three athletes advanced their respective sports through their noteworthy achievements. Their consequences have varied because society wants to judge each athlete case by case. Society wishes to judge Bonds, Armstrong, and Landis as both athletes and as private citizens. I urge that we think carefully before acting because society’s final verdict will set the precedent for future cases. These instances, along with the ethical issues of fairness, compassion, and the difference between motives and outcome, will shape my argument and allow me to share my own recommendations.
The American sports of baseball and cycling have seen the highest rates of doping, which is why I will examine the case studies of Armstrong, Bonds, and Landis. Specifically, “cycling is the sport with the highest percentage of adverse findings (3.78 percent of all samples)” [on the subject of doping]. Baseball takes second place in this statistic at approximately 3.60 percent of all samples (Strulik). These numbers should not be surprising due to the popularity of the two sports. Since its beginnings in the late 1800s, baseball has been America’s sweetheart sport. It was responsible for transforming the athlete into a societal hero and superstar. The public flocked to baseball stadiums and admired Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa stack up the scorecards. Records were shattered while the sport reveled in its newfound glory. Cycling, too, has experienced tremendous growth. Though more of an up and coming sport, the cycling athletes themselves have contributed to its increased popularity. Whereas baseball made its stars, cycling stars made the sport. In particular, Lance Armstrong exerted a tremendous amount of influence on cycling. Armstrong’s fame turned the public’s attention to cycling. Because of his charity work, comeback from cancer, and seven Tour de France titles, Armstrong heightened society’s excitement for the sport. As one race organizer points out: whether people respect the cyclist or not, he “has done a ton for cycling and we wanted to…show our support” (Beaudin). For over a decade, Armstrong stood at the helm of American success and fame. He is one of many athletes who exemplified America’s dominance on the international level.
One might ask: Why does it matter if America succeeds in sports? The answer lies in the fact that athletic achievements allow for feelings of national superiority and pride. The country vicariously celebrated when, for example, America’s 1980 Olympic Hockey Team upset the Soviet Union. At the time, the Soviet Union’s Hockey Team was ranked #1 in the world and expected to win another gold medal. The tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union seeped into the hockey arena. Thus, the 4-3 US victory, coined the Miracle on Ice, represented a victory for our nation. People all over the country joined Team USA. As columnist Hubert Mizell says, in the minds of millions of Americans, on February 22nd, 1980, “Good…stunned evil.” The Miracle on Ice demonstrates the relevancy of sports to citizens’ lives. Therefore, when these heroes fall, our hopes do, too. It is crucial that we, as a society, are thoughtful about our decisions in regards to doping.
When society debates the consequences for convicted athletes, multiple factors should be considered. Just as there are two sides to a story, there are two sides to this issue as well. Because America is fascinated by athletic feats, there are rising expectations for athletes. They face the pressures of carrying their nation to victory. Some people would claim that the athletes have diminished responsibility for their actions because they are burdened by society’s high expectations. These advocates assert the unfairness of the situation: either the athletes are condemned for doping or condemned for losing. Perhaps, this recent rise in doping demonstrates that athletes would rather gain the glory (even if stripped of everything later) than never be glorified. The opposition states that the decision to dope and cheat is always an individual choice. The individual is fully responsible because each person must hold himself/herself to a standard. However, regardless of whether the choice is deemed public or private, the athlete’s decision to dope affects all of society.
As athletes turn to doping to enhance their performance, they set higher expectations for current athletes and ones of the next generation. For me, there is an inherent wrong in the complacency that younger athletes feel about the use of stimulants. Teenage cyclists openly speak of a doping culture. They maintain that convicted athletes should not face punishment because they need the stimulants to perform at increasingly higher levels. Doping has become the norm and a means of fair play for them. Maybe the public cannot fathom the pressures associated with athletics. Nevertheless, society has the responsibility to enact change. If we want to change the way that sports operate, we need to act assertively and prudently.
While society tries to grapple with these doping controversies, all other athletes must compete with those using the stimulants. In cutthroat competition, every athlete has that drive to succeed. The thrill of competition means that one person emerges victorious so the rest go down in defeat. To many athletes, second place is the equivalent of placing last. I think we all remember McKayla Maroney’s “not impressed” face at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Standing on the podium, wearing a silver medal, Maroney attracted national attention for her snicker. She was the overwhelming favorite for the women’s vault gold, but fell short. The image of that unsatisfied sixteen-year old teenager reflects the nation’s emphasis on winning.
However, doping does not entail playing or competing fairly in order to succeed. By doping, athletes attempt to beat the system and rules that society has established. When a doping athlete shatters a world record, society will celebrate, but after discovering the truth, we will most likely condemn that athlete. A 2012 Olympic Study reveals that a select group of American and British athletes were allowed to compete in London, though they had tested positive before for the use of stimulants. These athletes were given special treatment (Almond). Why? One such reason is that the committee felt these particular nations would benefit if their star athletes competed. This decision may come back to bite the nations if this doping incident becomes widely known. These stellar athletes went to London and many performed well. Thus, they set the bar higher, not just for the 2016 Summer Olympics, but for the Olympics in future decades.
Returning to the case studies: Is society enacting measures and consequences that are fair? In my opinion, the most important goal of consequences is to deter future athletes from doping. If society condemns the use of stimulants, then we consider doping unacceptable. Bonds and Armstrong have already made the choice to dope, but their peers and future generations have not. It is our duty to try and prevent these potential future mistakes.
By reviewing the consequences of Bonds and Armstrong, we will gain insight into various discrepancies and contradictions. Barry Bonds was convicted of the use of stimulants, but his other consequences remain ambiguous, such as the treatment of his home run records (Mcgrath). Nobody from the doping association has made a statement regarding the baseball player’s punishments. For now, his records stand, though he was not voted into the Hall of Fame on January 9th, 2013. If Bonds is not stripped of his eight Golden Gloves and seven National Player of the Year Awards, then how can be denied a spot in the Hall of Fame? That discrepancy will exist until either Bonds is voted into the Hall of Fame or the sport decides to strip his awards. Society’s lack of action does not portray a nation intent on punishing Bonds for his use of steroids. He retired from baseball more than five years ago, so the governing authorities should have addressed these issues by now. This ambiguity is unfair for athletes and sends them a mixed message.
On the other hand, Lance Armstrong’s consequences were made very clear. The USADA (United States Anti-Doping Association) released a statement detailing the cyclist’s stringent punishments. Since then, Armstrong has lost his seven Tour de France Titles, stepped down as the chairman of his own charity foundation, and began a life ban on cycling. Armstrong called his stepping down of Livestrong as his “most humbling moment” because “that was the lowest” (Day). Armstrong was particularly proud of the success of Livestrong. So, for me, this signified that Armstrong was truly stripped of everything: his accolades and his pride. In his interview with Oprah Winfrey in January 2013, Armstrong admitted to doping throughout his career. Because of his confession, his life ban from cycling could be reduced to eight years. The USADA had punished Armstrong so severely because he refused to speak the truth, even though the Association had obtained overwhelming evidence (over 1,000 pages) against the cyclist (USADA). I suppose the USADA wanted Armstrong to confess his wrongdoing in front of the entire nation. Thus, should the consequences reflect the nature of the crime (the actual doping) or the admission of its immorality (the confession)? I am not sure which one would deter future athletes from doping, but whichever is more effective should be implemented.
Because society has obfuscated the consequences for doping athletes, there exists unfairness for current athletes and ones of the next generation. This serves as a disadvantage for them. There should be a definitive rule in each sport outlining the consequences. Nevertheless, as of January 2013, I think that society is taking the right steps and moving in a forward direction.
The ethical value of compassion is also a factor in determining the consequences. There are two sides to the argument based on compassion. When some hear the word “compassion”, they assume it means feeling sympathy or pity for the athletes. These proponents maintain that the public must lower its expectations and empathize with its athletes. The other side focuses on the counterargument: America’s obsession with sports has benefitted the athletes as they are rewarded with ever-increasing salaries and fame. These debates lead to public outcry, common in Lance Armstrong’s case. Just as people choose sides during a baseball game or a cycling race, they also take a stance in these controversies. Therefore, arguments involving emotion are sometimes the most difficult to articulate.
Athletes carry perhaps the highest expectations of all: their own. They feel the pressure to excel after sacrificing their time and effort for countless years. Five former Olympic Gold Medalists discussed their emotions on the morning of competition. They had all endured the arduous training, but unanimously agreed that nothing could prepare them for that morning. The mental component was equally as important as their physical capabilities (Ainslie). From this perspective, the public cannot understand the necessity of winning for these athletes. One day, one race, one swing can make or break an athlete’s career. Sometimes, to first earn the fame, athletes must hit that homerun at the bottom of the ninth inning or cross the finish life half a second earlier than the other cyclist. The counterargument emphasizes that doping gives athletes an unfair advantage because it boosts their confidence. Knowing that stimulants can enhance and maybe guarantee performance, their mental game is stronger than others’ (CBS). Due to the cutthroat level of competition, the metal toughness can be the difference between the victor and the defeated.
As both citizens and athletes of the United States, the athletes’ personal and professional lives are intertwined. Society starts to judge the character of the convicted athlete. For example, one journalist wonders whether Armstrong was a good person who did bad things or a bad person who did good things (Klosterman). These judgments on our athletes influence the magnitude of the consequences we give them. If we assert that Armstrong was a good person who did bad things, his punishments will probably be less strict. No matter how society judges these athletes, unfortunately, the reality remains the same: Bonds and Armstrong were athletes who used stimulants for enhancement.
Barry Bonds is commemorated as a phenomenal baseball player, but one who did not seek to be a public figure. He performed well on the field, yet was a stoic figure off the field. On the other hand, Armstrong galvanized the public through his survival of cancer, dedication to his sport, and advocacy of cancer. Despite all this, Armstrong’s consequences are still harsher than those of Bonds’. Being a prominent public figure, Armstrong turned cycling into a celebrated American sport and transformed Livestrong into a household entity. He portrayed himself as an honorable man who wanted to help those who could not support themselves. When Armstrong was convicted of doping, people were outraged, viewing his charitable actions as a scam. They questioned his character. Some crossed out the “v” in a few of the 80 million sold Livestrong wristbands, and so the slogan became “liestrong” (Day). By living in the public’s eye, Armstrong experienced extraordinary fame and success. Now, he faces a downfall just as great.
Back in 2007, Armstrong’s compatriot Floyd Landis was indicted by the USADA. After stripped of his sole Tour de France title, Landis dealt with a debt of $80,000 and public humiliation. Landis claims that his family fell apart in the aftermath of the scandal. The media constantly disrupted his private life, and Landis’ wife eventually filed for divorce (cyclingnews). Though not as popular or decorated as Armstrong, Landis was negatively affected by society’s harassments and judgments. Thus, where is the distinction between the public athlete and private citizen? Because the cycling world lost trust in Landis as a professional athlete, many individuals lost trust in him as a moral citizen.
As mentioned earlier, the public’s emotions are constantly involved in deciding the consequences of the convicted athletes. Barry Bonds’ case occurred earlier than Armstrong’s and hasn’t received that same national interest. Every day, new stories are released about Armstrong because his case has been in the spotlight. Heated public emotion will influence the cyclist’s consequences. This aura of mystery envelops Armstrong’s case. His controversy is fresh in the minds of many and the people are demanding answers. In his interview with Oprah, Armstrong finally answered the biggest question: he did dope. His confession only led to more questions because now, the public wants to hear the details and his reasons.
Sports Illustrated writer, Jeff Pearlman, wrote a biography on Bonds called Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Anti-Hero. Pearlman makes scathing accusations against the baseball player, evident from the biography’s title. Perhaps, these types of books have perpetuated a negative outcry towards Bonds. Because he retired over five years ago, writers have had the opportunities to write about him. Yet, to me it seems the public is less angry and resentful, maybe because Bonds did not reach that level of international stardom as Armstrong had. Nonetheless, we need to be deliberate and careful with our judgments because they impact the lives of Bonds and Armstrong as citizens and as athletes.
While society pushes athletes to win at all costs, if they succeed, their prize is a life of fame and fortune. According to the most recent statistics, Lance Armstrong has lost at least $30 million in short term endorsements, $12.5 million in bonuses and prize money, and $4 million in earned prize money. Some companies are planning to sue the multi-millionaire cyclist. Even so, his net worth totals $125 million. Armstrong has protected his money by seeking assistance from Tailwind, his contracting party and a corporation associated with the United States Postal Cycling Team (Sullivan). These statistics and facts demonstrate that convicted athletes, such as Armstrong, are fighting to retain their money, despite their other consequences.
There is public speculation as to why Armstrong confessed on national television. Some say that he wants to regain the trust of society and redeem himself. There are also reports that Armstrong does not want Livestrong to financially struggle from the negative public spotlight (Schrotenboer). Interestingly, his Livestrong Foundation has thrived as Armstrong’s reputation has floundered. Though Armstrong was forced to sever his ties with Livestrong in November 2012, there are reports that only eight donors have asked for their money back since August. Donations to Livestrong have also increased 7 to 15% (Sullivan). Others claim that Armstrong does not feel remorse for his actions, otherwise he would have confessed after the first charge in October 2012. Rather, he wishes to protect his future, in hopes of cycling again in eight years, by assisting the investigation of the International Cycling Union for involvement in his doping controversy (Schrotenboer).
The Major League Baseball Players Association cites that since 1967, the average salary for a baseball player has risen from $19,000 to over $3 million. Even the minimum salary of a professional baseball player has risen from $6,000 to $400,000 (though inflation must be kept in mind). These increases strongly suggest that salaries will continue to rise (Major League Baseball Players Association). The statistics illustrate that society has placed an enormous value on sports. For example, Bond’s net worth is apparently $80 million, and the League has not sought to take away his money. Successful athletes have flourished, so when they do take advantage of the system, there should be financial ramifications.
Though doping is a rather current issue, it has its roots in the very beginning of American history. The nation was founded on the values of opportunity and freedom and the American Dream arose from these principles. Immigrants swarmed to America with high aspirations. The Dream represented the ideal for every American citizen, defining success in terms of money and setting the tone for an ambitious (arguably, overambitious) society. Our collective ideas about “success” became associated with one word: winning. In his article from Vanity Fair, David Kamp points out the flaws of the American Dream and its detrimental implications. Kamp insinuates that it has become materialistic in its vision, thus establishing a materialistic society intent on winning. Maybe, the Dream was needed more in the past, when America was a fledgling nation and had just entered the international stage. The American Dream prized the values of endurance, perseverance, and competitiveness, but, the nation has continually raised these values to even higher levels (Kamp).
Yet, one study indicates that this rise of expectation and wealth in the United States is accompanied by a rise in the number of Americans who consider themselves depressed (Goleman). Although conditions have dramatically improved since 1776, people are not satisfied; they still want more. To be “decent” or “good” at anything is not enough. Similarly, in sports, to be “good” enough will not guarantee a baseball player a deal with a MLB team or a cyclist the Tour de France trophy.
The American Dream personifies the difference between motives and outcome. The Dream’s motives were noble and necessary in establishing a basis for American society. The Dream’s motives differed from its outcome, so the motives of the athletes could differ from their outcomes. The outcome of these convicted athletes is universal because they were found guilty for the use of stimulants. However, their motives might have varied. Floyd Landis faced the same struggle as many Americans, attempting to make a decent living in his profession. He was considered a good cyclist, but not comparable to the likes of Lance Armstrong. Landis wished to support himself and his family through his passion. He claims that the sport drove him to drug because doping was never part of his motive to win. Landis asserts that for him and for other cyclists, it was either “cheat or get cheated” (cyclingnews). He was pressured into cheating and realized that without using stimulants, he could never be successful. Society did not excuse his behavior though, nor does Landis use those arguments to justify his actions. He was acutely aware that his actions were wrong the moment he first chose to dope, but couldn’t resist the temptation.
Lance Armstrong’s motives are often seen as different from those of others. Armstrong was an exemplary athlete and cyclist and as the leader of the United States Postal Cycling Team, his alleged motives were to carry his whole team to victory. Criticized as a bully, Armstrong forced his teammates to partake in his illegal use of stimulants. Barry Bonds’ motives also differed because he played baseball at a time when the sport was booming. Bonds knew he had to raise his game to the next level in hopes of achieving the title as the best baseball player of this era (Mcgrath).
After examining the motives of three athletes, all appear to differ from one another. It seems that the motive of Floyd Landis was nobler than that of Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds. However, this type of thinking (trying to judge athletes based on assumed motives) can lead to a divisive society. Does anybody have the prerogative to assert whether the motive of Floyd Landis was indeed nobler? Nobody can know for sure. In these controversies, everything lies in those shades of gray. A man on the news told his young son to perceive these convicted athletes as neither above nor below him. Instead, he should look at them straight in the eye. I think this is sound advice because then, the status of doping athletes is lowered from celebrity to average citizen.
Although athletes have become the faces of our nation, how they respond to pressure manifests their true characters. Cheating is not tolerated in our society. An athlete needs be honest while pursuing his/her passion. Society marvels at athletes because we are impressed by their extraordinary feats on the baseball field or during the cycling race. We appreciate them because we ourselves could never accomplish what they have done. We trust athletes to give it their all and play by the rules. Therefore, if and when society does discover the truth, it is our right to step forth and strip athletes of their accolades and honor.
Because doping has recently been characterized as an epidemic in America, society must enact change. Society can start by establishing a universal punishment for all convicted athletes. There would be the creation of a national sports committee that oversees sports conduct and creates a document that specifically addresses doping. This universal punishment would hopefully appease an irate society.
Athletes should turn professional because they love their sport. They have the desire to compete and to represent their country. More importantly, athletes should understand the responsibilities of a professional. Their years of hard work and dedication are erased by the effects of doping because should society uncover the athlete’s illegal activities, society seemingly forgets the athlete’s persistence and sacrifice for his/her sport. Also, doping destroys competition. If athletes use stimulants, they take away the level playing field. We love to root for the underdog as much as we love to root for our heroes. Imagine if the 1980 Soviet Union Hockey Team had used stimulants. The 1980 Winter Olympics would not be remembered fondly by the United States in the year 2013. So, why can’t the best of the best display their talent and hard work, while also giving others a fighting chance?
One fact rings true today: we cannot erase history. We have to admit to our past mistakes, and we cannot forget about what happened in cycling and baseball. Society has removed Lance Armstrong’s name from the records book, so there is no winner for seven Tour de France titles. Society is saying that because Armstrong cheated, he didn’t cross the finish line first all seven times. How can this be possible? Of course he won; we can never take away those seven moments of glory. One author proposes that we put an asterisk next to his name (McKenna). However, I have discovered that asterisks carry various meanings. Sometimes, they are positive, such as an athlete being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Indeed, this author titled his article, “Why Lance Armstrong is Still a Winner” (McKenna). McKenna recognizes that Armstrong did finish first seven times, so we cannot deny him that accomplishment.
Instead, I propose that we cross a line through his name in the record books. In the future, others can look back at those seven years and understand that Armstrong did not fully win. There is the acknowledgement, though, that he hoisted up seven trophies. Hopefully, this would deter future athletes from doping because they cannot claim the full prize by using stimulants.
As society watches its celebrities stripped of their accolades, apparently, teenage athletes disagree. Author Stenson discusses the popularity of steroids and doping among teenage athletes. 57 percent of high school users admitted that they had been influenced by professional athletes. More than half claimed that they would disregard the serious health risks if it meant they could reach their athletic achievements. In America, these teenagers have a hard time understanding why doping is considered immoral and/or illegal (Stenson). Athletes are starting on drug use younger as they see their role models disregard the laws. Their role models are using illegal stimulants, so why not? As impressionable teenagers, they feel the pressure to excel and believe they can do so by doping.
The consequences for convicted athletes should not only benefit society and high school athletes, but also the athlete himself/herself. Floyd Landis serves as a testament to the long-term, positive effects of stringent consequences. After plunging into financial ruin and personal crisis, Landis vowed to find his love of the sport again, a love that was ruined by his illicit actions and aftermath. He moved to a mountainous region in California where he cycles every day, hoping to be re-instilled with his passion. Out of the public’s eye, Landis believes that despite his ruined reputation and public controversies, he can find his true self again (cyclingnews).
By taking the measures I have proposed, I believe that society can begin to trust its athletes again. Then, we will not have “unreasonable doubt” when an athlete succeeds. So, when an athlete achieves something great, we can applaud him/her (Thomas). We will not suspect the athlete of cheating because the athletes would have reached a clear understanding of fairness, competition, and victory.
This paper was written as of January 2013. Because the stories of Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds continue to develop and change daily, I could only incorporate details gathered prior to this date.
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Natalie Kwan is currently a junior at Kent Place School. She was instantly attracted to the Bioethics Project 2012 because she has always loved the sciences in school. Her research on sports doping reflects her interest in athletics, both as an athlete and an avid supporter. She is very grateful for all that she has learned about the bioethics field and its applications to her everyday life. Now having a solid foundation, Natalie hopes to continue her growth as a bioethicist for years to come.