The Holy Huddle: Lance and Roger, Ethics and Legality, Competition and Fairness
Each week in The Holy Huddle, Doug Hankins takes a look at the goings on of the sports world from a distinctly Christian perspective.
Roger Clemens. Lance Armstrong.
Texans. Hall of Famers. Transcendent athletes. Cheaters.
In the past week, the sports world has discovered more details in the grand narrative of these two sports luminaries. This past Monday Clemens was acquitted of six counts of perjury and obstruction of justice charges in federal court. Armstrong was recently barred from the French Ironman triathlon in the wake of rehashed charges from a new U.S. Anti-Doping agency. And while both Clemens and Armstrong maintain their innocence, their public personas, marketability, Q-scores and character have taken quite a hit.
But, why do we tend to think less of them in light of these legal battles? After all, the U.S. government failed to convict Clemens. And Armstrong has maintained his innocence by volunteering to and passing 500 doping tests throughout his career. He is the most drug-tested athlete in sports. Isn’t that enough for the sports community? Isn’t that enough for the court of public opinion? Isn’t that enough for Christian fans?
Sadly, it is not. The sports community, especially the Christian sports community, cannot seem to let it go. In what follows, I hope to articulate what many of us are feeling whilst reading through these headlines:
- We believe they did something wrong. While we are not certain as to what Clemens and Armstrong did, exactly, in terms of drug enhancements, we suspect that they did something. And “something” provided a competitive advantage. The playing field was not even during their competitive heydays. I sense that all of us, athletes and fans alike, intuitively sense this injustice and have responded with disgust.
- We are frustrated with the real difference between legality and ethics. These court cases determine legal repercussions. However, legality is a different animal than ethics and morality. Whatever Clemens and Armstrong did, it is viewed by some as immoral and unethical within the context of the sports world. The err in logic during this whole process of steroid hearings and anti-doping agencies is a shared presupposition that legal injustice would correspond with ethical injustice in a one-to-one manner. Thus, if Clemens was found legally guilty, perhaps that would shed light on his ethical guilt. However, as Clemens’s trial proved, congress does not help determine ethics. It only helps determine legal fairness. The ethical component is a different, less-definable ideal. And that leaves us frustrated.
- We are frustrated by the lack of definition in sports ethics. Given the unregulated ethical system that most sports athletes live and operate within, can we really blame guys for using drugs or other undefined supplements to gain a competitive advantage? The rules of engagement are undefined. Outside of the newly integrated drug screens in MLB, athletes appear to have free reign in the area of supplements and medical aids. The default cultural ethos is: “If it is not specified as bad, it is permitted.” That is what allowed Kobe Bryant to fly to Germany to have an “unknown” knee procedure as a part of his recovery plan. It is what permits other athletes to install hyperbaric chambers in their houses or to have Gatorade G-series sponsorships or to hire personal nutritionists. We admit that our own collective public outcry over “injustice in sports competitiveness” is, at best, shallow and pedantic.
- We are frustrated that all athletes are not sanctified believers. While Christian fans can be disappointed in the perceived unfair competitive advantage, we recognize the reality of the situation. After all, we cannot expect non-Christians to act in a biblically ethical manner. To my knowledge, neither Clemens nor Armstrong are believers. Thus, they do not have the Holy Spirit working as an agent of spiritual change in their lives (Philippians 2:12–13). That they acted unethically is not a violation of the sports worldview, per se. Thus, it reminds us of the real truth of Gospel ministry — we canot be shocked when non-believers act like non-believers.
Good article. Definitely outlined some of the top frustrations of the public with dopers.
I disagree with point three, though, especially for Armstrong. PEDs are expressly forbidden in cycling rules, and the sport has long taken a strong anti doping stance, certainly during Armstrong’s years of cycling.
Cycling has to take doping more seriously than many sports because the advantage to be gained is far larger compared to other sports. To me and most other cycling fans, there is no ambiguity about doping ethics, since it is against the rules and absolutely terrible for the sport. What Lance is accused of doesn’t fall even close to a gray area.
Something that really drives me crazy about doping, and I think you touched on this in points 1 and 2, is the “weighted average truth” that many people settle on in these unprovable situations.
In reality there are still only two possibilities (for me) in terms of perception; they are either two of the best athletes of all time in their respective sports who should be honored for their achievements or they are rotten cheaters who deserve to be forgotten as quickly as possible. Instead of deciding which is most likely and holding to that perception, though, we settle on thinking less of them proportional to how confident we are they doped. Like if you are 80% sure Clemens doped your approval rating of his career is down by 80%, rather than just considering him a cheater since that is what you perceive to be most likely.
The problem here is that we are assuming guilt. We have no idea what they did. Why should I still be suspicious of Lance Armstrong when he has passed 500 tests, many of them “pop” tests?
In the late 90s and early 2000s, doping technology took a massive surge forward while testing technology was stagnant. Many known dopers (have confessed to past doping) passed numerous tests before being caught. Additionally his testing record is not quite as clean as he claims. Urine samples from his 1999 tour win were retested and found positive for EPO (not detectable in 1999). This was thrown out by one organization because of “improper handling and testing,” and also because the retesting results weren’t meant to go public. However, Armstrong was offered the option to have all of his 1999 samples retested in an official and scientific manner, but he refused.
Additional evidence against him includes: numerous teammates and his masseuse saying he doped, his association with a trainer who has been known to supply riders with dope, his dominance in an era where many of the other top competitors have been convicted of doping, and statistical analysis of past tour wins that show his performance rising and falling in a manner consistent with EPO use.
Yes a lot of that is anecdotal, and maybe it won’t hold up in court. For me personally it is really hard to look at said evidence and conclude he didn’t do anything. Just go to his wikipedia page which outlines a lot of stuff I didn’t cover if you still aren’t convinced.
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