Why cheat? Good question. It is often thought that athletes cheat, especially those taking some form of Performance Enhancing Drug (PED), because they can not be the best any other way. However, as we all read about doping and PED scandals in many different sports, many times it is the elite athlete that is doping - the one that is already at the top of their game. So, why do they cheat?
While several sports come across our radars regarding the use of PED - baseball comes easily to mind - elite levels of bicycle racing (cycling - not to be confused with motorcycle racing) may be the sport most closely linked to cheating, especially in the use by its athletes of PEDs. Reams and reams of articles, expose's, and other text have been produced regarding the inappropriate use of PED in cycling and how elite cyclists work to get around the rules. Rarely, do we hear directly from the athlete about why they did it and the issues and struggles that PED caused in their lives. Recently, a full (and quite lengthy) conversation with Floyd Landis has been published (click here) and I would strongly recommend to everyone that they read this transcript. If you don't remember, Landis was the cyclist that won the Tour de France in 2006 after an epic comeback and then subsequently tested positive for testosterone. Many of you may remember his early statements as being somewhat absurd and you may have been wondering what he was thinking. This conversation has it all in detail. As a result, the story is lengthy, being the result of a 7-hour conversation. But the conversation is riveting, and least in my experience, the only view inside someone's head and the decisions they had to make as they reached for the top-level of their field. The interviewer (Paul Kimmage) is considered highly competent in the field, having ridden in the Tour de France from 1986-1989, and since then has become an award winning writer. He was one of the first writers to call attention to the PED-problem in cycling back in 1998 in his book Rough Ride and in many ways was shunned for his books.
I won't spoil anymore of the story, because it is really Kimmage's and Landis' to tell. And whether you believe Landis or not, it is an interesting tale of what elite athletes perceive they have to do to win. What struck me was the almost Faustian-nature of his existence up until now; constantly bargaining and trading off one thing for another. Cycling was a way for him to deal with the huge issues he had with his upbringing and that desire - to be distracted from those big questions he didn't want to address - led him ever further down the hole. He easily traded one obsession - cycling - for another - the quest to be vindicated - when he couldn't ride after 2006. He showed very much an addictive behavior which is characteristic of many top athletes. They become so obsessed with winning and being the best, they will do anything. But that obsession makes the whole story very, very sad because he has lost it all. In the end - and certainly I'd encourage you to come to your own conclusion - to me, Landis comes off very truthful, introspective, and such a tragic figure. The whole story would make a great opera.
So, why do elite athletes cheat? We may never have a hard and fast reason, but Floyd Landis seems to want people to have a glimpse into what drove him to the decisions he made. However, I think the biggest question that comes out of the interview is when do we forgive elite athletes that cheat? Is this interview what it takes for Landis to move toward redemption or is redemption ever possibl?. On one of our podcasts, an interview with Sports Illustrated's award-winning David Epstein - the question about whether public service efforts by an athlete caught cheating could make up for their deception (listen to it here) - I'm not sure a concrete answer came out of that question. But, if you read Landis' interview and have an opinion, send it to me. I may just light up the comments section for this one issue...
Until next week, lots of stuff to think about. In the meantime, I hope you have an active and healthy week.