Oh Really? Everybody Does It!

Every two years since the 1982 Olympics, Bob Goldman has conducted an informal questionnaire among Olympic-level US athletes, asking: If you were offered an illegal substance that would guarantee you to win and not be caught, would you take it? In1995, the answer from 195 in 198 athletes was ‘yes.’ Asked if they would take a banned substance that would enable them to win every competition for five years but then kill them, more than half the athletes said ‘yes.’ “With the money athletes can make now, the kids don’t really care about taking drugs,” says Goldman (Buchanan, N. 1998. Just Say Go. (Doping in Sports). P.2. http://ask.elibrary.com/). In a realm which is seen as the standard bearer for ethics (a word like ‘sportsmanship,’ expressions like ‘being a good sport,’ or ‘acting in a sportsmanlike manner’ are used to indicate this) the economic reality has well and truly overtaken the moral perceptions coupled to sports practice. It has now reached the point that human genes are being commodified, reduced to merchandise, in order to provide sports stars with performance enhancing means that are well nigh undetectable, the most popular one currently being the human growth hormone (hGH), which has numerous negative side-effects such as leukaemia, respiratory problems and thyroid enlargement. In Sports Illustrated of July, 1991 the story of Alzado, former National Football League star, can be read. “I lied,” he declared, after decades of denial. He was now prepared to admit to massive use of steroids and genetically engineered human growth hormone, drugs that he believed caused him to contract inoperable brain cancer (Kimbrell, A. 1993. The Human Body Shop. London. Harper Collins. Pp.234-237.). The situation becomes especially difficult for those who hold to the Biblical worldview and try to apply this to the practice of physical education, because these sports heroes are the new gods of society. They are the supreme role models for impressionable youngsters, be they from a Christian or non-Christian home. Their influence on the hearts and minds is massive. In New Zealand and Australia the sports heroes are actively used to promote societal values among school children; they travel around schools to impress the value of learning, they are shown on television advertisements to advocate tolerance for those suffering from disorders. In having this approach, New Zealand and Australia are not unique. In most other countries young people are encouraged to mirror their behaviour, especially in terms of the grit and determination shown by the proven sports elite to be successful (success being measured in terms of economy and prestige). As demonstrated every year with the handing out of Orders of the British Empire and other awards, sports heroes feature very prominently. In 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair of England even persuaded the Queen to shift the deadline for accepting candidates in order that the English national rugby team might still be in on the honours. When the occasion happened, it was reported that the English nation had come to a standstill to observe it all. In the eyes of many Christians, the honours are definitely cheapened by such preoccupation with sport heroes. The world over people were shocked and dismayed to find out that the prominent cyclist Lance Armstrong was convicted of doping during the course of his career in 1

which he won the Tour de France, the most demanding sports event in existence, seven consecutive times. His interview with Oprah Winfrey nailed viewers to the chair for some three hours. He clearly affirmed that he had been guilty of several types of doping, including blood doping and use of human growth hormone. His was considered the most advanced doping scam in any sport’s history to (that) date, i.e. 2005. Did he feel guilty at the time for perpetrating the dishonesty? “No,” he answered, “I saw it as merely levelling the playing field. I felt no remorse at all.” With the policing practices at the time being in their infant shoes, doping was indeed widespread. Several people were caught, many were not (which is the reason the ICU decided not to award the honour of first place to the rider who ended second in Armstrong’s victories). What made this sports idol the object of such huge publicity was not the fact that he used performance enhancing drugs, but that he succeeded in winning the Tour de France a record seven times while cheating during that era. Basically, he was a cheat among several other cheats, but he excelled beyond what others could do. Other Tour winners have been found out, but are barely remembered. Winner Bjarne Riis won in 1996, but later admitted having used banned substances. Ffloyd Landis (2006) and Alberto Contador (2010) were stripped of their titles and banned from the sport for a time after proven positive regarding forbidden substance usage. In all cases remorse was furthest from the sportsmen’s minds. They were found out and took the consequences. Life goes on; everybody does it. Genesis 6:5, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Romans 7:7, “Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” In a realm where good sportsmanship is equated with honesty and integrity, the natural wickedness of man comes to the fore very blatantly. Many of the practitioners live far from the Word of God and practise situation ethics: Everybody does it; I am merely levelling the playing field. Should Armstrong face the consequences for being found out? Absolutely! Should he be treated more severely than other cheats? He was one of many, just more talented than others who resorted to similar unsavoury means. The same measuring rod ought to apply; the consequences will be heavier simply because of the multiplicity of his successes which will now be deemed failures – with all the sponsorship and other financial negative fallout instances as he traded heavily on his apparent successes. Men judge us by the success of our efforts. God looks at the efforts themselves. - Charlotte Bronte (English author, 1816-1854)

Dr Herm Zandman 20/01/2013 (Page 1 of this essay is an excerpt from Zandman, HJG, 2012. Physical Education in Holistic Christian Education, Saarbrücken, Germany. AV Akademikerverlag GmbH & Co. KG. Pp. 103-104), also available on Amazon.com/books.)

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