“I swear to God, if someone tells me right now there’s some miracle body cream out there that would make me feel 100 per cent and prevent me from getting hurt but that could also cause cancer or liver damage down the line, I’d use it in a heartbeat. I would.”
Those words, near the end of an excellent article in last weekend’s New York Times, gave me a clearer understanding about why athletes cheat than anything else I’ve read. They came from the mouth of Pat Schiller, a college linebacker who is trying to make it in the National Football League. In the article about Schiller, written by his uncle, Charles Seibert, the reader gets an insightful look at the meat grinder that is professional sports, where there are hundreds or even thousands of aspirants who would sell their grandmothers for a shot at the big time.
The story was especially timely after the last few months of news stories about Lance Armstrong who, based on his incredible string of Tour de France cycling wins after battling cancer, should have been remembered as one of the greatest athletes ever. Instead, we are treated to convincing revelations that he not only used performance enhancing drugs and illegal (at least in the cycling world) techniques, but promoted and paved the way for others to join him. Think back to his denials over the past several years and one is left to conclude he is an even better liar than cyclist.
There is a big difference between a fan of sports and a participant. Schiller describes the rush that comes with the roar of the crowd, of the almost insane desire to wreak havoc when he steps out onto the field. He knows that if he doesn’t end up with a guaranteed contract that would set him up for life financially, his future is to become just another nine-to-fiver of the sort that screams his lungs out at the television while his favourite team is playing. And not the guy who is the cock of the walk, strutting his stuff down the main street of his hometown, recognized and adored by everyone he sees.
I don’t doubt that in many fields of endeavours the pressures and demands to succeed are as intense for those who want to be the best. Did it really come as a surprise when a study released earlier this year indicated that politicians are more likely to have sociopathic tendencies than the general population? After all, how many of us are willing to sacrifice our family and personal lives in favour of a spot in the limelight, or even a spot in the proverbial smoky backrooms favoured by decision-makers? There are opportunities in many areas for those who are driven to succeed, and only a small percentage of us have that drive.
Until I read Seibert’s story about his nephew, I was absolutely certain that cheaters — athletes who use performance boosters, writers who plagiarize, artists who forge paintings, card players who deal from the bottom of the deck, politicians and businessmen who lie about their credentials — are people who are worthy only of scorn. I still don’t want a world where cheating is acceptable. But Schiller’s story — at the end of which he is on the practice squad of the Atlanta Falcons, just as close to being cut loose as he is to actually getting in a game — was an eye opener. It makes me thankful that I don’t have to live with an obsession that would push me into making a choice for the short term that could have devastating long term effects. And uncomfortably grateful that there are those who do.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.