“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison

Wow.  Gun control, abortion…and Lance.  I wonder how many Facebook friendships have been terminated over these issues in the past few weeks? I usually don’t jump into the mosh-pit that these “discussions” inevitably degrade; I have my opinions, yes — but won’t air them unless I think it’s actually going to be a rational discussion.  I don’t do drama or flame wars.  And I don’t really have an “inside” on these other issues that would constitute anything more than my personal opinion.  With the Lance debacle, however, I do have a side of the story you may have not yet considered.  I’ll try to spell it out here best I can, but understand: it’s a very tricky thing to explain.

So being a Lance apologist is a bit of a lonely island these days.  I remain, however, as I have since the mid 90’s — unabashedly, a Lance supporter.

Yet I totally get the vehement Lance hate — I do.  Lying, perjury and the whole sorted host of ugliness surrounding this story is unsavory enough on its own, but the rabid, “best defense is is a nuclear-option offense” style of character assassination is just, well… pathological

The thing is, though, is that “pathological” describes just about every fantastic athlete I’ve ever come into contact with.  It would also describe my first 21 years on this big blue marble.  Now, most are able to “flip the switch” between “on the field” competition and real world interactions.  Some can’t.  Some (myself included, at that time) fall into some murky in between.  And, too, some sports are just so all-encompassing (cycling is one), that it’s nearly impossible to delineate a clear dividing line between the two.  Especially at the professional, and in that particular sport, life is cycling, and cycling is life.  I’m hard-pressed to think of any other TDF competitor that, under the same circumstances and with the same level of power and prestige in the sport, would not have reacted similarly.  “Perfect Storm” is a bit of a cliche these days, but that’s exactly what obscene amounts of money, power, prestige, sporting prowess and unrelenting drive creates.

Understand: this isn’t a condemnation of the sport itself (or sports in general) so much as it is a condemnation of the double standard society places on sport.  My Efficient Exercise partner Mark Alexander has written an excellent piece on just this subject.  By all means, give this a read NOW — it’s simply outstanding. 

We perpetuate a society in which the “winners” in every imaginable endeavor (business, the arts, etc.) are showered with power, prestige and money, and expect that these winners will undertake any means possible to wind up on top.  Except, that is, in sport — where certain advantages are deemed “ungentlemanly” in an endeavor that, in our collective narrative, ought to remain pure.  We have a long history of this in sport, of course — going back to the ancient Greeks.  For athletes contemplating doping then, this simply becomes a risk-to-benefit question.  No different now than it was for those ancient Greeks.

For my own part, I’m rather agnostic on the use of PEDs at the professional level.  I wish they didn’t exist at all, but alas they do, and as long as society places such a premium on winning, there’s no way they are going to go away.  Somewhere in the trenches of American cycling (or football…or baseball….), the next “Lance” is pouring everything he has into that one shot he has at the American dream.  And know this: athletics isn’t like business, where one can claim bankruptcy, step back, and start anew tomorrow.  An athlete has one shot, and a very narrow window in which to have that shot come true.  And we think that they won’t utilize any means possible to get there?

I suppose my  “doping pragmatism” came about by virtue of my having been exposed, from a young age, to all manner of PEDs (mostly the ubiquitous and various steroids).  In the S&C culture that I came of age in, these drugs were simply seen as another tool.  But they were seen, though, as the tool of last resort.  In other words, their use marked the end of level progression.  The rule was “you’ll never rise above the level you start using”.  Start using in high school?  You’ll never have a successful collegiate career.  Start in college?  Kiss the pros goodbye.  The idea was that these drugs will do nothing for you (in a competitive sense) unless you’ve tapped out your natural ability.  In fact, they become a crutch to keep an athlete from tapping out his/her natural ability.  See this play out in practice enough times (and I surely did), you become sold on the notion.  So when Lance talks about leveling the playing field at that highest level of competition, I get it.

When I get asked (as I do, often) if I’ve ever used, the answer is easy — I never did.  And yeah, I understand — sure, Lance said that, too! (this begets the other nasty fallout from this ordeal — accusation by denial).  The more complicated question, though — albeit one we rarely get around to — is this: what would I have done had I made it to the professional level?  Well, if I thought I needed that edge in order to compete with (or better recover so as to compete with) the best?  Yes.  Of course, this is a multifaceted question — but yes, if I thought that that was the particular tool I needed at that point, I wouldn’t have ruled the option out from any moral standpoint.  When money enters the equation along with high-level competition, purity is a natural casualty.

But back to Lance, and to the underlying pathology of the need to win — or the utter fear of losing, as some in the shrink game have couched it: I don’t think the general populace — even the most ardent of sports fan — can even come close to understanding just how overwhelming and all-encompassing this drive can be.  It wasn’t until I had a much better grasp on “real life” and things that truly matter, that I began to see how utterly unhealthy this psychology could be.  And believe me, I would have never come to terms with this while still in the competitive sphere. Never.  It wasn’t until I was forced out of competition due to injury, and following a couple of “dark years” of trying to “find myself” in the real world, that I finally came to terms with, and learned how to better handle and direct (deflect?), this drive.

I can laugh at myself now for resisting the urge to get into golf, or compete in something like the CrossFit games.  But the truth of the matter is that I know myself, and these things are like black tar heroin to a former addict.  I still don’t trust myself to compete for the mere sake of competing — I would have to be the best; win, or die trying.  What I can’t afford now is to have that creep back into my life.  Like jungle ivy, the need to win (or not lose) tends to invade and totally overrun all else.

So I can appreciate that side of what Lance is having to come to terms with.  It’s not an easy transition.  Luckily for me, the dividing line between football and “real life” was much better defined.  Those days are passing though; more and more, collegiate level athletes are having to deal with this blurred line.  As a society, we’re just waiting for these kids (and they are still kids) that we’ve put on pedestals to stumble so that we can sacrifice them to the Gods of sporting “purity”.  And if that’s not a collective, manic pathology, I’m not sure what is.

I distinctly remember when my son played his very last baseball game, and when, by his own decision, he opted not to play at the next level.  His reasoning?  “There’s some things I want to do other than baseball”.  And that none of those “other things” were particularly competitive was an absolute alien concept, even to the “reformed” me.  But he knew what was expected of the collegiate baseball player, and that there would be precious little time for those “other things”, so he chose to pass.  The difference between he and myself at the same age was that he saw this glaring disconnect between sport and “what really matters”, and I never even questioned it.  Sport (more precisely, winning at a chosen sport) was what mattered.  In fact, the question was never if I’d go on to the next level, but when and where; not if I’d win, but how.  All else be damned.  I realize now, when taken out of context, just how destructive that line of thinking is, but at the time it was simply my reality. So in overcoming that psychology, Lance surely has his work cut out for him.  And to the extent that I understand the “win-at-any-cost psychosis”, I can empathize. As I watched the give-and-take between Oprah and Lance, I couldn’t help but think: there, but for the grace of God go I.

Again, I certainly don’t expect the rational person to understand this point of view.  And I’m certainly not saying that I, in any way, shape or form, discount the pain and suffering Lance’s actions have caused others.  My point is simply that this condition is, although rather rare (I suppose?), also very real.  I can even justify it by saying that I’m quite sure it offered huge dividends, from an evolutionary point of view.

But we also evolved free-will, and a sense of justice and fairness.  Not to mention, prospective and balance.  But damn, to throw obscene amounts of money, prestige and power at an endeavor that already attracts this personality type like moths to a flame, is to then pump jet fuel on that same flame.  And in light of that, to be shocked that something like this has come about is to be completely naive. 

In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –

Keith

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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.

19 COMMENTS

  1. What a wonderfully thought provoking commentary. That dividing line between sport and real life for some may never be crossed, much less a happy integration of the two occur. First time Frank Zane & I spent time together – 35 years ago – Frank noted how it was normal for bodybuilding champions, once their age forced competition to end, usually turned to ideological religion, alcoholism, or drug addiction: he further noted, all three seemed to be the same psycho-spiritual malaise

    I find most troublesome is the demonization of steroids, largely by irresponsible journalists and always grandstanding politicians. In popular opinion, steroids are said to make you sick with cancer, heart disease, and other maladies. The truth be told, our journalists and politicians have concocted a web of lies and an ongoing culture of deceipt. In my opinion, the journalists and politicians are guilty of real crimes against humanity for perpetrating lies which end up restricting and denying appropriate medical treatment.

    I left competative lifting in 1966 due to the overnight inroads of dianobol in the iron game. All the information that far back was anti-steroid. I’ve been anti-steroid until roughly six months ago. My conversion experience came about from reading Nelson Vergel & Michael Mooney’s Built to Survive! It’s a book about HIV. Turns out there’s a significant population of HIV+ persons now 25 and more years so diagnosed. But you wouldn’t recognize them – looking incredibly fit, they had no choice but to adopt a way of life to keep them from wasting away and dying. The book reports on what we Physical Culturists already largely know: nutrient dense, whole foods, appropriate supplements, bodybuilding – and what we don’t know, appropriate stacks or compounding of testosterone and nor-testosterone to promote healthy protein turn over, to promote allostasis, to promote cellular health. Immune systems suppressed due to the HIV virus thrive on diet, muscle building exercise, and appropriate use of testosterone and norandrolone (both bio-identical, both substances our bodies make until certain conditions compromise that ability).

    Once I learned about HIV, I realized HIV is an extreme case of muscle wasting sarcopenia and caused by viral invasion. Slightly, and only slightly close is the pandemic of upwards of 35 diseases afflicting Western civilization. Post-modern evolutionary medicine, the parent discipline of the Paleo movement, recognized our diseases stem from choices and conditioning from our culture – they’re not in the nature of physical reality, instead originate in social, political, and cultural constructions of ‘real’ and ‘normal.’ That means those diseases are caused and maintained unto killing you in a veil of illusion. After all, they aren’t caused by viruses, by infectious agents, and aren’t communicated from person to person. And like HIV, they eat you alive – destroying your vibrant spirit for life. HIV and chronic degenerative diseases constitute the major causes of death in the West, and are in common wasting diseases. Noteworthy is once patients hit a point of no return or next to no return, a new medicine involving super nutrition, super supplements, bodybuilding 4-5 days weekly, and epigenetic steroid therapy will save lives, renew spirits, and produce wellness in the community and among families.

    It significant that we never hear of a distinction between testosterone and nortestosterone. The former is a mix of androgen and anabolic properties. Athletes get demonized for taking steroids while the same steroids are glorified in TV adds for “T” deficiency. HRT – hormone replacement therapy – clinics are popping up all over the place. We castigated athletes for dosing on steroids while a population of unfit, metabolically eroding middle aged people can get the same steroids in gels and creams, or even vials along with syringes for injecting themselves. Perhaps sports doping is a more extreme case of HRT as HET (hormone enhancement therapy). At least athletes take a more natural balance of testosterone and nortestosterone; HRT creates an out of balanced situation using only testosterone.

    Remember Mark McGwyer? He used something known at 19-nor, a hormonal metabolite a step or two removed from being made into 19-nor by your body. Yep, he wasn’t taking a synthetic drug or something unnatural. He was simply providing better quality substance for his body to do its natural job. Think of the difference between crude oil and gasoline. You can’t burn crude oil in your car – it has to undergo refining to become the fuel you need. The word steroid means hormones made from cholestrol. Cholestrol’s kind of like crude oil in relation to the end products including testosterone and estradiol. So 19-nor worked well as a refined fuel source. Sales and distribution of 19-nor became illegal at the beginning of 2005 due to legislation passed by Congress – a Congress more intent on grabbing headlines with witch hunts and victimless crimes that exhibiting willingness nor fitness to solving immense national problems.

    I’ve never been pro-drug use in sports, especially since it was those drugs that drove me out of competition in 1966. On the other hand, persecuting the past seems idiotic when considered in large perspective. Singling out a Barry Bonds, a Mark McGwyer, and others makes little sense and certainly violates any decent standard of fairness. Steroids were in by 1960, so fairness means investigating every world class athlete going back 53 years. Not so hard to figure: when roids came in, record breaking took off by leaps and bounds. But would such an investigation be worth the cost? How would investigation of the many who’ve since died be conducted – by psychics with ouiji boards, conforming to the standard of credible accuracy exhibited by Congress?

    PEDs are here to stay. I personally would rather have associations of ‘drug free’ versus ‘open competition’. With few exceptions, performance will speak for itself regarding PEDs or natural state.

  2. What makes Lance pathetic isn’t that he cheated, it is that he is a self-admitted bully who tried to destroy the lives of each and every person who told the truth about his cheating.

    • Agreed. That’s the “nuclear-grade offense is the best defense”/winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing mentality at work. And I certainly don’t condone it — I’m just trying to offer insight from the “inside”.

  3. Thanks Keith,

    I read your article aloud to my husband this morning and it stimulated a long conversation about sport, addiction and culture. We’ve been Lance fans for his whole career and, like many, assumed doping was part of the deal. It’s been fascinating to watch all of this unfold.

    Your article revealed other aspects of Lance’s situation that I hadn’t considered – namely the addiction of competition/ winning and the aspects of our culture that fan that flame. We have to look at our part. I suspect that our desire to see Lance win again and again (despite our better judgement and against all odds) and the thrill of seeing him drop Ullrich, or plow across a switchback to avoid a crash, are just more logs on the woodpile. Were we supporting the evolution of peak human performance or paying to watch a freak show?

    I’ve been mad at Lance for not coming clean all at once. The Oprah interview showed a man who’s not yet ready to accept the gravity of the situation. And how could he? I’s probably too painful. I suppose its a process, as Tyler Hamilton – and you- have stated.

    Your article showed me the path to feeling compassion for Lance. I understand now how all could made sense to him. I hope he can move through the next part with people who will support him in unwinding this mess. He didn’t create it alone. Perhaps his self reflective “dark years” are upon him, and while often unpleasant, they are often the most sane.

    And, if can cheer him on in the Tour de France, I can cheer him on in, what I hope, is his next endeavor, the Tour de Lance.

    • Thanks, Sarah. And here’s an interesting compare/contrast to consider: 50 Cent, and Lance. If you ever have a chance, I highly recommend The 50th Law, by Robert Greene. Both guys possess the same unmitigated, win at all cost “psychosis” — only it’s expressed in different venues. What’s different, IMHO? We don’t expect “purity” in drug dealing, or rap, or rap-related business ventures. Now, we as a society elevate athletes to the same level, and we’re shocked at the resultant “take no prisoners” tactics?

      The whole system of PEDs testing is no more than a smoke and mirrors attempt by the professional leagues to feign some sort “care” that the athletes are tested. Please. A clean sport is the last thing these leagues would ever want. Why? Because we as a society expect demand super human performances, and the athletes who produce them are showered with money, power, and prestige. The athlete “wins”, the league “wins”, and everyone is foamy-mouth happy. Until, God forbid, that performance was found to be “unclean”.

      • Yes, thanks I will read that.

        I agree. After reading The Secret Race, it became clear that pro cyclists (and by extension, athletes in other sports, including college -especially college?) are dollar signs in the eyes of corporate sponsors, regulators and all the institutions that benefit. They tap young potential, desire and enthusiasm and squeeze as much as they can until there’s nothing left.

        And of course they/ we buy into it! Money, power, travel, prestige, access, sex, any chance to get ahead- it’s very seductive.

        Are the drug tests, prosecutions and public displays just another way of wringing out the last drops of drama for public entertainment and private profit? I don’t want to sound like a conspiracist, but it makes me wonder. Perhaps it isn’t conscious, but the system sure is set up that way. Great discussion.

        As I see it, it’s the same thing that’s happened with our food supply, education, health care etc… There are class, race and other social justice issues wrapped in here.

    • Sarah where is your compassion for all the people who Lance spent millions of dollars to DESTROY through the legal process merely for telling the truth?

      Did someone put a gun to his head and make him file so many lawsuits against innocent persons that he can’t even keep track of them?

      • Hi Steve,
        I do feel compassion for the people Lance hurt in his effort to maintain his fantasy that there was no price too big to pay for winning. As they say, “you can’t unring the bell.” Karma’s a bitch and he is responsible for his actions like the rest of us

        Those he injured will have to find a place of peace with it as well. It’s no easy task, but a worthwhile one.

        I don’t know who has the rougher trail, the forgiver or the forgivee. I’m not suggesting that question as a matter to debate – just pointing out that everyone has their burdens to bear. And now in this case, bare.

        Compassion for all! That’s what I always say.

        • One can’t “un-ring the bell” is exactly right. Of course what Lance did in that regard is despicable, on that we all agree. But where to from here? Hopefully he can make amends to those he tormented. Again, my point was not to justify his actions, but to give an insight into the “win at all cost” mentality vis-a-vis the “glorification” culture. As we’ve seen, it’s a horrible mix.

  4. Hey Y’all,
    Great piece Keith and great commentary everyone else.
    The big takeaway for me from the Lance story, the presidential election, gun control debates, etc is that by and large most of us are undereducated, over confident and too proud to learn much from these situations.

    We “hate” drug use in pro sports but fucking love watching the freaks dance and sing for us. We abhor Barry Bonds but love our San Francisco Giants. We vilify the individual but rarely, if ever, question the entire system that produces the Barry Bonds of the world. We live in a win-at-all-costs society but somehow steroids and GH are “too much”? We ask our athletes, and soldiers for that matter, to sacrifice everything (pro football!? those guys are so fucked up when they retire!) for the sake of money, fame, respect and success and are surprised when they will go to any length to get it.

    As a country we never seem to take any individual responsibility for the country that we have all created, as if us going to pro sporting events and buying tons of team gear doesn’t help to perpetuate a system that pays its stars millions, charges its fans exorbitant ticket prices and produces injured shells of humans at the end of it all.

    You go and ride the fucking Tour de France and tell me you don’t want drugs two days in! You go get smashed repeatedly in the head by 300 pound missiles and tell me you don’t thing more muscle mass is advantageous!
    We should accept the pros and cons of pro sports, recognize that PED use isnt inherently dangerous and just enjoy it for what it is OR stop fucking watching. We want it both ways: best possible entertainment and superhuman humans AND a high “morality” code that supports fucking nonsensical rules such as the PED restrictions.

    The same applies to many other “problems” as well. We complain about high gas prices but don’t change our driving habits (vehicle type, usage, carpooling, etc) AND have the gaul to honk at people riding bikes or scooters. If the gas prices are too damn high, use less fucking gas!
    Do you hate the fact that your job was shipped to India or China? Maybe you could stop buying Chinese products and using Indian tech support you fucking hypocrite.

    But of course if you mention this, you get a wave of excuses as to why this is impossible. Im not going to list any of them, because they all suck.

    The same goes for health, nutrition, whatever. I can’t possibly eat well, i like sugar/chocolate/mcdonalds/diet pepsi enemas too much! But I WILL complain when my health goes down the shitter and I WILL expect you to help me pay for it.

    Now in no way do I wish to suggest that there is not a deeper-rooted-than-we-can-imagine socioeconomic, political, cultural network at play in this whole mess, but it often becomes a crutch for why we can’t make changes in our own lives to help our own selves.

    I don’t see any big revolutions happening anytime soon here in the USA, so stop expecting anyone to help you out on this one. Keep working towards it, if you like, but don’t expect it.

    Yes, Lance is a fucking jerk and I do not support his actions, but stop acting like you don’t have a hand in all of this. You DO! and unless Lance stole your money directly, stop getting so mad, you might just learn something.

    • Who forced Lance to sue all the innocent people that he sued, and take them to financial ruin?

      Barry Bonds did not do that. None of the other winners of the Tour De France did that.

  5. Business is business……that’s the way I look at it. And sadly….business is still a very messy affair. We will evolve….

    Most people in this world end up in a mess like Lance unintentionally. I believe it holds true for Lance also….

    Once your “fighting” ……it’s very easy to justify your cause. We’re human beings after all….

    Keith, EXCELLENT post and thank you for sharing Mark’s article also. It’s a keeper for sure.

    Sara, good comments!

    Keep it up Keith!

    Marc

  6. Even with our big prefrontal cortex , free will is most likely an illusion.

    Inhibition of instinct doesn’t equal free will, because the inhibitory response is itself a type of instinct.

    We are blaming Lance for the sins of an entire Cycling culture / environment because he happened to win and it’s pathetic, what about the legions of PED using cyclists that don’t even finish the race?

    Stories like Lances in a way glorify PED , by the focusing illusion , people think they have a much more of an effect than they actually do.

  7. Well…if you ask scientists who calls them first after some little breaktrugh…let’s say blocking gene for myostatin…it is not a journalist, or another expert…it’s someone involved in professional sport wanting the new miracle for his guy.

    Fight against doping is obviously lost battle. Lance did what everyone else did. Everyone with basic understanding of human capabilities knew that before the revelation. So he is just product of the field of and those that criticise him now are a) uninformed b) hypocritical. c) romantic idealists or a combination.
    I understand when some soccer/tennis players criticise him, but again, those sports rely much more on learned skill of dribbling, technique etc. Even Messi took growth hormone, although it was medical help because he would have been 140 cm instead.

  8. Well done, and thought provoking. I was a ‘fan’ of sorts, who hoped that he was a victim of a witch hunt, even as it seemed improbable that there wasn’t some fire behind all that smoke.

    Now that it is official, it is kind of hard to know what to think about Lance. The most troubling part is the aggressive offense to defend the lie. It will be interesting to see how much of his fortune gets chewed up or taken away as payment for some of these misdeeds.

    I do think there are parellels outside the sports world though, e.g., the rich and powerful executive at a Wall Street firm who just can’t resist using insider information to maintain is position as a sage investor; drug company executives who are reticent about reporting adverse side effects, even as their fortunes soar on a block buster drug…..

  9. Keith,

    Great post. I think hell may have just frozen over because I just read Ken’s entire post from beginning to end. Not only was I able to understand every word he wrote (much often goes over my head), I also loved every word of it.

    Bravo Keith, Bravo Ken.

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