Wednesday, August 29, 2007

playlist: the fire still burns

they told you it wouldn't last. things were not so possible.

the floppy hair. the shaggy jaw. the ragged shoes. the threadbare jeans. the shuffling slouch. the eyes cast on the ground, but alight on vivid horizons.

they told you it was just a part of youth, and it would fade away in time. things were just not so possible.

the frustration. the resentment. the impatience. with the way things were and the realization that it didn't have to be. the hunger. the desire. seeing the world for what it was and wanting to make it better, with the emotions so intense you felt like you would explode. it seemed like you were on fire.

they told you that it would all go of its own, and that you were young, and still naive, and didn't know enough to make the change you wanted to see. such things were just not so possible.

but you had sneered, and laughed, and raged, and like so many other youths before and after, you had stormed off on your own, complete with the middle finger salute raised high.

the world, you knew, was wrong. and in so many ways. and you wanted to light your flame higher so that others could see what you could see.

and what you saw was many.

sex pistols: god save the queen

decay and death. conflict and carnage. horror and hate. suffering and sorrow.

the clash: rock the casbah

all made by absurdity. stupidity. depravity and vice.

the ramones: bonzo goes to bitburg

sustained by insanity. fed by madness.

dead kennedys: kill the poor

a world without hope.

suicidal tendencies: institutionalized

they had told you it wouldn't last. they had told you there was no difference. they had told you it would not change. because such things were just not so possible.

but you hadn't cared. the world, you knew, was wrong. and it needed hope. it needed a difference. and you wanted to see it change.

you, with all your generation. young and on fire.

and so you'd fought for your causes, carried your flags, announced your creeds. you'd raged and stormed against a world you'd known was wrong and for a world that needed hope. for a difference and a change. with emotions so intense you'd thought that you would explode. with a fire lit as high as it would go, and which burned as bright as your eyes, alight on vivid horizons.

in the end, it had consumed you.

because you found you did not make the change you had wanted to see. it did not make a difference. you saw the world for what it was, and it was not better; you saw the way things were, and it was not meant to be. and a fire without fuel turned upon itself.

you, with all your generation.

the awesome reality destroyed many of you. it made some cynics. it made others bitter. it made a few mad with self-destruction.

joy division: love will tear us apart

eventually, in the anguish of the aftermath, you came to accept that you had not known enough. you came to understand that you had been naive. you came witness that it had gone all of its own. just like they said it would.

for all this, you discovered that they still did not stop. they. them. the ones who had told you this was the world as it was, the was the way it was meant to be. they. now joined by the disenchanted of your generation, with dried embers and faded vision, in union with their same everlasting message: such things are just not so possible.

they didn't stop, you see, because it wasn't enough that you saw they were right. it was because they wanted you to join them...join in saying that this is how it is for you, this is how it is for the world, this is how it is for everything: such things are just not so possible.

david bowie: under pressure

they are right in some ways. time did pass. youth didn't last. you no longer have the floppy hair, or the shaggy jaw, or the ragged shoes. you no longer have the threadbare jeans, or the shuffling slouch. you no longer have the eyes cast on the ground.

but they are wrong, so wrong. in all the ways that truly matter.

your eyes are still alight on vivid horizons.

even as others in your generation have dimmed. even as they tell you such things are just not so possible.

because you see the way things are and realize it doesn't have to be.

because you see the world for what it is and want to make it better.

because you see with the same intensity of emotion, and the same brightness of fire.

public image limited: rise

you still see horizons.

you are not so young. you still may not know, and you still may be naive, and things may still go their own way. but at least you try, even as they still say such things are just not so possible.

you still see horizons.

and you go to follow them. you go, even as they are far, even as they are vast, even as they are endless. you go, to seek the lessons of the distance, even as your body grows weary, even as your mind goes numb, even as they repeat that things are just not so possible.

you still see horizons.

with intensity of emotion and brightness of fire, eyes alight and vivid. even as they continue to tell you things are not so possible.

you don't care.

because the world you know is wrong, and it needs hope.

because it needs to be shown a difference and a change.

because it needs to know that things are possible.

because, even though they didn't stop, your fire still burns.

Monday, August 27, 2007

8-year old runs 2200 miles?!?!

oh my freakin' GOD...

this is absolutely NUTS.

this was in the BBC news, which reports that an 8-year old girl in China just completed a 3,550 kilometer (2,200 mile) run from Hainan to Beijing in under 2 months. check it out for yourself (there's even a picture):
does this not sound like complete lunacy to anybody? is this not insane? why would anybody allow, let alone force, a child to run 3,550 kilometers (approximately 2,200 miles)?

and get this: her father had her on a schedule of waking up at 2:30 am and then running 64 kilometers (roughly 40 miles). every day. and this is in summer heat and in some of the worst urban air pollution in the world.

the BBC News article seems to paint a positive picture. the girl, Zhang Huimin, was accompanied by her father, Zhang Jianmin. the article quotes him as saying he never forced her to run, and that it is something she loves to do. apparently, he says she has dreams of running for China in the 2016 Olympics, when she will be 17, and they decided to do this run to attract attention to her athletic skills.

but compare the BBC News article with the Chinese news--they show a darker side to this story:
based on these sources, the father appears to have failed athletic dreams of his own, which suggests he is now essentially transposing his own ambitions on to his daughter. note also some disturbing facts mentioned in these articles:
  • she ran despite suffering hypoglycemia
  • she ran despite experiencing severe coughing in several cities
  • her father has secured shoe endorsement contracts
  • her father accepted government donations to sponsor the run
  • her mother has separated from her father over her running
  • her family are poor farmers
  • her schoolwork is being sacrificed for her running
dude, i don't know, but these facts add up to a pretty bad picture. to me, it looks like this is a father who's exploiting his own child for his own benefit. and it looks like he's sacrificing her to improve their own lot in life. i think the situation here is more the father forcing the daughter into chasing his own dreams, and less about her following hers--besides, even if she enjoys running, he still has a responsibility to protect her health and welfare, and i don't think this is the way.

dude, she's 8 years old, and only 122 centimeters (around 4 feet) tall and 21 kilograms (about 46 pounds) in weight. i'd be concerned seeing an adult run like this, let alone a child. running like this is just nothing but bad for kids--they're young, they're growing, their biochemistry (i.e., hormones and organs) and biomechanics (i.e., muscles, bones, connective tissue) still aren't set yet, and they just weren't meant to take this kind of punishment.

dude, this story just really bothers me. i know this is a parent-child thing and maybe not anybody else's business, but...this is just SO WRONG. on so many different levels.

China girl completes 3,500 km run
A Chinese girl has arrived in Beijing after running more than 3,550km (2,200 miles) from the southern province of Hainan in less than two months.
Story from BBC NEWS
Published: 2007/08/27 12:05:08 GMT

Zhang Huimin, eight, rose each day at 0230 and ran about 1.5 marathons (64km, 40 miles), Xinhua news agency said. Her father accompanied her on a bicycle.

He said the feat was aimed at drawing attention to her Olympic potential ahead of the Beijing games next year.

He denied forcing her to run, but some experts have said it amounted to abuse.

The girl arrived in the Chinese capital on Sunday after starting out in Hainan on 3 July.

Zhang Huimin, who is 1.22m (4ft) tall and weighs 21kg (46lb), is too young to compete in the 2008 Olympics but her father, Zhang Jianmin, believes she can compete in the 2016 games, when she will be 17.

Domestic media and some experts have accused her father of abuse, saying running such long distances could damage the girl's body and affect her growth.

"I make the training fun for her. I don't push her," Mr Zhang told the Beijing News.

"She loves to run. Many people don't understand us," he said.

Zhang and his wife have separated, mainly because she opposed his way of training their daughter, the newspaper reported.

"Whether people oppose it or not, we will soldier on," Mr Zhang said.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

exercise grows brain cells (so what does that say about Ironman?)


so a research article asserts that exercise stimulates brain cell growth:

this seemed odd enough the first time i read it that i actually tried to dig up the research article mentioned in the news piece. turns out the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology charges a pretty hefty fee to download papers (15 british pounds, or about 35 dollars). ouch. i don't think i need it that bad...although, it is definitely provocative.

normally, my university status allows me access to all the on-line research journals (the scholarly peer-reviewed ones that are typically never found in a public library, but instead only in higher-level research-focused academic institutions)--at least, the ones to which the school is subscribed. but here, too, the research gods failed me: my school has no subscription to the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, or any of the services which access it. booooooooooooooo!!!

it's a pity, because i really did want to see the details of the experiments of this study, just to see how exactly the researchers came up with the conclusion that brain cell growth is stimulated by physical activity.

i mean, come on, you have to admit, for those of us who survived the excruciating agony that is the American high school system, these findings are a bit counter-intuitive. case in point: if exercise really does incite brain cell growth, then how do these researchers explain all the jocks on the varsity teams? with all the exercise Biff, Bart, and Bubba Jack-ass were getting (on football, basketball, water polo, soccer, whatever), then how in the world was it possible for them to remain at a 1st-grade IQ level?

for that matter, how does this explain the GPAs of my university's Division 1 varsity football and basketball programs? last i heard (and this is coming from inside sources), the average GPA on the rosters was around 2.1. so you mean to tell me that without all that exercise these guys would be functionally illiterate? and that the only thing keeping their grades high is a Division 1 competition schedule?

don't even mention just how brain-dead i feel after going 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running.


like i said, i want to actually get a hold of this research article and check the details. i know that as a research journal the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology is a peer-reviewed periodical, and hence anything in it has passed a certain level of expert scrutiny. but these findings are a little...odd.

if indeed these researchers found that even moderate exercise produced brain cell growth, then there's no telling what Ironman is doing. i mean, all this suffering for Ironman must be responsible for IQ increases of a non-trivial kind. the article even mentions that the exercises involved in the experiments were swimming and running, which is 2/3 of triathlon right there. god forbid cycling doesn't have the same effect (although...some might say it has the opposite--but that's another story). in any case, we might as well push the pedal to the floor and hit the Ironman training schedule for all it's worth.

and that brain-dead feeling i have after each Ironman must just be a figment of my hallucinatory, hyper-exhausted, near-catatonic imagination.

if the link doesn't work, the text of the news piece is below:

Exercise Grows New Brain Cells
Jeanna Bryner
LiveScience Staff Writer
Thu Jun 28, 12:35 PM ET

Exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells, a new study on rats finds. The new cells could be the key to why working out relieves depression.

Previous research showed physical exercise can have antidepressant effects, but until now scientists didn’t fully understand how it worked.

Astrid Bjornebekk of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and her colleagues studied rats that had been genetically tweaked to show depressive behaviors, plus a second group of control rats. For 30 days, some of the rats had free access to running wheels and others did not.

Then, to figure out if running turned the down-and-out rats into happy campers, the scientists used a standard “swim test.” They measured the amount of time the rats spent immobile in the water and the time they spent swimming around in active mode. When depressed, rats spend most of the time not moving.

“In the depressed rats, running had an antidepressant-like effect after running for 30 days,” Bjornebekk told LiveScience. The once-slothful rodents spent much more time in active swimming compared with the non-running depressed rats.

The researchers also examined the hippocampus region of the brain, involved in learning and memory. Neurons there increased dramatically in the depressed rats after wheel-running.

Past studies have found that the human brain’s hippocampus shrinks in depressed individuals, a phenomenon thought to cause some of the mental problems often linked with depression.
“The hippocampus formation is one of the regions they have actually seen structural changes in depressed patients,” Bjornebekk said.

Running had a similar effect as common antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) on lifting depression.

The research is published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

obesity is contagious

there was a recent article asserting that obesity is contagious:

ugh. great. how lovely.

this may explain my chunky episodes during the course of the year.

i don't consider myself fat, but i don't consider myself skinny either--rough numbers indicate i'm kind of in the middle (read: average) for males: height 5 feet 10 inches, weight 150-155 lbs, waist 29-30 inches. my numbers tend to keep me in the lean side of the ordinary person (particularly the ordinary American, which my european relatives regularly use in conjunction with the word "fat"--as in "fat Americans," as in "so how is life with all the fat Americans?").

i credit a somewhat active lifestyle (at least, relative to the average "fat American"). between swimming, biking, running, walking, working, breathing, sleeping, eating, stretching, and now several different styles of kung fu, versus controlling my food cravings (of which there are so many), i manage to find a largely happy medium that holds the line against the poundage of useless blubbery jiggle.

however, there do seem to be periods, where for some strange unknown reason, the poundage just explodes. i mean it literally--every once in awhile, despite my activity level and conscious monitoring of caloric intake, i find my body weight rising as much as 10 pounds within the course of 1-2 weeks.

it's bizarre. i've scratched my head over this quite often. it always seems to happen around the months of November through February. and it always seems to come in 1-2 week bursts, after which i have to push myself into frenetic overdrive to

i know what you're thinking: November through February marks the major holidays involving high food intake in the American calendar. specifically, it contains Thanksgiving (major food gorging), Christmas (more major food gorging), New Year's (even more major food gorging), Asian New Year (on the lunar calendar, and hey, in Los Angeles, everyone observes Asian holidays, with all the celebratory euphoria of Western ones--and that includes major food gorging), and Valentine's Day (not so much a food day...but then, have you ever seen people in or out of love eating? yeah, exactly. food gorging premier!). if there was ever a cause for my fat episodes, it would be this.

but the thing is, i make extra effort during these times to control the food intake. i even count the daily ration of calories in relation to energy expenditure, and also measure out the proportions of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. my numbers could be wrong, but i'm using several nutritional guidebooks (Joe Friel's Going Long, Monique Ryan's Sport Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, and Gale Bernhardt's Training Plans for Multi-sport Athletes), and they can't be that far off, can they?

i also thought that maybe it was just winter, and that my body was simply expressing a human genetic predisposition of an evolutionary species trait to cycle body functions in relation to the season. that is, that my body was simply sensing winter and turning into a fat mode to produce an insulating layer for warmth and energy reserves for operation, similar to the way horses grow winter hair and gain winter weight, or the way bears go into hibernation with extra mass.

but this doesn't explain the spurts of weight gain. because if it really is an evolutionary trait intended to counter winter, you would expect the weight gain to come on and stay on for the season. but instead i get 1-2 week spikes up and then long gradual declines back down.

this article gives another alternative. although, i haven't quite figured out how. i don't have that many obese friends. i do have 2 or 3 that would be considered obese. and i do see them only infrequently (as in about once a month or so).

but this wouldn't explain my blubber problem being a seasonal thing from November through February. i see my friends fairly regularly, even if only occasionally, throughout the year. yet the summertime is when i actually have trouble keeping the weight on.

i guess i shouldn't make such a big deal out of this (get it, big? ha ha). i mean, for most people, 10 lbs isn't really a lot. and the average "fat American" would probably be content with my dimensions (even in one of my fat episodes).

but dude, you don't have to carry the 10 pounds around. i do. and on me, 10 pounds is a lot. i can feel it, and worse, i can see it. the mirror...does...not...lie...and what it shows just ain't that pretty.

more than that, you try carrying an extra 10 pounds around with you when you go swimming, biking, or running. or doing anything during the course of a normal day. never mind training or racing. pretty soon, you'll be cursing those 10 extra pounds with every breath and every thought of every day. and you'll be hunting down locations in Google for the nearest liposuction center. or even considering self-surgery. anything like me.

still, for all that, i refuse to stop associating with my obese friends--and knowing the ironic image-obsessed nature of our society (ironic, because we worship beauty even as our society suffers from a massive case of blubber bulge), that would be something all too likely to occur given propagation of this article. even if obesity is contagious, i still don't think it should be any excuse to break off acquaintances. especially ones you enjoy. i mean, i may do anything to get the weight off, but not at the expense of losing friends or family.

i should note that i think it's odd that this article notes that obesity is contagious, but so also is thinness. in which case, then why are there more fat people than thin ones? why is it easier to gain poundage then it is to lose the blubbage? and why aren't my obese friends losing weight hanging around me? fat seems a whole lot more contagious than thin.

go figure. it's always the bad stuff that's contagious, kind of like a disease...which would pretty much make obesity a disease. if so, then it's tantamount to the bubonic plague--i mean, in this country, it certainly appears to be just as contagious and just as virulent.

oh well. i guess this makes triathlon the equivalent of the antidote (or maybe the immunization?). whatever. it's the medicine. certainly Ironman is. i don't know anybody who gained weight training for Ironman. seriously, if you can't lose weight training for Ironman, there's something seriously wrong with you.

and given what i see on the street, i'm going to keep on taking the medicine. especially come time for those pesky fat episodes.

if the link to the article doesn't work, the full text is below:

Study: Obesity is Socially Contagious
Jeanna Bryner
LiveScience Staff Writer

People who notice their friend packing on pounds might want to steer clear if they value their sleek physiques.

A new study finds that when the scale reads "obese" for one individual, the odds that their friends will become obese increase by more than 50 percent.

The study, published in the July 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that obesity is "socially contagious," as it can spread among individuals in close social circles. The likely explanation: A person's idea of what is an appropriate body size is affected by the size of his or her friends.

Conversely, the researchers found that thinness is also contagious.

"Social effects, I think, are much stronger than people before realized," said co-author James Fowler, a social-networks expert at the University of California-San Diego. "There's been an intensive effort to find genes that are responsible for obesity and physical processes that are responsible for obesity, and what our paper suggests is that you really should spend time looking at the social side of life as well."

An outside expert on social networks called the new research impressive, particularly in showing a causal link between obesity and friends. However, he cautioned that the evidence for the effect extending out to friends' friends, and so on, is weaker.

"The suggestion in their paper is that obesity sort of spreads through the network as if it were some kind of epidemic, some kind of contagious disease," said Duncan Watts, who studies social networks at Columbia University. While this is plausible, he noted, the current research doesn't provide direct evidence for this phenomena.

Social networks

Research has shown that peers influence each other's health behaviors. One past study showed that teens associating with friends who smoke and drink were more likely to take up the behaviors. However, no past research has looked at how the impact extends to friends' friends and beyond.

In the new study, Fowler and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School analyzed health data collected between 1971 and 2003 from more than 12,000 adults who participated in the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing cardiovascular study. Participants provided contact information for close friends, many of whom were also study participants, resulting in a total of 38,611 social and family ties.

The researchers found that if a participant's friend became obese over the course of the study, the chances that the participant also became obese increased by 57 percent. Among mutual friends (both individuals indicate the other is a "friend"), the chances nearly tripled.

Among siblings, if one becomes obese the likelihood of their sister or brother becoming obese increases by 40 percent. Among spouses there is a 37 percent increased risk.

Gender also affected the degree of "obesity contagion." In same-sex friendships, individuals had a 71 percent increased risk of obesity if a friend became obese. If a guy's brother is obese, he's 44 percent more likely to also become obese. Among sisters, the risk was 67 percent.

Fat factors

Other studies have suggested that obesity might be physically contagious, possibly passing from one person to another by virus. But that idea has not been firmly supported. The new study doesn't address this possibility but instead looked at mindsets and attitudes as the controlling factors.

Fat-fueling factors were taken into consideration. For instance, the researchers made sure the effect wasn't a case of "birds of a feather flocking together." Body measurements were taken throughout the study period, showing when individuals became obese and whether they began the study with obese readings.

"It's not that obese or non-obese people simply find other similar people to hang out with," Christakis said. "Rather, there is a direct, causal relationship."

They also ruled out the idea that an outside factor, and not the friendship, caused the fatness. If an environmental factor were affecting both individuals in a friendship, then it shouldn't matter whether individuals are mutual friends or just one individual labels the other as a friend.

The study, however, found that it does matter which way the friend arrow points: If subjects named an obese person as a friend, they tended to be affected by that person's obesity.

But when the person on the receiving end did not label the first person as a friend, there was no "obesity contagion" effect in the other direction. The distinct variable here is who calls whom a "friend."

"The fact that it only has an effect when I think you're my friend is very strongly suggestive to me," Watts said. "That's about as good as you can do in terms of identifying a causal relationship."

Perhaps friends just spend a lot of time together and so would eat similar foods and engage in the same physical activities. But they found the results held no matter the geographic proximity of friends.

"So friends that are thousands of miles away have just as large an impact on you as friends who are right next door," Fowler told LiveScience.

The scientists suggest the findings can be explained if friends are influencing one another's norms for body weight.

"What appears to be happening is that a person becoming obese most likely causes a change of norms about what counts as an appropriate body size," Christakis said. "People come to think that it is OK to be bigger since those around them are bigger, and this sensibility spreads."

Bulging waistlines

In the past 25 years, obesity among U.S. adults has shot from 15 to 32 percent. The new study reveals friends could be feeding the fat epidemic, along with our large-serving, high-calorie, fast-food lifestyles.

"We show that one person's behavior ripples through the network to have an impact beyond those first-order friendships," Fowler said. "So we're talking about dozens of people that are affected by one person's health outcomes and health behaviors."

He added, "And that needs to be taken into account by policy analysts and also by politicians who are trying to decide what the best measures are for making society healthier."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

cheating (part 5) : forgiveness & redemption

note: this is the last part of a multi-part series i'm writing to cover all of my thoughts on doping. you can check out part 4, part 3, part 2, and part 1.

One of the (many) collateral effects of doping is the public reception of the discovered cheater. As spectators and possibly fans, there is an issue as to how we deal with athletes who have been found to be using performance-enhancing substances, particularly if they are returning to athletic competition, particularly if they were athletes we admired.

It's a personal issue for followers of sport. Although we do not have individual connections with individual athletes (few fans, if ever, actually talk one-on-one with an athlete, fewer still actually develop relationships with them, and most of the time fans and athletes are mere figures to each other), we still develop personal impressions and sentiments in association with athletes, particularly those with sufficient public profile to garner popular recognition. Sometimes those impressions and sentiments rise to emotional attachment, connected to compulsions situated deep within our psyches. Whether hero or villain, we identify athletes in certain ways in our minds, and follow them through our personal perceptions of who we think they are or who we want them to be.

The existence of forgiveness

It's a relatively easy thing to accept an athlete who has been cleared and judged innocent of doping charges. While there may be an air of suspicion, we can still reason to ourselves that the official mechanisms for judgment ruled in favor of innocence and presumably did so utilizing all the resources of examination and consideration (resources not available to us), and hence that there is a ruling with legitimacy sustained by recognized authorities sufficient to satisfy public uncertainty. In effect, even if we hold some doubt, we can assuage (or, depending on who you talk to, delude) ourselves into believing a suspected cheater is innocent--because the authorities we heed said so.

The harder case, however, is an athlete who has been convicted of doping. In such an instance, there is no acquittal by authority buffering us from reality; there is only reality that confirms our worst suspicions. This produces several consequences upon us as spectators of sport:
  • Betrayal: the sense that someone we entrusted with our admiration has broken that trust by doing some unworthy of our admiration. This is made worse when the athlete led us to believe they were something special--it is one thing if they never claimed to be who we thought them to be, but another thing entirely if they had promised us they were
  • Disappointment: the sense that someone we believed to uphold ideals failed to do so--not because they failed while trying their best (which is forgivable), but because they failed with full intent to do so
  • Disenchantment: These emotions lead to a subsequent loss of faith, most often in the athlete, sometimes in the sport, and occasionally the world.
Note that these emotions aren't about athletes failing to meet our expectations. They're about athletes failing to meet rules. Here's the difference:
  • Expectations imply that individuals are being held accountable to meet standards which are subjective, and because they are subjective tend to be higher for gifted individuals (e.g., elite athletes) than for the normal population. This proffers a loophole in which individuals who do not meet expectations can simply fall back on the excuse that they "were only human." This allows athletes caught using performance-enhancing substances to ascribe their foibles as characteristic to our species, and hence passe'.
  • Rules, in contrast, imply that individuals are being held accountable to standards which are objective, and not only objective but also universal, meaning that individuals--gifted or otherwise--are expected to follow the same rules everyone else does, because they are human. This means athletes caught using performance-enhancing substances have no excuse for their transgressions, because as members of our species, they (just as much as we) are expected to follow the rules enacted to maintain conduct in our society. Often, this is succinctly stated in the maxim: "No one is above the law" (including, presumably, athletes).
This is perhaps why forgiveness for doping athletes is so difficult: it's not because they failed standards that were greater than those for everyone else; it's because they broke rules that everyone is expected to follow. In other words, it's not that they were unable to rise to greatness, but instead that they were unable to even raise themselves to a minimum standard.

There is the counter-argument that athletes, cheaters and non-cheaters alike, do not need to seek forgiveness from fans; that there is, in fact, no issue of forgiveness at all. The reasoning is that between the athlete and the audience there is no relationship that suffers damage from a particular transgression, because there is no tie of kinship, oath, or contract between the athlete and spectator. The apologies, if to anyone, are owed to family and employers, since it is to them to which blood and promises are made.

But such arguments are suspect, because there is a connection between athletes and fans: the sport. When an athlete cheats, they offend the ideals of sport--and not just their specific sport of choice, but the entire concept of sport in general. One of the fundamental components of the concept of sport is providing humanity a reflection of itself; that training and competition display attributes in athletes, and reveal those attributes as part of human character as a whole. At its best, sport is expected to express the qualities in human nature to which we hope to aspire. In offending the concept of sport, the athlete offends those aspirations, and in offending those aspirations, the athlete offends the hopes of people yearning to realize their ideals.

In short, there is an issue of forgiveness from the public for any athlete seeking to return to sport following a transgression. The forgiveness must come from sport (specific and general), and by extension the people to whom sport serves: the fans.

This leads to the central question: is there any room for forgiveness from we the public, especially considering both the subjective damaged emotions and objective broken rules? Can we as spectators accept the return of an athlete convicted and punished for performance drugs?

The meaning of redemption

The answer isn't clear. There seem to be some cases where forgiveness would seem appropriate, but there are others where it simply does not.

By way of illustration, consider the following slate of exemplars:
The above can be interpreted as a selection of athletes whose profiles fall along a continuum of reprehensibility, with the forgivable at one extreme and the unforgivable at the other.

The extremes are readily identifiable:
  • The vindicated innocent: Rutger Beke is an athlete who tested positive in 2004 for illegally high levels of EPO, but who was cleared of all charges on appeal when he proved that his EPO concentrations were a genetic trait characteristic to his family. In other words, he represents the athlete proven innocent, and hence the most readily forgivable (particularly since, in his case, there was found to be no real transgression).
  • The unrepentant guilty: Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids in 1988, confessed to using them, and was subsequently banned from competition. In public statements, he has asserted that he is sorry for having tested positive--but noticeably (and disturbingly) has never apologized for using steroids. In effect, he feels no shame for having cheated.
The other 2 cases are of interest: Nina Kraft and Bjarne Riis. Both athletes confessed to using performance-enhancing substances (specifically, EPO). Both admit to shame and regret. Both were stripped of victory titles. Both have publicly stated their desire to make amends.

The major difference, however, is that Bjarne Riis largely escaped punishment (because his confession came long after the end of his professional career), while Nina Kraft was made to serve a 1-year ban from competition. This suggests that Bjarne Riis never received justice, while Nina Kraft did. This seems to be a suspiciously unfair situation, with 2 parties of equal guilt being given unequal sanctions--something which is entirely contrary to the notions of fairness inherent in justice. As a result, it makes forgiveness a much more difficult proposition for Bjarne Riis, who essentially avoided justice, and makes forgiveness more palatable for Nina Kraft, who subjected herself to it.

Having said this, it should be reiterated that for these 2 figures there is still some prospect of forgiveness, particularly in comparison to someone like Ben Johnson. This if for one very simple reason: Nina Kraft and Bjarne Riis, unlike Ben Johnson, appear to be making their best efforts for their own redemption.

Redemption is important to forgiveness, because redemption encompasses several major elements related to the issue of forgiveness:
  • Wrong: the transgressor, either through intent or negligence, did something considered wrong
  • Remorse: the transgressor admits to having done something wrong, feels shame and regret, and is sorry
  • Penance: the transgressor accepts punishment for the wrong
  • Redress: the transgressor makes a sincere and vigorous effort to rectify the damage done by the wrong
Each of these elements conforms to the notion that an athlete who uses performance drugs has failed to meet the conduct codes of society. That is, they presume that the act of using performance-enhancing substances is about more than just disappointing the expectations of spectators, but is also about breaking the rules of society.

Following the discussion of forgiveness, this means that an athlete who proceeds through these 4 elements is making an admission that they did not meet the minimum standards expected of all human beings, and in so doing did hurt sport and its fans through betrayal, disappointment, and disenchantment of their ideals. Moreover, it further means that an athlete undertaking these 4 stages is making amends, not just to sport and its fans, but to the ideals contained within them. In effect, these 4 elements alleviate the factors that make forgiveness so difficult.

In this light, it's possible to place the aforementioned exemplar athletes on the scale of forgiveness using the elements of redemption as criteria, and better understand why each holds differing degrees enabling (or preventing) forgiveness.
  • Least forgivable: Ben Johnson has gone the least on the path to redemption, because while having made penance, he has still not recognized the wrong of steroids (remember: he only apologized for getting caught, not for using them), nor has he shown remorse for the wrong, and he does not seem to have made an effort at redress.
  • More forgivable: Bjarne Riis is more forgivable because he has gone farther towards redemption, even while escaping penance, since he has admitted he was wrong to use EPO, has expressed remorse, and has made efforts at redress (he publicly returned his Tour de France victory).
  • Likely forgivable: Nina Kraft, for her part, is more deserving of forgiveness because she is even farther towards redemption--she has done everything: she admitted she used EPO, expressed sincere shame and apology, accepted punishment, and has begun to redress the dangers of cheating.
  • Most forgivable: Rutger Beke, out of these 4 examples, was declared as never committing a wrong, and so is the most innocent of all.
It should be noted that there is another reason why redemption is so important. It is that redemption is more than simply earning forgiveness, but also about rehabilitation and restoration: rehabilitation of the athlete as an individual and human being, and restoration of human ideals in general. In which case, even as the classic maxim reminds us that forgiveness is about the divine, redemption can be seen as being not just about the single athlete, or the single fan, or even the single sport; redemption can be seen as being about humanity.

Friday, August 10, 2007

cheating (part 4) : the hard way (why athletes should follow it)

note: this is part 4 of a multi-part series i'm writing to cover all of my thoughts on doping. you can check out part 3, part 2, and part 1. there'll be more parts.

There was a short essay written this past June by Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses that is one of the most compelling pieces written against cheating via performance-enhancing drugs. This essay should be required reading for every athlete, regardless of sport. What it says is one of the most profound statements regarding the nature of sport, what cheating means to sport, and why athletes should not cheat in sport (or anything else).

You can read it at:
Edwin Moses was an American track & field hurdler who won 2 gold medals at the 1976 and 1984 Olympics (400 meter hurdles). He is famous for 122 consecutive victories between 1977 and 1987, and for breaking his own world record 4 times. He has gone on to become a leader in anti-doping efforts and using sports to foster social change around the world. For reference, you can view Wikipedia: Edwin Moses and ESPN: Edwin Moses.

The essay he wrote contrasts stands against a slew of other commentaries that have arisen questioning the nature of anti-doping efforts. The past few years have witnessed the gathering of voices supporting the use of performance drugs and their legalization in athletics. Anti-doping efforts, they argue, should be eliminated. A representative sample of recent pro-drug comments includes the following:
Proponents of legalizing performance drugs tend to fall into a number of general categories, and reflect the major points in the debates over cheating in sport (for extensive summaries, reference: BBC: Religion & Ethics and IDEA: Drugs in Sport ). For the most part, the pro-drug arguments can be classified into the following categories:
  • Libertarian: athletes are individuals, and their choice of consumption is an individual choice, and so long as no harm is done to others athletes should be allowed to use performance-enhancing substances (if they choose to do so) free of 3rd party interference
  • Elitist: athletes are different, and hence subject to different rules, and so should be allowed to use performance drugs that are otherwise banned for normal people
  • Co-optation: criminalization fosters a thriving black market, encouraging practices dangerous to public health and environments supportive of crime, and so legalization of performance drugs would allow better regulation and oversite that will remove the threats to public health and reduce crime
  • Realist: drug use has always been involved in sports, and always will be, so legalization would be more reflective of the reality of performance-enhancing substances and their part in human history
All of these modes of argument, however, are predicated on an underlying presumption about the nature of sport--one that defines sport in a way that divests it from the greater aspirations of human existence. The common thread between them can be seen in the epistemologic questions to which they all ultimately lead: Why? To what end? To what purpose? What is the point of allowing athletes the choice of using drugs? What is the point of separating athletes from others in a special class that allows use of drugs? What is the point of legalizing a black market in drugs? What is the point of continuing the history of drugs?

The pro-drug arguments offer at best only superficial answers to these questions. This is because they offer answers as to the value of drugs to sport; they do not offer answers as to the reason for sport (i.e., its raison d'etre). The 2 topics are inseparable here--the entire debate is about drugs in sport, hence any consideration of performance drugs in athletic competition has to address the question as to what those drugs mean to the very idea of sport itself. That is, the answer to the issue of drug use is fundamentally tied to the question of what we want sports to be.

Review of pro-drug categories shows that their arguments are implicitly predicated on an underlying presumption that the purpose they suggest for sport is entertainment. Entertainment derived from physical activity--as in drama and excitement (i.e., just what happens to competition when human performance is pushed); as in satiating curiousity and manifesting hypotheticals (i.e., just how much the human body can be pushed: how fast, how high, how far, how strong).

Ultimately, it is through the paradigm of sports as entertainment that pro-drug proponents base their arguments. Libertarians argue athletes should have the freedom to use drugs, to encourage the spectacle of more intense competition. Elitists perspectives claim that athletes should be treated differently from others in regards to drugs, so that they can produce more compelling drama. Co-optation supporters calls for decriminalization of drugs, so that athletes can be freed from concerns of health or crime to showcase greater performances. Realists hold that sport should be surrendered to drugs, so that it can continue the historical lineage of pageantry of athletic expression. Everything is framed within the perspective of aiding athletes and sports so that they can provide spectators with more drama, more excitement, and more records to be reset and rebroken.

It is strangely ironic how this is a reflection of the Olympic creed (Citius, Altius, Fortius--or, in English: Faster, Higher, Stronger). Unfortunately, it's a perverse distortion, and is a misdirection of the words. The Olympic creed, much like the Olympic movement from its original incarnation in ancient Greece to its modern incarnation of the current era, views sport as more than just a spectacle of athletic performance, but as an expression of greater ideals of human nature; that is, it is not just about being faster, higher, or stronger in body, but also in mind and spirit. Reference: IOC, USOC, Deseret News,, Maps of the World, Wikipedia: Pierre de Coubertin.

It is this sentiment that is embodied by Edwin Moses' essay, and it is this perspective that is expressed so passionately in his arguments. Speaking with the voice of an Olympic champion, and with the wisdom of an athlete wizened by the perspective of years, he holds the position that performance-enhancing drugs run contrary to the entire purpose of sport, and that whatever benefits they bring are an insult to the credo of athletics.

Sports, he suggests, is about ideals. It is not about entertainment. It is about character, not about physical achievement. It is about development of the mind and the spirit, not just the body. It is, at its core, about fulfilling the aspirations of human nature, and not providing voyeuristic drama or satisfying base curiousities about the human body. Sport, at its best, is about manifesting the best aspects of humanity and the human condition. It is, in its most beatific moments, about the ideals we want to express as human beings.

In his essay, Edwin Moses states this firmly:

"The sleazy brawn of doping degrades the noble ideals of sport and its true heroes: dedication, integrity, self-sacrifice, honesty, fairness, courage — all working together to fuel the desire and ability to compete, excel and win."

The contrast between such an noble assertions of ideals versus the cynical justifications of entertainment reveals the debate over performance drugs for what it truly is--a conflict over the fundamental question of human nature: Who are we? What do we want to be?

The answer to this existentialist question determines the direction of the debate. Sport is a reflection of who we are as athletes. How we train and how we compete in sport is a reflection of how we live in life, and in so doing is a reflection of who we are and who we want to be as human beings.

If we are about the satiation of baser instincts for diversionary pastimes; if we are about short-term gratification of physical senses; if we are about solely physical development and nothing else; if we are unconcerned with human nature and its progression towards ideals; then sport is simply a form of entertainment to occupy our attention and time, and there are no ethics barring its manipulation (i.e., via performance-enhancing substances) for such an end.

If, however, we are about the advancement of human nature; if we are about our context in the mystery that is life and creation; if we are about development of more than the body but mind and soul; if we are concerned about the fulfillment of ideals so that they are made real through us; then sport is not simply entertainment, it is not just a diversion. Sport is then about the constant, neverending, continual struggle of humanity to transcend itself and become something greater than its constituent elemental parts, and ethics are the guides to the ideals sport strives to achieve.

The difference in implications is profound. One way (the easy way) accepts the human condition as it is, and accepts humanity as being only humanity, and proceeds with the living of life accordingly--with no meaning beyond the senses and the now. It is the way of cynicism, it is the way of nihilism, it is the way of the profane. The other way (the hard way), in contrast, is about refusing to accept things as they are, and expecting the human condition as being better and humanity as being more, and proceeds with the living of life with the purpose of exploration and fulfillment of its full meaning. It is the way of hope, it is the way of ascendance, it is the way more divine.

And it is the latter way--the hard way--that makes the hours of work and sweat and sacrifice and commitment and dedication and diligence and discipline all worthwhile. It is this that makes the struggles with heartache and disappointment and anguish and sorrow and pain and failure and defeat so bearable.

Because it is only through such things that we gain the experience, wisdom, perspective, insight, understanding, and maturity that mark our growth in mind and spirit--growth to match and to deserve the blessings that are our bodies. It is only through these things that we can become better than we were before--and as good as we were meant to become. It is only through these things that we as athletes advance the ideals of human nature, and confirm the covenant of all humanity with hope--for itself, for creation, and for the future.

It is hard. Sometimes. Often. Always. It is very hard.

But the easy way means surrender to things as they are, without the prospect of anything better. The easy way means giving up on the true purpose of sport, and the true spirit of the athlete. The easy way means defeat.

The hard way means progression to things as they should be, with the hope of things far greater. The hard way means upholding the aspirations of sport, and the courage of the athlete. The hard way means victory, of the only kind that really matters: humanity.

If the link to Edwin Moses' essay does not work, the full text is below:

Doping isn't the only way to the top for athletes
By Edwin Moses

Special to The Times

June 12, 2007

Like the parabolic mirror that ignites the flame in Olympia every two years, the avenging spirit of sport recently has focused its heat upon yellow jerseys and ski boots. Now I want to add my own fire to the mix.

Since May 23: Doping confessions on the part of Danish cycling champion Bjarne Riis. Telenovela-like EPO-related arbitration hearings of American cyclist Floyd Landis. The $1-million fine issued by the International Olympic Committee upon the Austrian Olympic Committee for its role in the 2006 Turin blood-doping scandal. Lifetime Olympic bans placed on 14 Austrian ski team officials. Cross-country skiers from Kazakhstan and Russia banned for two years. Three German Olympic doctors with responsibilities to amateur skiing, cycling and Paralympic teams suspended for providing EPO to athletes under their care.

I could also mention last summer's saga wherein Marion Jones escaped with a negative B-sample and Justin Gatlin bit the dust. Or shall we go back to the 2004 World Track Championships, an annual meet from which other BALCO clients were subsequently banned?

The roster of doping-associated stakeholders across the globe — not only athletes but federations, training institutes, coaches, corporate sponsors and national Olympic bodies — is a shameful who's who in the world of sports.

At the same time, Victor "BALCO" Conte is again open (legitimately?) for business — trumpeting this month to the Times of London that parents of kids with dreams of elite-level performance should "steer [the kids] in other directions" if they don't want them to take drugs, simply because "at some point they'll get to the level where they are told they have no choice but to use them."

Pitifully, Conte's corrupt mentality is supported by entries on sports blogs, in which great performers of the past (myself included) are unjustifiably maligned by a skeptical generation of so-called fans ignorant of the plain feasibility and indisputable effectiveness of honest, hard-core training techniques.

With only 15 months to go before the Olympic torch comes to rest in Beijing, it's time for me and all other clean world-class athletes from every sport to speak loudly against the false claim that doping is simply "the way it is" and the only way to the top.

To reach the pinnacle of my event, the 400-meter hurdles — and to stay there without ceding victory, as I did, for nearly a decade — I did not need or want to use performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, I trained smart and hard to get to and stay at the top.

Over more than 10 years, I logged a minimum of 15,000 miles on the track, beaches and cross-country trails; followed a strict diet tailored to high performance and recovery (a regimen I follow to this day), and focused my complete attention on the task at hand, living and breathing the entire training process every single day.

I invented a training regimen that included stretching, flexibility development and dynamic exercise techniques. And I was willing to deal with — for seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years — the intense and relentless discomfort that comes from training mercilessly, two or three times a day. Through sheer focus and willpower, I made sure that the harder and more painful it got, the faster I became.

By definition, the elite level of sport is not open to just anyone — only the very rare individual will succeed. But to suggest that drugs are a de facto key to world-class victories is a lie. I delivered 122 consecutive victories and four world records on the basis of sweat and refined skill, period.

The sleazy brawn of doping degrades the noble ideals of sport and its true heroes: dedication, integrity, self-sacrifice, honesty, fairness, courage — all working together to fuel the desire and ability to compete, excel and win.

Counsel to all would-be champions: in training for competition, there are no shortcuts. Anyone who tells you differently is selling pure compromise.

Since 2000, I've served as chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy and the associated Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. The core work of the academy is to use sport as a tool for positive social change, with a focus on the needs of the most disenfranchised and vulnerable children.

The values of honest sportsmanship, a level playing field, clean competition and sheer passion for the game that Laureus represents, and that we hold up to these children and our own as flares of opportunity and hope, are the values that must propel me and others like me to speak out loudly against the systems and stakeholders that enable and sustain the crooked work of doping.

In 1984, I was honored to open the L.A. Games by bearing the Olympic torch into the Coliseum and leading the recitation of the Olympic Oath, "in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and for the honor of our teams." If we now fail to take a stand for sport as we love it and once practiced it, our legacy will be scorched indeed.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

cheating (part 3) : complexities and conundrums

note: this is part 3 of a multi-part series i'm writing to cover all of my thoughts on doping. you can check out part 2 and part 1. there'll be more parts.

The previous posts in this series dealt with the motivations driving athletes who cheat using performance-enhancing substances (reference: part 1: the easy way) and the types of doping and means of deception they use (reference: part 2: doping, drugs, & deception). This post is directed at noting how the issue of cheating via performance drugs involves complexities that make it more difficult to resolve than many might perceive.

Complexities and conundrums

Superficially, and even at its core, the issue of doping revolves around the premise of catching "cheaters" who cheat by using performance-enhancing substances to boost their athletic performance. It is upon this premise that so much of anti-doping efforts are directed. It is a clear-cut mission, with an identifiable goal, and with a bright-line defining criteria. For all appearances, it seems a very straightforward (i.e., simple) process.

This is reflected in vivid cases such as:
However, the issue is not entirely as simple as its premise or the above morality stories suggest. The existence of performance-enhancing drugs are fraught with complexities posing conundrums with unclear resolution. This is seen in the presence of scenarios which do not readily conform to the absolutist premise of catching cheaters using drugs in sports. In particular, the more commonly noted exceptions are:
  • medical use
  • mistakes by authorities
  • mistakes by athletes
  • congenital conditions
  • arbitrary definitions
Each of these are dealt with individually below.

Medical use

Many of the substances involved with performance enhancement have medicinal uses. Steroids, for example, are frequently administered post-surgery because of their ability to accelerate regeneration of body tissue.

Because of their medical applications, the list of banned substances are not always so difficult to obtain, but can often be readily found in prescription and non-prescription medication or in commonly available over-the-counter nutritional supplements. The reasoning for such access is that people who are ill should have the right to acquire medical aid to ease their illness, and those seeking to preserve their health should have the ability to utilize products that do so. Examples of these include ephedra, a banned stimulant often featured in most medically recommended asthma inhalers, and androstenedione, an illegal anabolic drug sold as a nutritional supplement in many health-food stores.

Given their medicinal value and the subsequent preference for their availability, performance-enhancing drugs cannot be so easily dismissed. An absolute ban that illegalizes and punishes all applications of a drug means not only suppressing its usage in sport as a performance enhancer, but also the denial of access to it as a medical treatment. This poses an ethical issue, since it is ethically questionable to deny access to a medically valuable drug to patients needing medical treatment--and even if those patients are athletes, they are still patients deserving of medical treatment.

An indirect, but high-profile, illustration of this is Justin Gatlin. In addition to the link for his appeal at the top of this post, also reference this article:

Gatlin's sentence for his 2nd doping violation factored in his 1st doping violation. But his 1st doping violation occurred because the positive test reflected medication he was taking to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). He received a brief ban for the 1st violation, even though the stimulant was needed to treat his ADD. In order to have avoided the punishment, he needed to have stopped treatment of the disease.

This story points the way to all sorts of uncomfortable scenarios. Should an athlete receiving treatment for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder be expected to suspend their treatments long enough to clear their system of banned substances used in their medical treatment? Should an athlete who is HIV+ be expected to do the same? Is this ethical? Is this humane?

Conversely, can sport really allow athletes undergoing treatment to compete if the treatment involves side effects that enhance their performance? Is it fair to other athletes that a competitor gains an advantage over them, simply because of a medical condition that requires a drug with performance-enhancing properties?

These opposing questions are not easily resolved. Either way, they lead to disturbing implications.

Mistakes by authorities

Performance-enhancing drugs are open to the risk of mistakes by laboratory tests conducted by anti-doping authorities investigating for the presence of illegal drugs.

Theoretically, errors in laboratory tests can arise from mistakes in procedure, handling, or observation of tissue and urine samples. However, the statistical likelihood of this is generally low, particularly since lab tests invariably require corroborating test results from 2 samples to confirm a positive or negative result for a banned substance. Arguments supporting the reliability of lab tests are espoused by organizations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), whose annual testing statistics are given at:

Unfortunately, the assertions by organizations such as WADA are disputed by different sources, who claim that the error rate in lab tests are greater than claimed and that the statistical results of lab tests are misleading. The result is a higher incidence of false positives than expected implicating innocent athletes. You can reference the following relevant links:
This poses a number of classic issues posed from criminal justice. The obvious one is just how many innocent people are being falsely convicted and wrongly punished (and just how many lives are being incorrectly, perhaps tragically, destroyed). Another issue is if mistakes in conviction and punishment point to excessive carelessness or maliciousness in the justice system, both of which are antithetical to the basis of justice. A deeper issue is just how many mistaken cases of innocent people are we willing to accept so that we can maintain a system that presumably also catches real criminals (i.e., the law school hypothetical is: are we willing to keep a system that catches 9 criminals but also mistakenly gets 1 innocent person?). There are no easy answers to these questions.

These are not just hypothetical commentaries. Documented mistakes by laboratory tests have been made. A very high-profile one was the case of Mary Decker Slaney, which you can reference at:

Mistakes by athletes

Mistakes are also possible by athletes who unknowingly consume products with illegal drugs in them.

Currently, anti-doping measures largely place athletes under strict liability for performance-enhancing drugs, in that athletes are liable for using a performance drug even if they did not know a product they used contained that drug. This requires that athletes shoulder the sole responsibility for knowing the ingredients of every item they use.

This is problematic for a number of reasons:
  • The list of banned substances can be long and obscure to a layperson (for example, sample the WADA Prohibited List, available at: WADA Resources for Anti-Doping Organizations), and it is an excessive devotion of time and energy for an athlete of average sophistication and means to exercise diligence and analyze the ingredient composition of every medication, supplement, food, or drink an athlete might consume.
  • The ingredient lists on consumer products--prescription and non-prescription--are not always truthful.
  • The ingredient lists can be incomplete, since government standards tend to require listing of those ingredients which surpass a certain minimum percentage of the product's mass or volume--percentages which may well exceed those allowed by anti-doping requirements.
  • The ingredient lists can be inconsistent, since laws regarding their contents vary from country to country, meaning that a product may list certain ingredients in 1 country but then omit them in another.
These factors make it difficult for athletes to exercise their due diligence over the contents of products. While the simple answer would be to exercise a precautionary principle of avoiding products with unknown ingredients, this is unrealistic: it is one thing to avoid unknown medications and supplements, but another thing entirely to avoid unknown foods and drinks--a human being needs nourishment, and has to eat and drink sooner or later.

Even if punishment is still deemed necessary for mistakes in athlete consumption, it still poses an issue in that it results in equal sanctions for both ignorance and malevolence. That is, it makes no difference in punishment between those athletes who tested positive as a result of mistakenly using an illegal substance and those athletes who tested positive as a result of knowingly using illegal substances.

This is questionable justice, since there seems a self-evident difference in degree between someone who was simply clueless about a drug versus someone who was intent on using it. It seems the oblivious nature suggested by cluelessness deserves at most admonition, while the malevolent nature displayed by intent is the one worthier of greater punishment.

Again, this discussion is not predicated on a hypothetical scenario. A number of athletes have vigorously argued their positive tests were results of mistakes, where they consumed products without knowledge of the illegal contents. High-profile examples include:
Congenital conditions

Anti-doping measures largely involve tests that gauge the concentrations of banned substances within an athlete's body, with tests being labeled positive when a concentration is found to be above a particular standard.

This means, however, that an assumption is being made as to what is standard. Not all human beings conform to standards, and there are always those individuals who are outliers (i.e., extremes) who fall outside the ranges considered standard or average--and who do so naturally (i.e., without performance-enhancing drugs). Some individuals have congenital conditions that do not match the average human population. Particularly with athletes, whose seemingly superhuman capabilities are arguably based on their genetic endowments (e.g., the better endurance athletes have often been noted as having above-average, and frequently exceptional, heart and lung capacities).

In which case, a positive test result indicating high levels of a performance-enhancing chemical may not really be proof of cheating, but rather instead proof of a person's genetic makeup regarding their own body's chemistry.

A prime example of this was Rutger Beke, whose story is given on his own website:

To summarize the press release, Rutger Beke was initially suspended for testing positive for EPO following the 2004 Zwintriathlon in Belgium. In the press release, Note Fact #2, wherein he notes that his family has a genetic predisposition for abnormally high levels of EPO. As a result, he argues that the positive test result was accurate in showing a high concentration of EPO, but that this is not because of doping, but instead because of his inherited family genetics. It was in part because of this argument that his suspension was later overturned and he was cleared of any guilt.

Arbitrary definitions

As alluded to above, anti-doping methods tend to rely on tests measuring concentrations of illegal substances, with test results being labeled positive indicators of doping if the concentrations surpass certain standards.

These standards, however, reflect what are deemed acceptable ranges for normal human beings. This poses an issue, in that it turns the question of positive or negative results on the definitions of "acceptable ranges" and "normal human beings." Such definitions are ostensibly specified by anti-doping organizations and their affiliated partners. But this does not necessarily mean that the definitions meet with scientific consensus. Nor does it suggest that there is a clear logic or criteria for determining what is an "acceptable range" or a "normal human being." Some critics go so far as to claim that the definitions for these terms are entirely arbitrary--reference the following article:

The issue produced by this is that it affects the definition of cheating, as well as the lives of people who are subsequently identified as cheating. If the definitions of cheating are so arbitrary, it suggests that a person who is innocent at one time may be guilty at another. This offends the notion of fairness, because it means that an athlete may be labeled as a cheater not because of their intent but instead because of the whim of another party.

This returns to the question of intent raised in the discussion of athletes mistakenly consuming performance drugs. Arbitrary definitions of cheating mean that athletes aren't necessarily being punished because of an intent to break a rule. In fact, they make it possible that athletes may be punished even if they thought they were following a rule.

For example, an athlete may be taking prescription medication with side effects that enhance performance, but doing so in concentrations meant to comply with anti-doping guidelines. If the athlete is oblivious to guideline changes that lower the standards of acceptable concentrations, that athlete may find themselves suddenly tagged with a positive (i.e., illegal) test result, and suddenly faced with punishment.

This type of scenario seems inimical to the notion of justice, because it opens the possibility of punishment against the innocent, or at the very least the ignorant. Justice, and punishment, should be more about the malevolent--those who had the intent to cheat.

There is still cheating

Given the complexities presented, it seems daunting to believe that there is any way to catch cheaters using performance-enhancing drugs, or if there really is such a nefarious thing as cheating at all. For all the empirical measures, for all the claims of objective testing, and despite all the efforts as specific bright-line criteria, it is clear that issues cloud the aspirations of anti-doping institutions.

Having said this, it should cautioned that such issues should not be interpreted as license for moral relativism, and a resulting incremental slide in philosophy leading to acceptance of performance-enhancing drug use. For all the conundrums posed by the issues connected in testing for performance-enhancing substances, there is still an intuitive sense that there is such a thing as cheating in sports. Athletes, officials, sports organizations, spectators can still assert that there are cases where a competitor is using drugs to boost their performance, and that such drug use is wrong. There is a very good reflective commentary on this at:

Ironically enough, the defining factor in determining cheating may be drawn from the issues presented introduced in the discussion above. The common thread between all of the 5 presented (medical use, mistakes by authorities, mistakes by athletes, congenital conditions, and arbitrary definitions) is essentially one of intent--that is, if the athlete connected to drugs used them with the intent to boost their own abilities or gain an advantage over competitors. Medical use, even if to treat an illness, is still contrary to the spirit of sport if the athlete does so with the purpose of increasing their performance. Along comparable lines, mistakes, whether by authorities or athletes, point to greater innocence (or at least, lower liability) relative to athletes who use drugs with an intent to cheat. Likewise, congenital conditions are disassociated from drug use, and hence delineate the differences in danger to sports posed by those without intent and those with intent to cheat. Similarly, arbitrary definitions highlight that the danger is not who is caught using drugs, but rather who had the intent to use drugs to elevate their abilities.

Of course, determining intent is a difficult challenge. It is not something readily observed and it is an elusive quality to prove. But it is no more challenging than the complexities described in this post.

As suggested here, it is overly simplistic to conceptualize anti-doping measures as purely revolving around the premise of catching "cheaters" who cheat by using performance-enhancing substances to boost their athletic performance. Contrary to such a premise, anti-doping is not a clear-cut mission with an identifiable goal or a bright-line defining criteria. Instead, anti-doping is about investigating the minds and characters of athletes, and from there reading there intent to violate the spirit of sport. Anti-doping, in short, is about human nature, and all the complexities it entails.