Among performance enhancing drug users, Lance Armstrong is no different than Keith Richards

Lance Armstrong has admitted this week, sort of, that he used performance enhancing drugs in the name of dominating the Tour de France bicycle racing circuit. Not only is it a poorly kept secret that Armstrong was a doper, his sport is also dominated by fellow dopers; the only real mystery has been how he managed to fake all those drug tests that his counterparts were routinely failing. But there’s another angle here, that of why we judge athlete dopers differently than other famous dopers. “Keith Richards takes performance enhancing drugs every time he performs and people love him for it,” points out Dave Hamilton. “Lance Armstrong does the same and has to pay the money back.” And he has a point. We love what Richards has done for our record collection, and we don’t care that many of his best contributions to the Rolling Stones have come when he was in fact stoned. But when career entertainer Lance Armstrong goes and does the same, we crucify him for it. That begs the question of whether there’s a difference…

The most glaring difference between that of rock star doper and athlete doper is that there are very specific rules against the latter. While the drugs in question are generally illegal in all cases, the Billboard charts and Grammy awards don’t have provisions for disqualifying any album which was completed while under the influence of illegal substances. And while musicians do compete with each other for sales and awards, it’s not that they’re competing directly with each other; it’s not as if the sales of Beatles records were hurt by the fact that Richards came up with a particularly commercially appealing guitar hook for a Stones record while high. Contrast that with the fact that by using performance enhancing drugs, Lance Armstrong was in fact pushing competing cyclists further back in the standings by using whatever he was using. Still, the argument that Amstrong was merely giving us what we wanted from him has merit…

I recall cheering on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa during the season in which they were both hitting a suspicious number of home runs. We all knew something didn’t add up, and that they were probably doping. But darned if it wasn’t fun to watch. Now that Maris’ record has been broken on false grounds and the baseball record book is in shambles, we all have to live with the consequences. But recently the Baseball Hall of Fame decided that because the players coming up for eligibility this year all played during the steroids era, no one will be elected to the Hall of Fame this year. That means that even those who stayed clean during the steroids era, the ones who put up honest stats as they watched their competitors cheat their way into the record books, are being punished just the same as if they had doped up in the name of setting records. The same applies to the steroids era of cycling: even if Lance Armstrong had remained clean and had won fewer races because of it, the fact that most successful cyclists are known to be doping means that we would probably have assumed that Armstrong had been doing the same even if he hadn’t. In a no win situation like that, while you can’t condone cheating, perhaps it can at least be understood as a no win situation where he knew he was going to get blamed for doping whether he did or not, so he figured he might as well. And if nothing else, that’s situation Keith Richards and other professional entertainers who don’t carry the “athlete” label have never had to face.

Will Stabley
Will Stabley is the Founder and Senior Editor of Stabley Times.
Will Stabley