Friday Randomness: Performance Enhancing Drugs

Just some random thinking here as Friday comes to a close….I am a big sports fan.  I enjoy almost all sports.  And one thing we’ve seen across most of competitive sports in the last 30 years is the rise of performance enhancing drugs.  It’s been particularly notable in baseball, football and cycling.

The latest news that makes me think about all of this is the recent comments by Lance Armstrong in which he basically says he had to cheat to win.  And you know what?  I think he’s probably right.  Can you imagine if you came into work every day and the guy next to you was cutting corners and just blatantly cheating to get ahead?  What would you do?  What if it directly threatened your ability to earn an income and take care of your family?  Would you cheat?  Would you break the law?  I am sure many of you wouldn’t.  But I am sure that many of you would do whatever it takes to support your families to the best of your abilities.  Even if it meant crossing that line.  And if it seemed like everyone around you was doing it then that would only further solidify your rationalization for cheating.  I suspect that’s what happened in Major League Baseball in the late 1990’s and cycling more recently.  There have been numerous reports that most (not all) of the top athletes in these sports were cheating to some degree.

Now, that doesn’t justify what was done.  And it certainly doesn’t justify the way many of them have lied about it or gone about ruining other people’s lives to defend this façade.  But I think it makes it more understandable.  The problem is, very few of these athletes have actually come forward and said something to that degree – “hey, you know what, I was competing to win the starting job and the guy in line for the position was breathing down my neck with a syringe of Deca Durabolin hanging out of his mouth and I did what I had to do to keep my job and take care of my family”.

Should we condone cheaters and apologize for them?  Certainly not.  But given the circumstances that many of these athletes have likely confronted, I do think they deserve forgiveness when they tell the truth (which, unfortunately, is all too rare).  As for the ones who wrecked other people’s lives in trying to cover up their lies…they deserve everything the law and the public brings down on them.  And going forward, I hope this gets cleaned up.  This has been a very bad era for sports and the message it teaches is worse than bad.  The absolute worst thing that could come from all this is if we forgive and forget….


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Cullen Roche

Cullen Roche

Mr. Roche is the Founder of Orcam Financial Group, LLC. Orcam is a financial services firm offering research, private advisory, institutional consulting and educational services. He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance and Understanding the Modern Monetary System.

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  • LVG

    I think Armstrong should burn. That guy is a total scumbag.

  • jt26

    By that thesis, one would expect poor people (the ones that really *have* to struggle to feed their families) to be more dishonest. My experience is that is not the case (even in third world countries). Those sports stars are just lame selfish a-holes.

  • El Viejo

    Most know Lance had testicular cancer. In his book he mentions that he had 12 tumors in his lungs. He also had 4 tumors in his brain. Maybe he wasn’t thining too clearly.
    As a former bicycle rider(not professionally) I have heard that the drug use is rampant. His claim that everyone was doing it is not that far fetched. I have used high carbohydrate drinks and caffeine myself. Those things really screwed me up and so I quit. I’m really sensitive to additives and man made or adulterated “foods”. Which begs the question: Is our food just as bad a thing as performance enhancing drugs? How about prolonging the life of a brain dead individual by artificial means? At least in sports they are pushing the envelope of performance and endurance. It’s not a lot different from the things they do in automobile racing.

  • TheArmoTrader

    So what you’re saying is that the deficit is too small to support a strong recovery?? :)

  • Happy Dog

    Cullen. I understand the gist of this post, but your analysis suggests that you haven’t followed cycling or the Lance Armstrong case in much depth until he finally admitted to cheating. You also aren’t familiar with his vile character or conduct throughout the many years of scrutiny.

    He strenuously denied it for many many years even as everyone on his team, doctors, his assistants, etc. started telling the truth. IN denying any wrongdoing, Armstrong filed MANY lawsuits, called his former teammates many incredible names (including the women who were only telling the truth “whores”, etc.), and tried to ruin many lives. He didn’t admit wrongdoing until the very last moment, when the sport’s governing body (who were desperately in denial, pretending their sport was clean) FINALLY accepted the World Anti-Doping Agency’s findings.

  • Cullen Roche

    Those comments about lying and ruining other people’s lives as you lie were all Armstrong references. I am very familiar with what he did to other people and I totally agree that it was vile and unforgivable. The guys I am willing to forgive are the Andy Pettite’s of the world and the other guys who came forward and admitted to doing it and didn’t put on a show to hide what they were really doing….Sorry if I didn’t make that very clear….

  • LRM

    This is an analogy. Cullen is talking about the big wall street cheats that use inside information(performance enhancement drug).All the big boys know that that is how to be competitive. The only way to rise from mediocre is to copy the best so the cheating becomes wide spread. Everyone does it and this becomes mainstream. It spreads to the regulators (the umpire,referee,official)who turn the blinders on for the promise of a big job offer. Now the problem is that one honest whistle blower who is rewarded with criminal charges for exposing the truth. Its a topsy turvy world. Honesty becomes criminal. Fraud becomes norm.
    Plead the 5th, get on tv and cry, say you are sorry, just don’t change because there is no reward for fair play. It is absolutely totally normal for politicians to amass large net worth while plodding away working on important legislation. Rob the bank and pay 10% of the take as a fine. Give a token donation to charity but get that picture in the paper. Such a great countryman.

  • Aaron

    My bro-in-law made it to AAA in the Dodgers organization. He told me steroids were so rampant that he would not discourage another teammate from taking them, simply because that’s what it took to make it in MLB. He decided to not go that route, and didn’t make the big leagues. But I don’t hear him complaining with his hedge fund bonuses these days…

  • barak

    I just read the headline and immediately thought: oh, another Abenomics post :)
    to the regular person it is very clear that cyclers use drugs. It is humanely impossible to ride those lengths and mostly to climb those heights in such a manner without drugs. I remember several instances when everyone were struggling up the alps and Armstrong just opened after burners and left the rest in the dust. now, had he rested in previous legs than one can consider such a breakout as possible, but he did it repeatedly. By pushing other cyclers to use drugs these people endanger the lives of many and turn the sport into a “who can cheat better” contest. they should be condemned and sued for every last penny they earned this way.

  • ben
  • Happy Dog

    Okay, got it.

  • NK


  • William Bedloe

    Winning at any cost means different things to different generations. Now it means “cheat if you have to”. Winning honorably is dead and gone. One of the most critical aspects of a free (or any) society is its morality. A steep decline in morality leads to these situations in which people rationalize away their cheating as a survival mechanism. Survival however is only temporary – the end game is total collapse of the system, as all players are now engaged in win at any cost mentality.

  • UncleBuccs

    I was fortunate enough to begin weight training in the 80’s at a gym where the owner would refund your money and ask you to leave, if he suspected steroid use. His prejudices and attitude towards the drugs definitely shaped my own way of thinking. Though I would never consider using them, I have become less judgemental over time. The documentary Bigger Stronger Faster had an influence on my view of the subject.

  • MTM

    As someone who has had played college sports and been very close to athletics I find this thinking hypocritical. I would guess most of you watch the NFL and enjoy it? If you actually think men can play 16 games at that level with that degree of physical infliction without “PED’s” you are very very misinformed. It is rampant and frankly, the game would not exist at that level without it. Do you really think that Adrian Peterson came back after an ACL tear in record time and missed the all time single season rushing record by a few yards because he is a genetic freak? Come on guys!!! The insiders say he used designer Insulin Growth Factor (as did Ray Lewis to magically heal his tricep) and also went to Europe and had stem cell injections. This is BUSINESS !!! These athletes should be able to do “WHATEVER” they want to their own bodies so long as it does not pose a threat to society. These athletes represent a tiny portion of society and have a few year window to succeed. We allow race car drivers to drive 200mph and risk death yet an athlete can’t use PED’s to heal faster or restore health? Science has advance… there, you have a contrarian view. In summary, QUIT watching the NFL if you actually believe this because you are in effect supporting it… it is rampant and frankly REQUIRED.

  • Steve w

    I was a weekend warrior bicycle racer in my late 20s thru mid 30s. I started following Armstrong’s racing career a couple of years before he turned pro. One can’t help but wonder if professional cycling will ever clean up its act. I think it’s a safe bet that his leading rivals were using PEDs too. I cannot condone what he did, but will say that he trained harder, prepared more carefully, and raced better than all his rivals — and drugs had nothing to do with most of that.

    One of my fears for sport is about swimming. I went to college on a swimming scholarship. I was fortunate to compete and train with some of the best in the world. Apart from the East German doping scandals in the 80’s, swimming has had only a few PED scandals. I’m not saying I am suspicious —- I just hope Phelps, Lochte, etc. race (raced)clean, because the temptation to use PEDs had to be at least a little strong.

  • muslhead

    Just wondering how you know about Deca? an article you read or perhaps you use PED’s to keep up with your blog? :-)
    Those that know, know deca is not the PED of choice as it aromatizes and shuts down HPTA.
    So there

  • Nils

    You wouldn’t use Deca Durabolin. The longer the ester, the longer it shows up in a doping test. Actually, if I were a prick and wanted to sabotage my competition, I’d slip them some easily detectable performance enhancing agent.

    I think what really needs to happen is that sports just comes clean about it. Armstrong is still a great athlete. It’s not like I could go take some steroids and epo and what ever the hell he took and perform the way he did. And I think it’s an open secret that in most pro sports there is some use of performance enhancers. It’s interesting that it’s kept under tabs so well.

    The greatest farce is that even professional bodybuilders pass the tests set forth by their league…

  • Pierce Inverarity

    I think you’re looking at the past with rose colored glasses. Baseball has always been filled with cheating. Spitballs were rampant until the league cracked down on them, the Cubs used to have dozens of people hang out in black jackets in center field with white shirts underneath. When the opposing team would come to bat, they’d take the jackets off making it incredibly difficult to see the ball come out of the pitcher’s hand. Those are just two examples. Cheating has *always* been around and always will be around. It’s the job of the governing body to try and level the playing field. MLB turned a blind eye to the PED use. I think the NBA is doing the same, but it’s always going to be an arms race of sorts. I don’t think we’re any less moral now than we were back in the 20’s…humans are human no matter the decade.

  • Charles Fasola

    I cannot state definitively that analogy was his intent since it is not directly said, however your comments are spot on. This is not, though, a recent phenomena. Fraud, bribery and criminal behavior has been an essential feature of the capitalist system since it’s inception; and certainly since it gained predominance and for the most part universal acceptance. True free market, competitive capitalism has never truly existed; only state sponsored or state facilitated, crony, capitalism has. One is fascism the other results in subtle authoritarianism. So for all of you delusional free market types and libertarians I offer this comment: know your history.

  • Regurgitating Parrott

    I do not believe for a minute doping has stopped. No, I am not that gullible. They’re just getting better at eluding the controls. Wait ’til gene doping hits the peloton, if it hasn’t already.

    I suspect it has. Hopefully biological passports will help, but I am not optimistic.

  • Dylann Andre

    Cheaters should never be tolerated and should learn their lesson. People like Armstrong have been fooling us for years thinking he was great, but only because he is a cheater.

  • Kevin Gardiner

    Cullen, I though for sure the follow on discussion to your post would talk about high frequency trading or massive leverage, or the various other ways the other guy breathes down your neck to gain an advantage. These just happen to be legal, but that doesn’t mean they are fair.

  • socal

    i don’t know if he should burn but agree he deserves what he gets for this. the real question is why does anyone really care anyway? i never thought he was a hero for winning a sport, just a great athlete, so no bubble burst for me. it’s his body and regulating something that someone chooses to do with their body is virtually impossible. hence drug use being ubiquitous in the sport (or so he claims). it is a major problem in society that some people actually convinced that they can control what someone else chooses to do with their body. see the abortion for example. while im ethically against abortion, i recognize that no matter what, i’m not willing to use force, violence, or coercion to stop someone from doing something with their own body.

  • socal

    from a statistical perspective, it might be reasonable to conclude that nearly all professional athletes are on some type of PED. now, i could certainly be wrong but, when you consider how many athletic competitions come down right to the wire. just that split fraction of a second more endurance, or extra muscle fiber, or quarter inch on the yard line; if you can even improve your performance one half of one percent, that might be all you need excel past your competitors. if you consider that PEDs probably boost your performance far more than 1/2 of 1 percent, then it might even be impossible in many sports to compete without them.

  • socal

    there have been some whistleblowers who’ve come forward saying they’re pretty much in everything and that many athletic commissions deliberately set it up so that there is a backdoor to eluding the controls. ultimately, we’re looking at a huge conflict of interest. every one is demanding more exciting records, higher scores, faster times. you can’t get there without monkeying with the machinery. it’s going to be cat and mouse, as technologies are developed to elude and to catch as well as politics of the self-interested entities strive for bigger ratings. ultimately it’s a completely lost cause to worry or try to control PEDS. if you think what they do now is hard to catch, wait until they really get into genetic engineering. it’s going to be absolutely hopeless and again, outside of our control what others do with their body anyway. best to sit back and just enjoy the show.

  • Shorehaven

    Steroid use may have been around longer than most people realize.

    Back in the 70’s there were several weightlifting and muscle building magazines that advertised all kinds of supplements. Some high school football players would buy through mail order protein powder that they would mix into milk. Also offered were much more expensive liquid supplements to be taken by the spoonful. What the heck was in those spoonfuls of liquid? Some of the kids got very large and aggressive and years later when they were off these supplements they were much skinnier. One kid went from 180 as a sophomore to 270 as a h.s. junior, was recruited by Big Ten schools, and later in life as an adult was back to about 190. His dad had the money for the expensive stuff.

  • John Smith

    Most everyone including the posters here would have done the same thing initially as Armstrong. Not sure I’d say they’d do the mean things he did later though. Most would not have done those things.

    What has never been adequately addressed is the corruption throughout cycling. I think even amateur cycling today is heavily doped.

    Not sure we should give athletes the adoration we do given that we just don’t know anything about them and their ways of getting results.

  • fin

    Stop spoiling atheletes with big money, then it will be clean.
    Sport is for fun, health, and friendship. If you tab it for bigger, faster, and stronger, then it’s done.

  • Luke

    Crime, cheating in sports, and private money creation. None of them can be completely contained, but all of them should be vigorously regulated to defend the innocent. The failure to regulate discourages productivity and hard work.

  • Steve

    It’s true Lance had to cheat to win. It’s evident by the number of his closest competitors who have also been caught.

    The guys who win these days are the ones who are best – not at their sport – but at not*getting*caught.

  • Steve

    Truth be told I think that is true in finance as well – at least at the highest levels.