If you say someone you admire has "Feet of Clay" you're usually referring to the fact that that person has hidden faults or a character flaw. The analogy actually goes back to the bible where Daniel interprets a dream had by the then current king of Babylon, Nebechadnezzar in which he saw a great statue who's feet were made of half iron and half clay. The premise being there was a large, heavy object with a brittle, unstable base.
Last night, as I watched the premier of The Levi Effect, knowing that he and a whole slew of professional riders had recently confessed to doping led to some very conflicting thoughts as I sat there in the theater.
There have been events and decisions in my life that I would not be proud of and while feeling fully justified at the time of their making, have regretted them later. I would love to say that in every instance when facing a decision, I've chosen the moral and ethical path, but that's not the case. I have always made those choices though, knowing that were they to come to light I would own up to them, but in my heart of hearts I always hoped they would just pass by without ever coming due.
I think its interesting that there has been such an outcry and villianization of the pro cyclists that were caught. And yes, the majority of them were "caught". Very few have actually confessed and came clean and most would probably have tried to hide their dirty little secret forever had not the anti-doping agencies, the government, the cycling bodies, whatever pursued them to the point that they had to confess.
I was struck last night as I thought about the whole doping issue that yes, all of the riders had a choice to make and need to be responsible for their own decisions. BUT, it's really not as black and white as many of us would like to think. For us, who ride recreationally, it's easy to say we wouldn't have done it. If it was our livelyhood though, and you had bills, a mortgage, a family to feed, whatever......would it be that easy to say no?
Take this same scenario to other sports where people have dedicated their lives to acheiving their position. Many, to the exclusion of school, learning a trade or developing a market-able skillset and put them in a position where in order to keep their jobs, feed their families or put a roof over their head and ask them what they would do?
It's easy for us to judge and condemn these people. We've put them up on a pedestal and made heroes of them. People we don't even know. People that are above all, human, frail, prone to err and when they do come crashing down for any variety of reasons we feel cheated and angry and want to make examples of them for their transgressions.
Did the cyclists use illegal and banned substances, yep.
Should they pay the penalty, yep
Did they damage the sport in some way, probably
Will a witch hunt and public flogging of them fix the sport? Not at all
Many say punishment is a deterrent to crime and I actually agree that if you think you'll get caught, you are less likely to commit a crime - after all, most criminal never think they'll get caught. But, I think that the doping issue is much bigger than just the users. I think that a society that rewards victory at all costs and an industry that promotes, condones and even makes excuses for illicit behavior like professional sports has done for years carries a large part of the responsibility for curing itself.
I imagine, had some of the cyclists attempted to take the high road, the same teams that so quickly dropped them and denied any knowledge would have replaced them with riders more willing to "do what it takes to win"
Like I said at the beginning of this post, the movie generated some conflicting thoughts and I haven't come up with any hard and fast answers, but something has to change.
I've also come to a few conclusions:
- These are basically good, decent people that made bad choices in the pursuit of their dream
- Many of these supposed "villians" have leveraged their fame and noteriety to do tremendously good things
- It's not like taking a performance enhancing drug made their lives easier - they still worked their asses off and rode their bikes for hours and hours in all kinds of weather