A look at the dark side of sports

With all of the recent media around the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, it is indeed a sad time for sport. The Tour de France decided not to award any one of the titles for the seven years that Armstrong was stripped of. The reason is clear – everyone was doping and there was nobody to give the title to. It’s tragic, but we do have to look at ourselves in this process. We demand the best, we demand records be broken, we demand bigger hits, bigger plays and faster times.

It is a tragic hypocrisy. We say we want all the athletes to be clean and to be good role models, especially for our children. We want to believe the path to greatness in sport is one part genetics, one part mental attitude and one big part – training harder than anyone else. We want the superhuman performances every time, under every circumstance and if you ‘blow it’ by placing less than first, or even third, then the public is the first to condemn, ridicule and abandon the athlete. It is incredible pressure to perform and then add to that even further the fact that our testing methods for doping are imperfect, expensive to perform, subjective and highly susceptible to incorrect readings.

Armstrong has never failed a drug test and in the end was convicted because a bunch of former friends and teammates all said they saw him cheat. That is probably true, but the tragedy is they were all cheating.

Back to the hypocrisy of it all, look at pro-bodybuilding or pro-football and many others. Who do we love to watch? The biggest, best, strongest and fastest. Pro-bodybuilding has dozens of magazines on the subject with the champions featured in advertisements for all kinds of supplements, exercise equipment etc. It is widely known that the industry has no drug testing and if you want to compete then drugs are your only option.

Nobody gets that big and that cut without drugs. So we say that we want clean athletes free from drugs right? Wrong. If that were true then the all natural bodybuilding shows would be packed with fans (they are not, the only ones there are family) and the magazines for the clean athletes would outnumber the drug users versions and magazine models would be the drug free, all natural athletes.

So what message are we sending our kids?

Therein lies my biggest concern over all of this. Kids watch this happening and they are feeling the pressure more than we think. It starts with the simplest of things – caffeine. I have said it before and I will say it again caffeine is inappropriate for kids under 18. Folks will argue that it isn’t so bad but it has risk and it leads to other things. The caffeine in pop doesn’t cut it after a while so then it’s an energy drink, then two before a game and then when that no longer gives a buzz, what’s next?

I recently learned that one of the single biggest problems in youth sport is chewing tobacco. Kids get a buzz from the nicotine. I was astonished to learn that 50% of hockey players, 55% of baseball players and 60% of NHL hockey players chew. Another stat – only one in 300 people that start chewing ever quit. That is way worse than cigarettes.

In Alberta, 17% of Alberta males aged 15-19 use smokeless tobacco, which is almost double the national average rate of 9% for that category (Health Canada, Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey, 2007).

By far the best way to enjoy being a lifelong athlete is consistent, quality training, with good rest and nutrition. In a world full of cheaters though is it enough? Can we clean up sport? Do we actually want to? I don’t have an answer, but we had better start asking the questions or the consequences are terrible.

Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake. He can be reached at 403-887-7667 or check out www.personaltrainersylvanlake.com for more information.

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