The first time I heard the saying, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough" -- made famous by former Chicago Cubs first basemen Mark Grace -- I was a freshman student-athlete at UCLA. It was said by one of my teammates halfway through one of our grueling workouts. In retrospect, I know the comment was an innocent one. My teammate made this statement in reference to us noticing him cutting the course in order to make some of the repetitions shorter for himself. When we called him out on what he was doing, his response was one filled with pride -- not embarrassment. He said that his "cheating" was actually a good thing because it showed he was trying a little bit harder than everyone else.
If an athlete said those words today that person would be persecuted by almost everyone, and his or her career in sports would likely die with the final word of that statement -- enough. I think people have had enough when it comes to the deception being experienced in sports today. Deep down, we all have to admit that it's only natural now to wonder if an incredible performance, regardless of who achieves it, is legit. Due to the high level of skepticism present in sports today, nearly every great athletic feat is now tainted by a question mark, as well as a potential asterisk waiting in the wings.
As a person who has been involved in athletics since I could walk, I have a deep appreciation for the drive an athlete develops to become the best they can be. If a person commits to a life of sports for long enough, that drive will only grow to become insatiable.
But what if the results never come? What is a person then supposed to do? And how are they supposed to feel about all of the sacrifices they've made if their highest aspirations have yet to be realized? Should they quit? Or should they try just a little harder? What's one more sacrifice, right?
Well, according to the well-known survey in sports called the Goldman Dilemma, 50 percent of the athletes surveyed said they would be willing to sacrifice their life, at the expense of cheating, in order to win a gold medal. In stark contrast, 250 non-athletes were asked the same question in a similar survey and only two people said they would take a drug that guaranteed them a gold medal and only five years to live. It's plain to see that the heart of most every athlete beats with the desire to become the best.
But doesn't becoming the best entail knowing that YOU are standing on the podium because you're the one responsible for achieving your performance, and not because you used something that was made in a lab? Personally, I wouldn't be able to live with that lie.
I don't know how anyone could live with that lie, which may be part of the reason the athletes surveyed said they would accept death as part of the price they'd pay to win. A part of me can empathize with this way of thinking because I recognize that most, if not all, people want something to believe in -- and when they finally find that thing, they're willing to die fighting for it, even if it's for only a brief moment of glory.
Michael Jordan said it best: "I can accept failure, but I cannot accept not trying." As a competitive athlete, I believe there's a greater reward in knowing what you can do without performance-enhancing drugs than what you might get if you do take them. Every athlete is curious about how good they really are, and whether or not their best performance is truly the best. There are no shortcuts when it comes to finding out the answer to this question. How good you really are can only be determined by an honest effort.
It's not a guarantee that one will live longer because they didn't take drugs, but at least they'll have two things: an answer and their integrity. At the end of the day, I think that's good enough.
Jon Rankin is co-founder of The Run Project, a website that was created to establish a sense of community amongst runners throughout the world by asking thought-provoking questions about the sport of running and how it's making a difference in their lives, their communities and their countries.