As the horrors of the holocaust began to be uncovered after WWII, people all over the world asked the question: "How could this happen?" and "How can we make sure that this never happens again?". Unfortunately, almost 70 years have past since the end of WWII and although we still have movies about the war made every year, there doesn't seem to be much of a desire to answer or even ask those questions anymore. Perhaps it's because the words "Nazi" and "Fascist" and the images of Hitler and swastikas have become nothing more than synonyms for evil. Now certainly, if you believe in Evil, this is probably not inappropriate. The trouble is that if we overuse these words; if we casually toss them around anytime we talk about something we don't like we diminish the chance of any real understanding and thereby make it more likely that history will repeat itself.
Of course, answering the question "How could this happen?" is no small undertaking. To even begin to understand we need to understand a bit about the first World War, the treaty of Versailles, the global economic collapse, policies of appeasement, the psychology of large scale emasculation, the history of anti-semitism in Europe, the eugenics movement and the philosophy of Nietzsche. Even then you will only be scratching the surface enough to realize that this is a complex issue that historians continue to argue about to this day. And that is exactly the point: it is complicated. We don't do ourselves any favors just by saying "The Nazis were evil" or "Hitler was a psycho". Oversimplification can be dangerous. Certainly there is evidence that some of the top Nazi leaders were indeed sociopaths, but are we do believe that 8 million people (total membership of the Nazi party at it's peak) were simply evil or brainwashed? I can't quite swallow that. We may never fully answer the question of "Why?", but if we really want to make sure that it never happens again it is vital that we keep asking. Only be understanding our enemies can we defeat them.
In light of new doping revelations of the past few months, we find ourselves asking how so many of our heroes could have lied to us for so long. We feel duped and betrayed and we are frustrated that we now must drop these guys from the "good guy" bucket to the "bad guy" bucket. Athletes, fans and coaches express outrage with Facebook and Twitter rants or by wearing "Dopers Suck" t-shirts and socks. But this approach is rather dismissive. The problem is that there is a lot of evidence that doesn't quite fit. Tyler Hamilton always seemed like a nice guy. So did Hincapie and Zabriskie and many others. Lance Armstrong helped raise millions for cancer research and started a foundation that is arguably the best resource for cancer patients and survivors ever created. It doesn't take a whole lot of research to realize that it's difficult to dismiss all of these people as dopers and therefore "bad-guys". As tempting as it is to want to dismiss dopers as evil villains, it is only by trying to understand them that we can really fight the problem of doping.
So why do dopers dope? Maybe it's not as complicated as explaining the rise of the Third Reich but it's certainly not simple. Obviously there are financial rewards. There is fame. There is competitiveness and the desire to win. There was (or is, depending on who you ask) a culture of doping. There were a lot of people in high places telling professional cyclists that they would never amount to anything if they didn't dope. There were doctors saying that it is healthier to dope than not to dope. If you believe that a) Doping isn't unhealthy and b) Everyone is doing it you are left with 2 choices: dope or quit. Even if you don't buy the argument that "Everyone is doing it", it isn't too hard to convince yourself that a little cheating won't hurt anyone. Have you ever crossed the yellow line in a race with a yellow line rule? Have you ever drafted off the back of a car in a caravan to get back to the field? Have you taken a push from a teammate or a fan? Have you ever broken the speed limit or made an illegal U-turn in your car? These things are all against the rules, so it's really just a matter of where you draw the line for yourself as to how far you are willing to go, right? It is any surprise that competitive people will push the limits as far as they can? That's what successful people do. Lance Armstrong pushed the limits with the equipment, training and tactics. It isn't that surprising to me that he would push the limits on the doping front as well.
I think that this might be a good time to reinforce that I am not trying to defend dopers (and certainly not Nazis for that matter). The point I am trying to make is that doping can seem very appealing and it's a trap that many good people have fallen into. If we frame the issue as good guys versus bad guys; right and wrong; we do nothing to actually prevent doping. If we don't try to understand and yes, sympathize with dopers, we will find ourselves unprepared to make the tough choices we need to make in our own lives. This is why the "Just Say No" campaign against drugs didn't work. It was too simple. Only by understanding how easy it can be to say "Yes" can we give ourselves the strength to say "No".I never did particularly well in high school history class because I couldn't quite memorize all of the names and dates. I chose to study Engineering because Math and Science seemed to follow the rules of logic, which I understood. By contrast, History is usually taught as if it were a series of unrelated events. It took me a long time to realize that this isn't true at all. I realized that in fact those historical events were very related, I just didn't always understand all of the connections. When I realized this I really started to love history and it became a sort of "hobby" of mine. If you accept the premise that there is a reason for everything, history can be absolutely enthralling. History is made by movements that come from a series of sometimes simple and more often complex reasons that relate to economics, religion, philosophy, culture, technology, geography, and many many other things. In other words, history isn't really about individual people and events. It's about understanding relationships and connections.
I came across a great tweet today from Ryan Trebon: "You know what takes more courage to do than coming forward and admitting ones mistake? Having the fortitude to not do it in the first place." I couldn't agree more. If we dismiss the dopers as bad guys and therefore completely different from ourselves we under-appreciate the heroism of those that put their careers on the line to do the right thing. Anyone can do the right thing when it is easy. It is easy to admit that you doped years ago when the USADA has a gun to your head. It's also easy to express outrage and disgust at the dopers in public forums. But a hero is someone who does the right thing when it's hard. A hero is someone like my friend Scott Zwizanski, who yesterday, more than 3 years after the race has been declared 2009 US Time Trial champion. Scott never got to stand on the top of the podium or wear the Captain America skinsuit and he didn't get to race in the Tour de France. Do you know what Scott did when he found out that he had retroactively been bumped up to the top spot on the podium? He didn't go on a public tirade and he didn't smash his fist through a wall. He just got on his bike and went out to do his training, like the professional he is. There are hundreds if not thousands of athletes, most of whose names we don't recognize, who just like Scott made the difficult decision not to cheat and they were (at least in the short term) punished for it. If we are to appreciate them we have to first recognize that the choice they made was not an easy one.