OWN YOUR GAME
Posted by Joseph Anderson
Own Your Game!
Doping. Anabolic Steroids. Human Growth Hormones. Performance Enhancing Drugs. Do you think much about these things? The reason I’m asking is that I just have not found the time to care. But this past week that all changed when I noticed this news story that’s been literally saturating the media:
“Maria Sharapova, One of the world’s leading tennis players was recently tested positive for a banned substance and she has been suspended by the United Nations.”
And that’s where it got my attention: The United Nations? Don’t they have better things to do? So if the UN is envolved it must be important. Right???? So the story continued: The drug is called Meldonium. It is a performance enhancing drug but only made it onto the band substance list in 01/02/16, she was tested positive on the 26th of that month.
Why is this important? I was really struggling with that. True, the athletes are the practicing “cheaters” but they’re also the ones with all of the health risks, the pressure from the industry to remain competitive and to take the drugs. Sure the big fat paycheck and the big titles and the fame and the glory, maybe that all makes it worth taking these risks to your health as well as the risks to getting caught cheating. But like I said, I’ve never thought that much about these athletes and that’s because I just don’t care. It’s their body and their sport, not mine, so who am I to judge?
Besides, didn’t Lance Armstrong and quite few others already prove that no matter what, the athletes will find a way around all of the rules. Armstrong’s method was essentially “cheating” the rules. He proved that the reality is that athletes are going to do whatever it takes to win the game. The media, the fans, the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), for Armstrong they’re just another hill to climb. Getting around all of them is a sport onto itself. Is it worth the risk of getting caught? Maria Sharapova took home $30 million a year until this January! It sounds like it may have been worth the risk for her at least. It depends on what you’re into really. Today it’s estimated that over 50% of the world’s top athletes take banned substances in order to remain competitive or even relevant. Does anyone think that Floyed Mayweather, Lebron James or Peyton Manning aren’t doing drugs? Are people really worried about the spirit and purity of these gladiator sports at this point in the game? I’m convinced the game isn’t about the sport anymore when we’re talking about tens or 100s of millions of dollars. But I digress, to me this was not all as obvious until I noticed this story last week. Which I noticed because I couldn’t figure out how and why United Nations has gotten involved in anything remotely to do with tennis.
But then it all made sense. These athletes that play the mainstream sports, they don’t own their game. Be it Olympic sports, pro Soccor, whatever. They can’t win because it’s not their game to win. They’re just the pretty action figures that are pawns and I find this deeply unsettling, but mostly it has me appreciating the sports and athletes that I do care about and this has really helped me understand just how important they are and Why. In 2001 Chris Sharma was stripped of his World Champion title in competitive sport climbing because he tested positive for a performance inhibiting drug: THC. I highlight the performance inhibiting to emphasize his intention in smoking pot was clearly not to cheat their game. Actually, this points to the fact that the whole premise behind the drug tests is based on baggage trickling down from the wider instruments of social control that has taken over mainstream sports. But the best part of the story is that this wasn’t Chris’s game, he didn’t care about their game. That same year Sharma became the first person to climb 5.15. True Story.
But how do we know he climbed 5.15? Why would we just trust a bunch of stoned rock climbers? Can he have that title taken away from him also because chances are he was stoned. Oh my god…where’s the United Nations when you really need them? But the fact remains what difference does it make?
This question of fair play is one that’s been toyed with in climbing for quite some time. But only toyed with. No Anti Drugging Agency has paid much attention to the world of outdoor climbing, mostly because of all the dam climbers. Not that inquisitive minds don’t try and quantify: Does a first ascent count if a climber’s on steroids, does the fastest ascent of the Eiger count if someone’s doping? Do climbers even take these kinds of drugs? How do we know? How do we not know? Who the hell cares? Personally I’ve taken Diamox when climbing above 15 thousand feet quite a few times. That’s been argued as a performance enhancing drug. When it comes to altitude the steroid Dexamethasone is pretty common actually. Why is this so accepted? Maybe it’s the risk of falling over dead if things go wrong? What about supplemental oxygen? Look at Reinhold Messner, the first person to climb all 8 thousand meter peaks without supplemental oxygen. How do we know he didn’t cheat and suck on some Os when nobody was looking? Reinhold Messner has claimed to have seen the Yeti. Why would we trust anything that guy says? I think the fact remains the same: What difference does it make? The motivations behind the worlds most accomplished climbers is completely intangible, their arena is the entire globe, and their accomplishments are still owned by the climbers. This is a good thing.
In the fall of 2014 another climber, Alex Hannold reminded us that climbers are still in charge of their sport. Clif Bar made a high profile point of dropping several of their sponsored athletes do to “unsafe” practices. Some argue that Alex’s response of complete indifference as a masterful approach but I think that misses the whole point. Alex wasn’t strategizing he just couldn’t give a rat’s ass of whether Clif bar approved of his actions as a free solo rock climber or not. You could see it in his posture when being interviewed. Compare that to an interview of Sarapovich: Guilty! Once Clif Bar clearly emerged as the public loosers in this transaction they made it even worse and issued him an apology and invited him back. “Ah, no thanks.” That was his response.
How did Alex remain so indifferent towards this feeble attempt at the sponsors trying to muscle into the god like dominance of moral authority in outdoor sports? I think the answer is in the sport, or rather the lack of games in the sport. In the case of Hannold, there’s not a lot of room for games. For one thing all the money in the world isn’t going to help an athlete stay calm while hanging from two fingers with a thousand feet of air below. Anobolic steroids aren’t going to help either, neither is some stupid corporation on some half assed moral crusade. No. When you’re hanging there with no ropes what so ever you’ve gotta own you, through and through. Alex was able to remain competent of himself because he had complete control of the most important asset of his sport and probably all sports: His Mind.
James Garfield, a popular sports psychologist has for decades been pointing out the incredible gains athletes experience with even the most basic of mental training techniques. Garfield famously highlights the soviet Olympic training programs from 35 years ago through 4 control groups:
Group I – 100% physical training
Group II – 75% physical, 25% mental training
Group III- 50-50
GroupIV – 25% physical, 75% mental training
The results? Group IV experiences the most gains, then group III, then II then I.
Through Garfields extensive work in mental training research in sports and business he points out that “90 percent of success in sports is due to mental factors and psychological mastery.” He argues that this has not taken off in main stream sports to the effect one may expect because of the western habit of looking for the “silver bullet” approaches. He goes on to illustrate the importance of visualization in any mental training program but prior to that well over 50% of any effective plan focuses on your motivation. More important than the how is the why. The layers upon layers of deep credibility to your mission must be built first. On then can you sharpen your mind into a knife.
Going back to the work the Soviets had accomplished what is most intriguing to me is where the Soviets originally noticed the ultimate human potential for “hidden reserves” in mental strength.
After the dusts of World War II began settling in the Eastern block there were waves of stories that emerged. First was the visual carnage, but then the horror stories of the holocaust emerged: An entire Army of monsters so crazed with violence and death that nothing like it had ever been witnessed in the history of the world. How could they have done this? For years nothing could explain the level of freakish cruelty…until the drugs were discovered. The Nazis had been burying their humanity with Methamphetamines and human growth hormones reducing their minds to nothing more than that of rabid beasts. To this day most modern day performance enhancing drugs found in sports can find their roots in pre Nazi and Nazi German laboratories, and I assure you that the Russians have made ample use of those drugs. But there was something else that was discovered in the wake of the Holocaust. Through unburying the wreckage one of the darkest failures of human consciousness …They found light.
Meet Eva Mozes Kor. In 1944 Eva Kor at age 10 was sent with her twin sister and 1,500 other Jewish twins to be genetically experimented on in Auschwitz. Upon arriving to the laboratories and seeing the disfigured dead bodies of children she says “Right then I made a vow that I am certain saved Miriam’s and my life. I swore that Miriam and I would walk out of Auschwitz alive…And we did.” She attributes visualization her need to protect her sister to her and her sister’s survival. “I did everything instinctively and I did everything instinctively right. I had an image of Miriam and me walking out of the camp alive and I never let that image out of my mind.” Eva was even given an injection that she later found out was intended to kill her. It was part of an experiment to see the effects her death would have on her sister. Eva explains, “We had a fierce determination to live one more day. Survive one more experiment.” She kept repeating to herself, “I must survive, I must survive,” after her fever broke and she began to regain her strength. Eva says proudly, “I spoiled their experiment.”
Victor Frankl, a celebrated psychiatrist is another Holocaust survivor who attributes his survival to visualization and digging deeper than believed possible, stating that “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” He writes in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
The stories of survival and perseverance that have emerged from the Holocaust continue to demonstrate to the world the strength of the human spirit, and undeniably the strength of the mind to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. Equally as notable though is the mind of the perpetrators. “How could people do such a thing?” That’s what we ask ourselves. It seems impossible to not get dreadfully angry? I think most of us can easily be filled with such a frustration and rage towards the people that did these demonic deeds and through these deeds and experiments. But In 1993 the anger would not continue to live on with Eva Kor because she finally met with one of the Nazi Doctors. She saw how broken and tormented of a human being he was and then she did the unthinkable, she forgave him. “After 50 years that is when I finally became free of Auschwitz.” She says. “Forgiveness is not for the perpetrator” She explains, “it’s for the victim.” Frankl shares a similar insight stating that, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
And so these are the stories that continued to emerge and have given a deeper under standing of the power of the human spirit strength. These stories also give us relativity into weighing in on the simpler day to day stories. Like is Lance Armstrong a criminal for Doping? Eva Kor forgave the Nazi Dr. Is he still a criminal? For me, I’m not as strong as Eva Kor, I think the world 10 times over is not as strong as her. The Nazi is a criminal and I haven’t forgiven him. Lance Armstrong beat cancer, he cheated death... But is he a criminal? I still have an awfully hard time caring that much about it. What I do know is that I have never cared that much about cheating tennis players either. I also know that the United Nations was assembled in response to the insanity of World War Two. The UN’s job is to ensure that things like that never happen again. I believe the United Nations getting involved in sports says more about the questionable intentions of the UN than about the sport or the athlete or the drugs themselves even, there’s a whole different game going on there and I don’t like it. At the end of the day Lance and Maria and all the rest. I pity them. They had their sport taken from them and they let that happen to them. It’s helped me realize that in its purest form sports are meant belong to the athlete. When you cheat you give a little piece of yourself away, something deeply structural in your conscience, even if you never get caught, you still loose. I think what will always set the greatest athletes and people for that matter, above the rest is you just can’t take anything away from them.
You’ve gotta Own Your Game!
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Michelle Anderson LMHC