Why do clean athletes remain silent alongside their cheating counterparts? It is often perplexing that few competitors outwardly and actively join in the condemnation of “enhanced” athletes.

A Class Act

Take Track & Field, as an example. This past week, I had the pleasure of discussing some of these issues with Oregon Track Club Elite middle-distance star Jordan McNamara on SCI TV.  He was a class act and a true gentleman throughout our conversation – and that’s what I found somewhat concerning.

Saying the Right Things

Jordan is not alone in publicly saying all the “right” things about focusing on the positive, controlling your own actions, and being proud of one’s own ethics and moral compass. In fact, I’d argue that this is the norm across the sporting world. Few would dare call out their brothers and sisters as it seems to violate our deep sense of sportsmanship that values insular solidarity above all else. But shouldn’t a level playing field trump all?

Process Matters

Any athlete can, ultimately, accept a result that falls short of their goal so long as there is procedural fairness. Did we all have the same basic rules from which we operate? In a sport such as Track & Field, where the difference between elite competitor and Olympic Medalist is less than 1%, I would hope that athletes wouldn’t rely so heavily on on enforcement groups, like USADA, to solve the problem of performance enhancing drugs but take action more directly.

It Can’t All Be Done in the Shadows

Surely, much of the dirty deeds of cheating take place in the shadows and this contributes to the problem. We are often armed with suspicions, innuendo, and questions but absent of clear facts. Yet, history shows us that most cheating athletes had others around who knew more and remained silent. What are the clean, silent athletes costing themselves? I’d argue a lot.

Substantial Costs of Cheating

On an individual level, there is substantial differentiation across that top 1% in terms of financial and other rewards. An Olympic Medalist gains sponsorship, fame, and substantial contracts. Fourth place is a lot less valuable. This parallels at all levels of sport. On a macro level, a sport’s inability to establish consistent trust among its fan base that performances and competition are clean and fair harm the value of the sport itself.

They Look Like The Rest of Us

The face of the enemy does not always look the way we expect. My suspicion is that many of us hold an image of what a cheater looks like and who can do such evil and harm to sport. The reality is that people cheat for lots of reasons and find many creative ways to justify to themselves. They find grey area or join the dark side to level the playing field. They come in all shapes and sizes and many athletes have had cheaters as teammates, knowingly or not.

It’s OK to Be Angry

It’s time to shine a light. I’d suggest to all clean athletes that you should be angry. It’s not fair. Don’t be fatalistic and accept that cheating is an acceptable norm in your sport. If you are doing things naturally, working hard, then don’t be OK with others limiting your opportunity for success.

~ Joshua Gordon