Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Say It Ain't So

I get my news from ESPN.

I know, I know, but the CNN "Ticker of Terror" just gets me so damn depressed. I'd rather listen to color commentary on the latest women's collegiate softball game than hear about the implications of bird flu on U.S. foreign policy. Call me provincial.

If you spend any amount of time with Stuart Scott and Company, you're innundated with steroid stories. Barry Bonds. Floyd Landis. Justin "Say-it-ain't-so" Gatlin.

In essence, I believe there are two sides to the steroid debate, and I'm not sure which side I'm on.

Side #1: Everyone else is doing it, so I have to do it too.

Athletes argue that they'll have no shot at titles, endorsement deals, and trophy spouses if they're deprived of performance-enhancing drugs. The competition is taking super pills, and if the "I-want-to-be-clean-but..." athletes don't join in, they'll have to resign themselves to has-been status.

Side #2: Steroids are wrong. They provide an unnatural advantage, allowing weekend warriors to achieve elite-level performances without hard work. Drugs are bad!

The puritans of sport insist that we can turn in world-class performances without drugs.

If we assume the first argument is true, steroids are now an accepted part of the competitive landscape. They're implicitly endorsed by the athletes that use them and the lax testing standards of the organizations that run sports.

If the second argument is true, a complete and total ban on performance-enhancing drugs should be put in place. No one would have access to testosterone cream, dianabol, human growth hormone, or EPO. Those who test positive would receive a lifetime ban from their chosen sport.

Here comes the gray area. Some performance-enhancing drugs are sold over the counter, in places like GNC and your local Rite-Aid. They're not as potent as Wisterol, but they provide the same function.

They allow athletes to train longer and harder, reaping greater benefit than baseline human physiology will allow.

I take three of them myself. EPA/DHA, whey protein, and creatine monohydrate. All three of these substances came from my local mall. They aid recovery and energy production under load. They increase my ability to move more weight more often.

Maybe they should be banned too.

The macro-issue at play is one of social acceptance. Fish oil, protein, and creatine are widely accepted and widely available. No one has ever said: "Jon, I can't believe you're on that fish oil. That sh*t will screw you up." My substances are "okay".

They're accepted because they don't have horrible side-effects, and they don't cause the dramatic increases in performance attributed to anabolic steroids. Regardless, I know they've accelerated the realization of my athletic potential, just like steroids.

Maybe the issue isn't so black and white. It becomes a matter of degree. Some is fine, but too much is too much.

In today's article on the Crossfit main page, Malcolm Gladwell advocates setting limits on acceptable levels of banned substances rather than banning them entirely. He argues that this would stall the evolution of banned substances, because athletes wouldn't seek new and undetectable drugs if they were allowed to use the ones already in existence.

Essentially, Mr. Gladwell is encouraging us to reset the baseline of human performance. From "natural", we go to "ever-so-slightly-enhanced".

His argument makes great sense from a policy perspective. It's easier to reset the rules to existing conditions than to try and alter reality. We let them use what the use now, but no more than that.

This is the same argument made by those who stand behind the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. Everyone's using it anyway, so let's be rational and adapt our laws to accomodate victimless use.

Unfortunately, rational thought and moral standards don't always mix. Ideally, we'd ban this steroid use, because it constitutes cheating, plain and simple. Rationally, we set limits on it's use, because it's going to happen anyway.

As I stated, I don't know where I come down on the issue. On one hand, I think steroids are wrong. They de-value hard work and dedicated effort. I think taking legal supplements does the same thing.

I certainly don't want to credit creatine for my athletic successes--I want to credit perserverence and full-throttle workouts. Can I? The argument can be made that I'd be a lesser athlete without my pills and powders.

On the other hand, if it will make me that much better, do I have an obligation to maximize my potential through a combination of drugs and hard work? If I accepted anything less, would I be short-changing myself?

I want to cry everytime I see one of my heroes struck down, accused of doping. Justin Gatlin meant a lot to me. Some guys had Superman, I had Justin.

He would beat other world-class athletes in the 100 by 10 feet! It's the equivalent of winning the Masters by 20 strokes, or the Tour de France by 100 miles.

It was beyond impressive.

Justin existed in another world. He was running on a different track than the other guys, blasting through at a whole new echelon of performance.

Now he's running on the same track as a guy named Floyd and some assh*le named Barry.

I may switch back to CNN...

Photo courtesy of espn.go.com.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So... you're saying I should call my boy and go pick up some Wisterol? Cuz it'll make me realize my potential faster? Did I miss something? I agree, creatine and other supplements definitely do help a lot. I take it myself and I dont think I could manage the intense schedule I maintain for getting shape for the navy without it. But the whole article seemed more like an advertisement for steroid use because Justin Gatlin got busted. I felt like I was back in high school sitting in front of the kids on the hockey team talking about what steroids they were going to do a cycle on next. Granted, because of those kids, the hockey team went to the state finals that year, not to mention the football players who brought my high school team to division 1 state championships year after year. They were excellent athletes, but to go by crossfit standards, I do not think they would be considered fit. Considering all of the horrible effects steroids really have on your body, I would consider them more sickly than fit. In fact, I am willing to bet that when I go to a class reunion, a large number of the athletes I went to school with will have dropped from heart failures. I usually enjoy reading the again faster blog and picking up tips, but I honestly was very let down by this article. Rather than being useful information, it reminded of the weak arguments which are spouted by 15 year old wanna-be "hippies" who argue for legalization of other drugs. If you are an athlete, you are an athlete, sure there are acceptable things to do to help improve (actually work for it, supplement, eat right, etc.) but I personally do not consider someone who juices to be an athlete, I consider them weak. I have more respect for the fat man walking down the street once a week thinking thats going to make a difference than I do the "world-class athletes" who stick a needle in their ass.


8/08/2006 09:57:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Gilson said...


Read the article again. You missed the point.

I'm not advocating steroid use. I'm illustrating that some performance enhancers, such as creatine and protein, are different from steroids only by the degree of the end effect.

All these substances help athletes recover faster and train harder.

The decision to use steroids is a stupid one. I don't respect a single user, because they are looking for the quick fix.

There were a lot of rhetorical questions in that article. The issue is not black and white, at least at the professional level of athletics.

We get better by hard work. Period.

Read the article again.

8/08/2006 10:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Travis McEdin said...

You're a complete tosser. I'm in Todd's running group and he recommended I check out this blog. I have a lot of respect for Todd because he's a natural guy; he works hard, plays hard, and adheres to the rules. Like most runners, we deal with the pain and struggle of working out hard, trying to achieve faster times; but naturally. Cheaters like yourself, more into vanity and ego than hard work, dedication, and natural implrovement disgrace athletes worldwide. It's a particualarly American thing, this competitiveness that encourages ultra-performance. Natural capabilities are tonnes more impressive success with "assistance." It's partially why America and Americans are so disgraced in the world community. How can a baseball player earn more money and notoriety than your President; not that that Nazi deserves money.

Travis McEdin

8/09/2006 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Gilson said...

Good thing we're not giving reading comprehension tests.

One more time, for those of you who don't understand written english.

Drugs are bad. I don't use them. I don't want you to use them.

Gatlin was awesome and now he sucks. Same for Floyd, Barry, McGwire, and most competitive bodybuilders. They all suck.

Make damn sure you understand something before you open your mouth.

8/09/2006 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Wayne Thomas said...


You appear to be the type of person who always has to be right; you are frigteningly rigid, so I'll refrain from being too critical of you, your program, or anything that pertains to you.

For what it's worth, often I've read these comments and found that when people judge you, you judge them back. That's not the way to make friends and influence people. Rather than appearing intelligent and witty, you appear juvenile and petty. (Just trying to help out some, don't snap at me!)

I've been reading the blog for a while, have tried many of the WOD's, read many of the articles you refer to, and consider myself quite well-read just as you do. After some of the WOD's and through some improvisation of my own, I often feel dead for days. I eat right, sleep enough, and do the other things necessary to recover. I do not, however, find it necessary to supplement my diet or my exercise with drugs or other enhancing agents.

Performance enhancing drugs, regardless of their effect, give an unnatural advantage being it a shorter recovery time or having the ability to work harder, faster, and longer.

I bet if you got off the fish oil, off the creatine and off the whey protein, you would be far less productive. I'd love to see your natural abilities. I agree with Brandon and Travis, the motto of this blog is speed, strength, power, and progress. But, you should really consider going about this on your body's natural ability and not via the use of "supplements". Why doth thou fear mediocrity so; perhaps it is because that's what you really, truly, and naturally are?

Wayne Thomas

8/09/2006 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Brandon's post last night and assumed he just skimmed the article and did not really pay attention to the message. But after reading Travis' comments this morning I am not sure he even read the article. Jon specifically states over and over again about how these athletes were once his heroes until learning of their drug use. He never once said he takes drugs or plans on it. He is simply arguing both sides. Take the time, read the article again. If you still feel the same after re-reading, you might want to take one of those English as a Second Language courses they offer here in America.

8/09/2006 03:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like many others, I read this blog with an open mind. I enjoy it's content and format. I don't always agree with points made in the column, but so what? I don;t always agree with my wife, but I love her anyway. I train with Jon. I can vouch for his authenticity, dedication, knowledge, and character, things I can not do for those whose comments consist exclusively of non-substantive anti-American rhetoric, or incisive derision. Such comments do nothing to further the discussion of the topic at hand.

I enjoy reading comments with substantive content, whether they are critical of approaches presented here or not. The key is candor and good wiil. Absent these two ingredients, the comment is meaningless.

For the sake of those who enjoy substantive discussion on topics we're all interested in (why else would we be checking this blog anyway?), please stop the nonsense. Immediately.


8/09/2006 06:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup... it must be the fish oil that made Jon strong...it had nothing to do with hard work and dedication ;)

8/09/2006 07:48:00 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

I love when people rag on supplements, about how unnatural they are and how the users are cheaters and how their own abilities are enough. Ever take a multi-vitamin… if so shut it hypocrite. Since the vast majority of meat raised in the US has had huge amounts of antibiotics and in many cases GH pumped into it I think the “natural-ness” of it is a bit depleted. Hard lining against Fish Oil (which counter acts the unnaturally high omega-6 effects of our diets) and protein powder (a healthier option to get the macro-nutrient profile that our bodies need) is just uninformed silliness. Even terms like “organic” and “free range” are filled with enough gray areas to be BS. Unless you are catching chickens in your backyard, you are getting modified foods. When was the last time you had raw milk? Probably not since mom was your source of nutrition.

Do I think people should use drugs? Depends on what you want to do. If you are in a sport or federation that doesn’t test (also known as accepting it) then go ahead and pin cushion away. I doubt anyone has squatted a grand without some help.

My problem is with cheaters and liars. If the rules say “NO” then don’t use the shit. My other issue is that Pro Athletes can get caught using or possessing substances that any normal person would get arrested for, but only have to worry about a fine or suspension. I think that they should end up in the big house just like anyone else, at least then they can appreciate all the mass they put on. I also don’t like that someone can break a record fueled by steroids that another person made being fueled by steak, beer, and cigars. Don’t let me get into the shorter season.

This isn’t an issue of “performance enhancing” it is an issue of integrity. Is my performance based solely on my supplements? Have you ever seen a bottle of protein powder get a 4:17 Fran? No, well there you go. I will however be the first to tell anyone what it is that I do and take to get to the level of performance that I have, and it is far from elite.

8/09/2006 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Gilson said...

"Have you ever seen a bottle of protein powder get a 4:17 Fran?"

Laughing too hard to type. Will, I f'n love you, bro.

Signed up for the FGB team. Declared 280. Better take my fish oil ;)

8/09/2006 08:36:00 PM  

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