Schutze

What Do Lance Armstrong, Dopers and Nazis Have in Common?

Wyatt Earp shot from the hip. He was a hero. So do I shoot from the hip sometimes? Bring me the target.

Last week on our news blog I took a couple hip shots in the neighborhood of Lance Armstrong. I said I hated him. I'll still call that shot a bull's-eye.

But later I fired off a little birdshot at the people who rushed to defend Armstrong in our comment section. Comparing the Armstrong story to a drug bust gone bad in the news recently, I said, "I can take you down to Dixon Circle right now and find people there who will defend their own dope dealers."

So isn't it wonderful that we still have this luxury called print, a newspaper, a thing that has deadlines, editors, publishers, annual personnel reviews and various other incentives toward thoughtful reflection? I welcome the opportunity to look back over the general area I was shooting at on the blog last week and see if we can come up with any perforated Cub Scout caps or other clues to bad aim.

And the question again? Because I'm not going back on Armstrong. He's a cheater. Don't tell me the rules should be different. Don't tell me how many other people cheated. Armstrong cheated. We need to put that question to bed.

The other question, though: Was it totally crazy of me to suggest a nexus between athletes who use illegal performance-enhancing drugs and people who use illegal recreational drugs? And just to get all of the race-card, class warfare, crazy bullshit out of it, even though that's my favorite part, let's not use dog-whistle phrases like "street drugs."

Any and all get-high drugs. That's what I'm talking about. Is there any connection between get-high drugs and any and all do-better drugs?

Last week I talked to Dr. James Muntz in Houston, the team doctor to the Houston Astros, Rockets and Texans. Muntz frequently is consulted and quoted on high school sports doping issues. He said first that middle and high school students do use performance enhancing drugs. The numbers are significant but not epidemic.

"I was just at a cardiology conference up in Washington, D.C." Muntz said. "The statistics are 8 percent, half for performance and half for looks. The boys do it to muscle up and look better."

He said middle and high school students are less likely to use injectable steroids than college athletes. "Probably at that age most of them prefer pills. Some of them use asthma medicine, Monster Drink, Red Bull. All of that stuff is performance-enhancing."

I asked him if he thought the performance-enhancing drugs used by kids pose a threat to their physical well-being. He sort of said no. And a little bit yes.

"Some of it's not just physical," Muntz said. "Some of it is psychological. With big doses of caffeine people can get irritable, moody.

"Realistically, probably most of the drugs aren't particularly bad for physical effects, but I would say the psychological effects could be more harmful and long-lasting than the physical effects. But I don't think the country is coming apart at the seams."

So, reality check. Before I made my calls, I watched an old PBS special on East German women swimmers in the '70s and '80s who were shot full of testosterone by their coaches, grew beards and turned into men. I asked him about it. Muntz said he thinks we are much more sophisticated now about performance-enhancing drugs. Even if there is a certain ambient level of abuse, we don't have to worry about all of our little girl athletes turning into guys.

Another expert I talked to was Professor Jim Quinn at the University of North Texas, who teaches criminology and corrections with a focus on drugs, brain chemistry, addiction and recovery.

I asked him to talk about a nexus — or not — between juicing by athletes and recreational drug use. He told me it was a reach. But he seemed to think there was a reach worth making in there somewhere.

Quinn could offer me no empirical biological evidence that blood doping leads to drug addiction. But he said there can be an underlying cognitive and moral connection.

With blood doping, he said, "You're rationalizing. You're basing everything on self-interest. You're flying in the face of societal norms."

I almost interrupted to say, "No, professor, that's journalism. We're supposed to be talking about drug abuse." But I held my tongue, and a good thing I did, because then he said something very interesting.

"I think these highly competitive people, athletes specifically, are in all probability running very, very high levels of all sorts of brain chemicals, and a lot of those chemicals are feel-good chemicals like dopamine.

"I don't want to say people get addicted, but they get habituated to those levels, and that can come off as obsession with winning, winning at any cost, that kind of approach. They have an obsession with keeping those levels high, and they think they're being rational when they're not. So there's a parallel to drug abuse there."

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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