For all the talk about doping that has dominated the news since Lance Armstrong finally admitted to using performance enhancing drugs during his cycling career, there is a curious silence about another kind of dope.

Cartoon: Warren Brown

Even before his spectacular fall from grace there was something nonsensical about the international fawning and obscene sums of money corporations were so eager to throw in his direction.

No-one was forced to spend millions in endorsements on a man who was, all hyperbole aside, famous for merely riding a bike very, very fast.

Admittedly certain chapters in Armstrong’s life story helped lift the asking price of his marketability, most notably his recovery from testicular cancer and subsequent seven Tour de France titles.

Yet even sporting champions who do not posses a similarly remarkable tale of inspiration are regularly feted by an adoring media, and showered with excessively generous sponsorship deals of their own.

Amid the braying and hand-wringing by wronged parties who now claim to feel betrayed there has been precious little acknowledgment that lavishing any one person with millions of dollars to star in pretentious commercials was always ridiculous.

And yet in a culture in which successful athletes are commonly referred to as “heroes”, shelling out the equivalent of the GDP of a developing nation to hire a sports star to spruik everything from soft drink to skincare has become common practice.

So few companies flinched at the prospect of hiring a pre-scandal Armstrong to sell their wares for an astronomical fee.

In recent days sports commentators have lined up – quite rightfully – to portray Armstrong as an arrogant character who mercilessly belittled anyone who dared to question the mythology surrounding him.

But what remains unsaid is that these are the very qualities invariably celebrated in those who choose to devote their life to excelling in any kind of physical endeavor.

A robust ego, ruthlessly competitive streak and unwavering self-belief are all traits our sports obsessed culture cherishes in its athletes – right up until the moment they topple off their pedestal.

“Everybody wants to know what I am on,” Armstrong gravely intoned in a television commercial for Nike in 2001 in which he took aim at critics brazen enough to speculate about his reliance on performance-enhancing drugs.

“What am I on?” he retorted as the camera faithfully captured him subjecting his body to the exhaustive demands of training. “I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”

It was a moment that perfectly encapsulated the cult of the elite athlete: an earnest homage to the apparent sacrifices made by a “hero” who condescendingly dismisses the naysayers with characteristic swagger.

With his confessional with everyone’s favourite shoulder-to-cry-on, Oprah Winfrey, in the can, sources close to Armstrong have suggested his PR offensive might next see him return sponsorship money paid to him by the United States Postal Service.

According to court documents uncovered two years ago, the USPS parted ways with $31.9 million to underwrite Armstrong’s team during its heyday – a revelation that coincided with the unfortunate news they expected to lose $7 billion that same year.

Yet they are not the only organisation now having second thoughts about the wisdom of that particular investment. Numerous companies, including Nike and brewery Anheuser-Busch, have since cut Armstrong loose.

And while no-one involved has been forthcoming about the exact figures involved, Nike’s most recent annual report revealed it has committed $3.2 billion on endorsement deals over the next five years.

Even in an Armstrong-free landscape, that’s an awful lot of cashed up athletes posing as door-to-door salesmen courtesy of our billboards and TV screens.

And what have any of them really learned from Armstrong’s downfall? That it’s ok to be greedy and cocky so long as you don’t get caught?

Even before his reputation was destroyed by the doping scandal, his success was built on the same foundation as any elite athlete: complete and utter self-obsession.

From Olympians to highly decorated cyclists, professional sport has come to demand nothing less than a one-eyed fixation on success.

Athletes are shielded from the tiresome demands of everyday life; their every whim catered for by a member of the small army assembled to assist them achieve their goals.

While it’s an efficient production line responsible for plenty of well-documented victories within the sporting arena, it also cultivates an industry filled with the self-entitled and self-absorbed.

After years of steadfast denials, Armstrong has at last been revealed to be a liar and a cheat.

But it is those who continue to insist on worshipping sport stars in a godlike fashion, and shower them with multi-million dollar contracts, who are the real dopes.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDT.

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    • youdy beaudy says:

      05:30am | 17/01/13

      Regardless of whether Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs when he was winning they were all over him like a rash. I suppose that winners are grinners as we all know. The amount of training that he had to complete even tho he was trying to get his life back from terrible cancer was astounding.

      Many sports people have used steriods to enhance performance but they have not been caught. What about the Olympics, countries were accused there and people found out. But they didn’t have to go through the slander that Armstrong has had to put up with. Why not China. Different strokes.

      The companies that supported him and used him to promote their usually crap products wouldn’t have cared less about the steroids had he not have been caught out and although he has spent a lot on helping people with cancer now they want their money back. So, his good effort there goes to waste and his good kindness is taken away from those who need it the most.

      So regardless of whether he used steroids or not there was at the end of the day good intentions on his part and he put a lot of his money he won to that end and was successful there. It hasn’t been all bad.

      Swarzenegger used steroids and won the Mr Olympia, Mr Universe and many other body building titles over his years and admitted it yet nothing like this scandal for him. He went on to become Governor of California and did well there. He is married to a Kennedy. A multi billionare himself as an actor and still people want his movies and supported that. What happened to big Arnie, nothing. Did he have to give back the dough from sponsors or have to be slandered and scandalized, no.! So, why this Armstrong thing. I think that we need to look at the good that came out of it, and really they need to dig out all the athetes that take drugs to make it fair and equal.

      I like the Tour and love watching mainly for the views of the country side in France but really apart from the mountains it like many sports can be boring. Because it is such an old race the cyclists are worshipped as idols. But really it’s just a lot of blokes pedalling 2 wheelers in teams and all are sponsored and they have their secret plans within it all to win for winnings sake. Armstong would have increased his abilities using drugs but the increase would have been how many percent. Probably not 100, maybe 30 percent. I don’t know much it would have been or anybody else. But the man would win and win well so my thought is that even without the steroids he would have been somewhere near the front anyway, maybe would have won without using. So, the acknowledged doper is going to do an interview with a woman who i think is a bit dopey herself and i think that because of the mindless shows she has put on over the years for some equally mindless women. Sorry girls, i can’t help it if they insult your intelligence with these shows. About time they let it rest now and focus on bigger issues than cheating in sport. Many cheats out there, go and find them, don’t just destroy one for the sake of thinking that we are all better when we’re not.!

    • Nathan says:

      07:39am | 17/01/13

      Simple this guy is a cheat, he does not have good intentions other than to self promote, that is why his charity gives hardly anything to actual research (he prefers to support awareness….as long as it has his name plastered on it).

      If a cheat makes them self a public figure and continually pushes his innocence only to be found a cheat should we all think he is great still?

      Schwarzenegger did well as governor? Ah really you think so? The state went bankrupt under his watch, you really might want to look into that one.

    • Mr. Jordon says:

      07:43am | 17/01/13

      Yes poor Armstrong is the only one but only if you ignore


      Ben Johnson, Floyd Landis, Marion Jones, Alberto Contador, Chinese Swim team, Nadzeja Ostapchuck, Alex Schwazer, Ivan Tsikhan, Kostas Kenteris and Ekaterini Thanou, Michelle Smith.

      Armstrong has destroy the careers of others and sued newspapers who claimed that he was a drug cheat.

      Armstrong sued the The Sunday Times and won half a million dollars. Is these sort if behaviour acceptable to you?

      The claims against Armstrong are more than just him using drugs. He pushed drugs on others. Which drug dealer and not just a user.

    • Rhys says:

      08:07am | 17/01/13

      Your reference to Arnold is misplaced. Dear Arnold took the drugs before they were illegal (for the most part), in non-tested sports, and did not lie about it.

    • Upnorff says:

      08:44am | 17/01/13

      Arnie (and every other body builder of his era) was using steroids in the same era that Roger Ramjet won every event in the Olympics for the good ol’ USA atfer taking a Proton Energy Pill (to give the strength of 20 atom bombs for 20 seconds). Poor old Roger isn’t PC now and has faded into YouTube oblivion (along with Captain Pugwash, Master Bates and Roger the cabin boy - but that is in a different vein) and along with the hairy mass’ acceptance that using ‘roids and stuff was part of the game and not ‘cheating’. I’m just over it. If the pinnacle of human achievement involves medical assistance then who really gives a sh*t? Is it that much more of a step than using DNA to gauge the most appropriate sport for an athlete?

    • Joan says:

      07:03am | 17/01/13

      All sports people busy pumping something - so if its legal its OK but if sports body ignoran or say so t its not.  I could pump all the drugs legal or illegal and still be at starting line when race was over If I used EPO before it was illegal then I`m not a liar if I say I won race legally. I say winner takes all - drugs or no drugs - Tour de France is not for rank amateurs, nor is any professional sport. Is it cheating if one guy has better sports drink than another? Nothing is equal in a race, all those spectators with hurt feelings should get over it - nobody knows what the guy next to the outed winner was pumping. and who cares about the guy who came minutes/hours last .- in the end the invidual effort is greater than drug pumped.

    • Tubesteak says:

      07:28am | 17/01/13

      Everything is worth what people are willing to pay and accept for it. It requires two people to make a bargain.

      If someone wants to pay someone else a lot of money to be in an ad because they think it will enhance a product’s image then so be it. Maybe it works. Who cares. Not like it really does anything to you.

      Professional athletes have to be the best and do need to be solely focused on the one goal. That’s part of the game they play.

    • Angry God of Townsville says:

      08:49am | 17/01/13

      The Drug agencies are all angry at Lance because he proved that they are only good for catching the stupid or those too poor to afford the good stuff.

      Lance was the guy who beat every other cheat on the Tour, We know that most of the top 20 in the last 30 years were on something. You will find that almost every rider was actually on something, and you will know that they were undetected, so who was clean. If the highest tested sport returns clean results year on year, how do we know any of the other sports are also clean. The drugs are not showing in the tests and so how can you prove that your sport is free from any impacts of performance enhancement.

      As for returning US Postal their money, nope, they got what they wanted at the time and none of this impacts on their brand as it currently sits. The companies losses have nothing to do with this sponsorship and business model. Same for any of the other companies. The only ones entitled to anything are the ones sued by Lance when he was “protecting” his brand. Every other company has already reaped the brand benefit from when he was competing. They were not ripped off and did not lose money over his admission. A suitable fine should be imposed but no money returned to the companies that extracted their pound of flesh at the time.

      The big question is “How do we move on?”, We have seen the testing is a waste of time and money. The drugs are available and can promise that they are undetectable and they have the evidence. The easiest would be to remove any patent associated with the companies that develop or manufacture any performance enhancing drug. Once discovered, make it freely available and destroy the commerce of developing such drugs.

      Will sports ever be clean, if the answer is no, then why should athletes be required to ensure that they are clean. Why should you lose a race to a guy who is on undetectable drugs. We use steroids for medicinal purposes, the athletes who use them without supervision and monitoring are the ones who died young from renal failure. By holding sports to a proven unachievable standard are we placing the athletes themselves at future risk by preventing the control and monitoring of their intakes. The attitude of a large number of the elite is that every one is doing it and so to remain at the relative level, they need to too.

      Most elite athletes know that they are just performers. No different to actors, the crowd demands records and in contact sports, the big hits. They know that once they finish, no-one will remember them and they know that the more they earn in their limited window of opportunity, the easier the rest of their life will be.  We know that a league player will get about 5 seasons, if he takes an undetectable drug, he may get 8. Those three years add up to a lot of income. The temptation would be clear. Should said athlete be required to self medicate or do this under medical supervision. It would be safer to have a doctors assistance.

      I am always amazed at the number of people that use recreational drugs, that have this moral qualm over the use of performance enhancing drugs. I would have thought EPO chic (strong fit healthy) would be more attractive than Heroin Chic any day.

    • Seano says:

      08:54am | 17/01/13

      “And what have any of them really learned from Armstrong’s downfall? That it’s ok to be greedy and cocky so long as you don’t get caught?”

      Bollocks. Armstrong has lost his reputation, his titles and most likely will lose his fortune. Winning the TDF is not just about riding a bike “really fast” it takes years of training, endurance, pain, guts, tactics, commitment and team work.

      By stripping Armstrong of everything (and there’s still the chance he may end up in prison as did Marion Jones) and coming down hard on him and other cheats like a tonne of bricks we’re showing future starts that cheating just isn’t the way.

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      08:55am | 17/01/13

      I find professional atheletes to be the most silly and embarassing slight on our society. More than anybody else, the people who get most of our worship do NOTHING else with their lives except run around in circles very quickly or lift heavy objects.
      Cyclists are the worst- because between Olympic events, they are nothing but a pest on the road for any motorist or pedestrian who actually have a REAL job to get to.

    • Mr. Jordon says:

      09:17am | 17/01/13

      Yes, let’s ring back true Roman gladiator sports.

    • Troy Flynn says:

      03:19pm | 17/01/13

      You obviously don’t watch NBA basketball. The league makes a big showing with their “NBA Cares” activities. All the players from the top earners (Kobe, LeBron, Dwayne et al) to the bench warmers, get involved in local community activities to assist their fans as best they can. And not just by youth training camps. They’re not just highly paid prima donnas.
      If athletes use their celebrity to help people in their community, from any sport, then they do become role models.

    • rob says:

      04:16pm | 17/01/13

      Don’t forget Movie Stars, they too are a leech on society

    • Brian says:

      09:50am | 17/01/13

      I feel sorry for Armstrong. If he’d been a rugby league player they’d have him in the NRL Hall of Fame.

    • David says:

      09:50am | 17/01/13

      They said that the title of the movie “Dumb and Dumber” said more about the people who watched it than about the movie itself.

      Lots of people on this forum are loud in their condemnation of religious types who worship one who (they believe) is an almighty creator of everything.  But what about the obscene worship of people who ride bikes, kick balls, sing songs or play-act?  We fawn and dote on them, and recoil in shock, horror, stupefaction and ANGER when we learn that they are mere humans after all.  (Except for those few who manage to die young enough - we continue to worship them.)

      So, yes, the title of this article is a very good question.  “Who are the real dopes…?”

    • Imste2 says:

      11:31am | 17/01/13

      I’m not sure about you claim that we like arrogant sports stars.  If that were the case then Mark Philippousis would have been adored and Pat Rafter ignored.

    • ramases says:

      04:04pm | 17/01/13

      Personally I dont and wont worship any sports person. Why should I as they are paid to play, play to not play, paid to endorse whatever is available and its not about the sport any more but about the money. Also I don’t buy anything endorsed by a sports person as this is just adding to the money they receive which in turn adds to the cost of the item. I buy things that are what I want not what some overpaid ball hitter/thrower/kicker, cross out those not applicable, or any other sports person decides to endorse. Add to that list anything endorsed by any paid celebrity of any kind.

    • stephen says:

      04:55pm | 17/01/13

      We don’t worship the person but what they have achieved, and the personification is simply putting a face to the act.
      So many of us, myself included - mostly -  think of the present and how difficult it would be to train ourselves for a sport only to realize later, sometimes much later, that we will not make it and the only course of action is to get a gig as a TV presenter.
      (That reads ‘failure’.)

      It is very difficult being good at something - I mean really good at it, and at almost any activity.
      So many of us have tried and fallen by the way, and there is nothing wrong if some of us like to look up to another who has stuck with it longer than us, been luckier perhaps, and had more natural talent - and to snide at those who choose to offer their respect, reeks of jealousy and a small heart.

 

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