Thursday, February 6, 2014

Double, Triple, Quadruple Standards

by Bill Holmes

Just a few days ago one of this generations great actors died. From all the preliminary evidence this is a self inflicted drug overdose. Was it a suicide or an accidental overdose? Who knows, does it matter?

Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment on Sunday, February 2, 2014. It has been reported that he was discovered with a needle in his arm and over 70 packets of heroin in the home. There were also several prescription drugs in his apartment. I don't think cause of death will be a big mystery.

Was this really a surprise for those around him? He has had substance abuse issues for over 20 years. He was one of the oldest looking mid 40 year old guys on the planet. He never really looked that healthy to me.

So why am I writing this post? Since his death, Philip has been eulogized on almost every news and entertainment outlet. All the network news shows. morning and evening, had solemn tributes to him. I don't watch the entertainment TV tabloids but my guess is that Philip's death and memorialization was the primary and maybe only story for the broadcast. I watch The Daily Show, Colbert Report, Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley most nights. They all tripped over their private parts to give PSH more praise than the next. Charlie and Tavis showed portions of several interviews they had done over the years.

My contention is that entertainer/artist abuse of drugs may not be that different than top athletes using drugs. Is testosterone, steroids or EPO any more performance enhancing for an athlete's performance than cocaine, heroin, speed, anti-anxiety prescriptions and other stuff is for an actor? I don't know, but there are some parallel issues.

The problem with athletic performance enhancing drugs is that those who cheat, or cheat better, have an advantage, win events and make more money. There are some studies that show specific drugs increase performance by a certain percentage. Some athletes don't do drugs because they are opposed to them, are afraid of the consequences or fear the side effects. That makes for an unlevel playing field.

So what about movie, TV and stage performers? Did the myriad of drugs they take enhance their performance? Is it any different than an athlete? If an illegal drug allows an actor/actress or musician to get on stage how is that different than a little steroid boost to an NFL lineman? If an actor is successful the money and influence increases. Theoretically, if Hoffman hadn't taken drugs would he have excelled in his first performances or even gotten the part?

I'm not dissing on Hoffman or other artists and I'm not condoning Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds. I'm just bringing up the issue of performance enhancing drugs. Apparently some are condoned while others are vilified. My guess is that all of us have taken performance enhancing drugs at some point. It's also hard to define exactly what is or isn't a performance enhancing drug. Is that aspirin or Advil you take because you have a hangover or an arthritic shoulder increasing your performance? How about Viagra? If there was a pill or injection you could take that would make you better at your job would you take it? That's the dilemma that athletes face with steroids, EPO and other drugs.

In sports there is the fact that many, but not all, of these drugs are against the rules. You can't take human growth hormones, but the team doctor can shoot you up with painkillers so you can play. As far as the rules issue, in most sports it's pretty much OK, even expected, to cheat a little as long as you don't get caught. Football linemen and defensive players hold on many plays. A baseball base runner might try to advance a second before a fly ball is caught. There are hundreds of other examples across most sports.

So, some cheating is OK as are some drugs. Some drugs are illegal while others that are similar aren't. It's complicated and confusing. We all have different thresholds for what we think is acceptable in this area. I'm sorry Hoffman died from a drug overdose, I'm sorry Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds and others broke their sports rules and profited over others.

What do you think?


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