Doug Logan Led America's War On PEDs. Now He Says It's Time To Accept The Drugs Have Won
When Doug Logan retired, he walked the Camino de Santiago and had the kind of conversion they don't put on the poster.
Logan served for as the commissioner of Major League Soccer between 1995 and 1999, and went on to serve as the CEO of US Athletics between 2008 and 2010. Logan's love of sport is deep-seated, the legacy of a childhood spent watching the Cuban baseball team owned by his father.
When he ascended to the top job in a couple of the nation's biggest sports, Logan protected them with expected fervour. "I saw myself as a guardian of the sport", Logan tells Balls over a Skype line from his home in Florida. "That was the mantle that I had assumed. I was there to maintain a level playing field, and preserve the fairness, and integrity of the sport".
Nowhere did Logan pursue his self-designed job description with more vigour than in the realm of anti-doping. He established the MLS's first anti-doping programme, and in doing so, insisted that all administrative staff be tested, too. "I was the first one to pee in a cup", says Logan of a programme which yielded one positive test: marijuana taken by an office employee.
He was equally unflinching when he moved to athletics. Two days after Logan took over in 2008, it emerged that Marion Jones had written to then-President George Bush pleading to be pardoned for lying to investigators. Logan responded with a powerful open letter to the President.
Bush learned of Logan's "moral and practical duty to make the case against" Jones' request, as "with her cheating and lying, Marion Jones did everything she could to violate the principles of track and field and Olympic competition".
Such moral lucidity is noble, but it proved not to be lasting.
Retirement begat reflection, which begat revolution. Or devolution, depending on how you want to see it.
Try squaring the righteous case against Jones with a piece by the same author published five years later.
During the Vietnam War, George Aiken, the U.S. Senator from Vermont, allegedly told President Lyndon Baines Johnson that he should just declare victory and bring the troops home. The battle against the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs [PEDs] in sports has reached a similar enigmatic juncture.
I now conclude we should give up this fight and bring the troops home. Leave the regulation of drugs to governments and their law enforcement auspices. Dismantle the drug constabulary, the “ah dahs” of this world; USADA [US Anti Doping Agency], WADA [World Anti Doping Agency], and all the others.
The dopers, says Logan, have won. Their zeal too high, the loopholes too wide, the drugs too many, the technology too prolific.
But how did this happen? How did such a zealous guardian of the sanctity of sports come to admit and accept defeat in the war on PEDs?
I was as aggressively anti-drugs as I could be when I was being paid to administer sport. After I had my last job, I sat back and asked myself, 'What good did I do?' I kept going back to this issue: was my aggressive stance meaningful in any way? Did the stance I took make for cleaner sport? I had to conclude that it didn't.
And that’s a bitter pill to take.
I made no difference.
And I worked hard at it.
Now 73, is Logan consumed by bitterness at looking upon his life work with despair?
"No. Because I believe in the frailty of the human condition. We’re not perfect, and we can always learn something new about ourselves, our world. It wasn’t crushing at all. It was just a learning from life, and it came after a rigorous analysis of myself over how much good I did. There is no point sitting back and patting ourselves on the back, deceiving ourselves".
Instead, while not advocating the use of PEDs, Logan wants to use his experience to steer the public debate toward a new topic: the possible end of anti-doping. The question he asks himself now is not 'what have I done with my life', but "is the paradigm wrong? Is what we are doing, and the way we are pursuing it, wrong?"
This may seem perverse for a man who once wrote to the U.S. president to detail a position of moral authority, but Doug Logan's issue now is that the war on PEDs has become a war of morality. Here follows the mission statement.
My view, to state it quite simply, is that chemical and other substances are generally not - to go back to my Latin - malum in se [inherently or naturally wrong/evil], rather malum prohibitum [wrong/evil only because somebody has said it is so].
We have created a system in which doping is seen as malum in se. It has become a moral issue. The moral rage against Lance [Armstrong], and the moral rage against sprinters, cyclists, and against those in individual sports is a moral rage, and I think it is ill-placed.
At the end of the day, civilisation and their subsets (their governments) sets up a series of regulations and laws in regard to certain substances that science has told them are dangerous or could be dangerous. The enforcement of that should be left to those governments, and sports administration should be taken out of the equation.
If someone breaks a law, someone takes black market drugs and gets caught, then throw the book at him. Do to them as you would to any other citizen in society. But we, as administrators, ought to be out of that business.
The reason we need to get out of it is because it's a war we lost a long time ago, and one we never can win. All we can do is assuage our conscience and say we are doing something about it.
What is going on is selective enforcement of the laws, and we are no closer to drug-free sport than at any time in my lifetime, and I'm 74 years old.
I am not advocating any more drug use, I am not encouraging anyone to take drugs. I’m saying that the paradigm where sports bodies become enforcers of this malum prohibitum, this ever-changing list of prohibitions, is something that is foolhardy, creating an unnecessary additional drama that detracts from the sport itself.
There are some sports where drugs are taken regularly. American football is one of them. But nobody cares. Nobody cares. But a cyclist? A sprinter? There are places where morality is placed, where we become almost offended that someone could gain a millisecond, or heal quickly.
To me, we need to get people at the highest level to start talking, to say, 'maybe we should looking at this differently'.
He is an extremely engaging - and engaged - interviewee, evidenced by the fact that most of your correspondent's questions are met with questions.
Balls: Surely Lance Armstrong taking EPO is wrong?
DL: Let me answer a question with a question. Do you think the use of hyperbaric oxygen chambers to improve conditioning by those who can afford it a moral distinction, and an unfair advantage?
Balls: I would say that, from a casual sports' fan point of view, we would see that as more natural than taking blood transfusions.
DL: Why is medicine unnatural? Now we're messing with what the bishop spoke about from the pulpit on Sundays, but why are drugs unnatural?
Let me change the subject but stay on the same point. I played baseball when I was a kid. I thought I was pretty good at it, until the pitchers were trained by their fathers to throw curveballs. I could hit the straightballs, but I couldn't hit the curveballs as I had a deficiency in my left eye and couldn't pickup the rotation of the ball. From there, I was a rotten baseball player. It broke my heart that I was never going to be any good.
About six years ago, I went and had cataracts removed from my eyes. Before the cataracts were removed, the doctor told me, 'We have a new procedure. We can put a lens in your eye and therefore you won't need to wear glasses'. I said sure.
The minute the patch came off my eye, I drove to a local batting cage. At 66, I grabbed the baseball bat, and you want to know what? Suddenly I could follow the rotation of the ball.
So what if I had elective cataract surgery, and had a lens implanted in my left eye earlier in my life so I could play baseball. Would you say that is natural? I'd venture to say you think probably not. Am I gaining an unfair advantage? Because I could see like the good kids could see?
So make a moral argument out of that.
The moral difference between an athlete using a needle or a chamber is subjective, but surely preserving the sanctity of sports as an arena in which the underdogs can shock the favourite, one in which everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed is morally, and objectively, right?
If some one who was born and raised in Namibia, on an equal playing field with someone who was born and grew up in Dublin? In terms of nutrition, practise, the facilities, the coaching, the economics?
This false notion of a moral, level playing field is an absurdity. It’s a dream that truly doesn’t exist.
It goes back to amateur ideas of sport and purity. Sport, at even the lowest level, is a commercial business.
There is evidence of that all over the place. Let’s look at the Premier League. Same top six teams every year.
If you’re Southampton, you have a very slim chance of ever making it into the Top 4. But you still play.
There is no level playing field. They don’t have the resources to compete with Manchester City. Sometimes there’s an outlier like Leicester, but that’s the reality of what sports is.
What we want it to be, and what it is, are two very separate things.
The playing field has never been level, and won’t ever be.
The good old days weren’t so good...and we’re never going to go back to them.
Given his painfully unfiltered view of the sport that is fed to us, this writer assumes it is impossible for Logan to watch top-level sport today? Not so. His disbelief is less suspended than it has been plunged through the floor, but with this, he can still enjoy the sport he watches, teaching himself to ignore what he sees as the arbitrary, moral argument espoused by those sticking by the current programme of anti-doping.
We must stop assuming that athletic success is accompanied by doping and lying and cheating. Elect Barry Bonds to the Hall of Fame for his on-field accomplishments and let judgment of his conduct be between him and his maker.
Let’s take this piece of drama out of sports and concentrate on the final score, the bar, the tape and the stopwatch.
....make your own moral arguments out of that.