Bad Apples or Bad Barrels?

While listening to Sean talk about his experience in cycling and reading about Mr. Armstrong and his embracing of the doping friendly culture of cycling, I kept thinking about the Phillip Zimbardo Ted Talks I posted a couple weeks ago and his theory of the bad barrel instead of the bad apple.  It was pretty clear by Sean’s presentation that there was a lot of support to dope in cycling to perform better.  It was brought up in our discussion that this is not just a problem in cycling but in sports in general.  The question I want answered is where does this culture of doping (the bad barrel) come from? So in thinking about this and trying to determine the problem, maybe not all of the blame should be cast in the direction of the athletes.  Maybe we as fans should take a look in the mirror and cast some blame at the person staring back at us.  It seems that the culture surrounding the athletes in professional sports is mostly created by the pressure fans put on the sport and has just as much to do with the doping problem as the athletes in the sports themselves.  I would argue that is a perfect example of the bad barrel idea.

I came across and article by Jim Caple on that talks about the relationship between PED use in baseball and the fans.  Here is the link: In the article, Caple points out the inconstant stance that fans seem to have on PED use saying, “Take PEDs to help the local team and you’re a hero worthy of loving standing ovations.  Take PEDs for an opposing team and you’re an evil, no-good cheater who should be banned for life.”  He goes on to argue that this inconsistency  is confusing for the players and that we should condemn PED use unless we are willing to condemn all player guilty of it.  Again, this points to a bad barrel instead of a bad apple situation.  What is the incentive behind playing clean when all the fans want to see is superhuman ability on the field.


Another point of this is the penalties handed down to dopers and how they are so inconsistent.  I think Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez are two examples of this happening.  In both cycling and baseball it is known that there was a serious doping problem within the entire sport.  However it seems like the penalties handed to these two athletes are far more severe than those handed to their coworkers.  Why is that? I think this points to another flaw in the barrel that should be corrected in order for these sports to clear themselves of doping.  If their respective sports believe the penalties handed to these two are fair, then everyone caught doing the same things should get an equal penalty.

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4 Responses to Bad Apples or Bad Barrels?

    John Q Public says:

    Excellent. We cannot rationally have one set of rules applying to ourselves and our team, and another set of rules applying to others and the other teams….and yet we do. Just watch a kids soccer game when any kids fall down. One set of parents will scream foul. Another set will scream he deserved it or tripped over his own feet or was barely touched. They cannot both be right, yet they think they are.

  1. I completely agree- the blame truly is with those who support the sport… the fans. But here’s the issue… how do we stop it? I personally have no idea. We could boycott until regulations and testing are more strict. Is it really worth it? I’m not a big sports person, minus UGA football (I’m pretending this season isn’t actually happening), and that’s probably why I’m so apathetic about the whole situation. There needs to be consistency for punishment with the players, but how do we get this started?

    I know that drugging horses certainly pushes buttons for me. Horses are tested at top levels, but it’s not an uncommon practice for trainers to “ACE” green (untrained) horses at hunts, shows, anything involving running really, in order to profit from getting a ride out of them. It’s cruel. ACE is a tranquilizer, causing the muscles to relax (but NOT the mind…Smilie: ;) and when used can also make horses stumble- very unsafe. This has more obvious issues associate with it- liability, anyone?? I actually knew a trainer that did this… scary.

    Point being, drugs will be used. It’s a sport. People will cheat. When stakes are high or money is involved, people will find their way around rules. It’s bound to happen as pathetic as it seems.

  2. I agree completely. We always act horrified when we find out that one of our favorite athletes has been using PED….but before we knew we were just happy and blissfully ignorant about our suspicions that our favorite star may be using. I think alot of the blame is on us and the sports industry. If you don’t perform…you get fired. So why not use something that will help you perform better?

    ankitpathak04 says:

    I liked the way you came up with the idea of a “bad barrel” insted of a “bad apple”. Well said! In cycling especially, I feel armstrong being who he was and having achieved what he did, just stood out and received way more attention than anyone else would have. An equal penalty and strict enforcement of the same should help, in my opinion.

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