You know what’s not fair? That I was born with narrow clavicles. And wide hips. And a bone structure that’s not conducive to being Mr. Olympia.
And you know what else isn’t fair? That I was born a fat kid, 10lbs at birth, and husky from my youngest years. Historically, the only time I’m not an outright heifer is when I’m dieting for a show.
It’s also kinda’ unfair that I was born of Scottish lineage with very fair skin, so I don’t take well to tanning, making it near impossible for me to achieve great stage color.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on my white-guy muscle bellies. That’s unfair, too. And I grew up in an artsy-fartsy household, with no athletes, so there was never any emphasis on physical development or exercise. Let’s throw that in the mix while we’re at it. Totally unfair that my environment growing up was suboptimal for developing a champion bodybuilder.
And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, while most competitive bodybuilders started training in their mid teens, I didn’t start until I was 24. I was a “late bloomer” to the bodybuilding scene. That’s also not fair—nobody told me I should have started younger. Unfair to the max, unfair supreme.
Anyone see a trend here? When searching for excuses for one’s shortcomings, all of a sudden, everything everywhere is unfair.
In an article entitled The Fairness Doctrine, I wrote, the concept of ‘fair’ doesn’t apply to the universe, and it makes no sense to force it. The world just is—it is what it is—and you can complain about it, sulk, hate it all you want—or, you can pay attention to the averages, to the rules that work most consistently, try to learn and apply those rules consistently, and hope for the best.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s pick the brain of 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman on the subject. Here’s the exchange that took place at the 2000 Mr. Olympia press conference:
Kevin Levrone: I’ve won every IFBB contest, including the Arnold Classic, except for the Mr. Olympia. But I’m not going to give up, even though everything you hear before the contest is that the show is locked down in advance, you know who is going to get first place. And I don’t train for second place.
Ronnie Coleman: We don’t live in a perfect society. No one has ever liked the same thing as everyone else…. Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to be the best. There can only be one Mr. Olympia. If you want to do something different, if you don’t like the sport you’re competing in, then don’t compete.
Levrone: But everyone keeps booing.
Coleman: I haven’t been to a show yet where there wasn’t an announcement and someone didn’t boo….
Levrone: I won’t get any boos on Saturday, Ronnie, but you will.
Coleman: I’m a three-time Mr. Olympia—how many times you won?
Levrone: How many times have I whipped you in competition? More times than you beat me, brother.
Coleman: When was the last time you beat me?…
Shawn Ray: This is exactly what is wrong with bodybuilding. [To Ronnie:] This is not about you, bro. You are Mr. Olympia. You don’t have to defend the fact that you won the contest. But you’re not complaining with a check for $110,000 in your pocket. What about the guys who leave here with nothing?
Coleman: I worked extremely hard to get where I am. No one ever handed me anything. You’re telling me that because I won the Mr. Olympia three times in a row that something is wrong with the judging?
Ray: You’re making this too personal an issue.
Coleman: Maybe there isn’t something wrong with the judging. Maybe there’s something wrong with y’all’s bodies. In 1992, I didn’t place at all in the Olympia. I didn’t get a dime. I didn’t get a dollar. I didn’t complain. In 1994, I didn’t complain when I was 15th. In 1995, I didn’t complain about 11th. In 1996, I didn’t complain when I got 6th. In 1997, I didn’t complain when I got 9th. The moral of the story is: Why complain? I just kept on doing what I was doing and improved every year until I was the best. So keep on complaining and maybe you’ll find out like a little kid that complaining ain’t going to get you anywhere but where you are now—second place!
It would seem that even the greatest of all time, King Coleman, knew that the universe isn’t something to be described as either fair or unfair. Just keep bombing away. It is what it is.
But what about the issue of anabolic steroids? Aren’t those unfair? I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I have heard somebody talking about competitive bodybuilding and steroid usage, and say something to the effect of, “Well, that just makes them a cheater”. A cheater, eh? Let’s look closer at that idea.
Ninety percent of the variables in bodybuilding are outside of one’s control. Shit, ninety percent of the variables in one’s life, from beginning to end, are outside of one’s control. You can’t pick your parents, you can’t pick your genetics, you can’t pick the era you were born in, you can’t pick what cutting-edge supplements have been developed yet, you can’t pick what level our knowledge is at regarding the science of training, you can’t pick anything, for the most part, when it comes to bodybuilding.
The only thing you have direct control over, is how hard you work—at any given moment, of any given day; during any given off-season; during any given contest prep; during any given near-breakdown when you begin to reach for the phone to call Dominoes Pizza at 11pm while battling starvation, hunger pangs, fear of failure, and all of the other wonderful aspects that go with being a competitive bodybuilder.
This is called free will, people. It’s all you have direct control over—applying yourself, or not. The end result you achieve will be a composite of what you came into this world with (genetic dispositions), coupled with how hard and consistently your worked (work ethic). The former is outside of your control completely. The latter is within your control completely. Things outside of one’s control don’t count as “fair” or “unfair”, they’re just facts to be faced. Thingswithin one’s control, can at least be evaluated.
Some individuals are born with elite level genetics, sometimes looking like they’ve been lifting weights for years before they ever touch their first dumbbell (and the moment they do pick up the weights, they tend to grow like weeds, often times while eating like crap and coasting through their workouts). But so long as they don’t use anabolic steroids, they aren’t “cheating”. They’re doing everything in a “fair” manner. Right?
By contrast, let’s look at the individual born with less-than-great genetics for building muscle and staying lean. Like many, this individual is inspired by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and other physically-elite specimens, and decides to try his hand at bodybuilding. So he spends months reading and studying in order to put together a solid game plan; he joins a local gym, shows up religiously, and trains like his life depends on it; he puts together an optimal muscle-building meal plan, and sticks to it day-in, day-out, meal after meal, counting his protein, weighing his portions, bringing his food with him everywhere he goes. And after two years, he steps back to assess his progress in the mirror: he has hardly gotten anywhere. This genetically-average individual is just now starting to look how the genetically-elite lifter looked before the latter ever touched a weight—and who, by the way, has been living off of Twizzlers and orange soda the entire time. (Yes, Michael Lockett, we’re talking about you here.)
So this genetically “average” individuals decides to take things to the next level. He begins researching and studying up on supplements that can help his cause, including anabolic steroids. He spends months educating himself. He takes on extra shifts at his job and works overtime in order to have more disposable income, which he chooses, of his own free will, to spend on anabolics. He doesn’t steal them, and he doesn’t scam for them. He puts in an honest day’s work to earn the cash to buy them. Why? Because he wants to look a certain way and feel comfortable in his skin, simple as that.
At which point, the genetically elite individual starts casting his aspersions—“Hey bro, you’re a cheater. I know you’re taking shit. That’s not fair to those of us who are clean”.
The reasoning here: actually going out into the world and earning something, through hard work, is not fair, but winning the genetic lottery is totally fair. You are correct at this point to be thinking, this makes no sense whatsoever.
Who we are as people—our character—comes back to the decisions that we make, and how hard we apply ourselves at any given endeavor. That includes working extra hard at a job so you can have the economic means to do what you want to do. Not everybody is born genetically elite. Some have to earn it—yes, still by training hard, eating properly, being consistent over time, and doggedly pursuing your goals. But we also earn it by working hard at life in general, to give oneself the means to do what you want to do.
The genetically-elite natural bodybuilder who looks down on somebody for using anabolic steroids is saying, in effect, “You weren’t born with the tools I was born with, so you shouldn’t even try. You should just give up, and accept your lot in life. You will never be me, and trying to do so, even if done via hard work and consistency over time, is cheating”.
Cheating who? No answer. Cheating at what? At life. How? By applying the actual rules of the universe: working hard and expecting a positive outcome. And then, it happens—you no longer look genetically inferior. And that makes you a cheater. Bullshit.
This is why I have said numerous times that the issue of “natural bodybuilder” vs. “enhanced bodybuilder” is a complete red herring. It really doesn’t matter at all. The character of an individual should be judged solely on how hard they work, and how passionate they are about pursuing their goals. I know natural bodybuilders who bust their ass—and I respect them—and I know others who are lazy as shit, and, in my book, are just taking up space and air on this planet. Same goes for those who are enhanced—I know some who slack and rely on drugs to produce their results for them, with no passion or burning drive to better themselves through every bit of effort and free will they can muster—and I know many, many others who train every session like their lives depend on it, who wake up ravenously hungry to take it to the next level, to pursue that which they love, up to and including working extra hard at otheractivities (jobs) that will allow them to better pursue their hobbies (bodybuilding).
So which aspects of bodybuilding are fair, people? The ones that the individual actually has some degree of control over, up to and including the supplements they choose to put in their bodies? Or, just what God gave you, and you either got it or you don’t?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but anabolic steroids are about the only “fair” thing in the sport of bodybuilding. Each person is free to choose what he or she does with his or her body, and is responsible for finding a way to acquire it. Work hard, put in your time, and maximize the fairness. Enough with the condescension from those who were born gifted. The “genetically elite” are like those born into royalty in old Europe, while anabolic steroids represent the potential ability to pull yourself up by your bootstraps that America represented when it was first formed.
Choose your fairness, people.
-David A. Johnston