Huffines Institute Director's Blog

Foul language / good podcast. Do you run the podcast?

Foul language / good podcast. Do you run the podcast?

As Director of the Huffines Institute, I have ultimate responsibility for everything that goes up on the Institute’s website.  While we have several staff members that in reality make the final judgment in many cases, the proverbial ‘buck’ stops at my desk regarding the content of our site.   Thus, we had extensive debates over whether or not we should run this week’s podcast “Usurpers” that deals with gene doping, cross country racing, and the drive to win.  While you can find pieces on these topics individually, it is not often that someone comes along that is able to integrate these topics in a compelling and provocative narrative.  Author Derek Zumtag has managed to do just that in this piece – so much so, that I originally heard this story almost four years ago and it has stuck with me ever since.  As a matter of fact, I remember exactly where I was at when I was listening to this piece (for the record - driving down I-85 outside of Charlotte, NC in early October 2008 on the way to work).

The primary reason that it has taken us awhile to get this up on the podcast – other than clearing the rebroadcast rights with its original publisher EscapePod – is that the language in the story is extremely strong, coarse, and downright vulgar in several instances.  We of course are running warnings about the language everywhere we put up a notice about the story, but I still anticipate getting a few objections to the podcast.  But knowing that some of the language might be objectionable, I still decided to run the podcast.  Why?

First, as I noted earlier, this is the only piece I have seen or read that discusses the implications of gene doping on sport.  As a Sports Scientist that works extensively in the area of genetics, I continue to be fascinated / concerned about the probable impact of genetic sciences on human performance and what we will consider normal sport in the future.  I’ve already heard reports of labs covertly advertising that they could do genome retooling to help performance and there are a number of companies that claim – somewhat disingenuously – that they can determine what sport you will be best at given your genome.  Given the level of science now, it is extremely probable that in a few short years (even maybe in the next two), there would be substances that could be used to turn specific genes off for short periods of time.  This may not sound very important, but if you consider that possibility in the light of a gene like myostatin that inhibits muscle growth, it becomes a very real performance advantage if you can turn off myostatin for a few weeks during training and then turn it back on.  The result would be artificially induced increased muscle size/density that is undetectable (yes, undetectable).  Thus, I am all for any discussion, speculation, or insights that will help all of us figure out what ‘sports’ is going to be when these possibilities become realities.  Given the underlying conflict in this piece in regards to gene doping, I am all for this story having the widest possible audience.

Secondly, this piece is unique in that it gets into the mind of an athlete – you actually get to hear the ‘mind-chatter’ of this athlete as he deals with challenges on multiple levels.  You may be surprised that athletes use curse-words in their mind-chatter, but you shouldn’t be.  While the level of profanity used mentally may vary by athlete, nonetheless, it happens and fairly frequently.  Further, as you listen to the story, you also may be surprised by the mind-games that occur between competitors and the setting in which they occur.  Again, that’s one of the reasons this story resonated with me; not necessarily because of what mind-game occurred, but that the author hit it right on the head with the fact that it does occur and that given the context within the story, what occurs is appropriate.  Besides, ask any athlete that is in head-to-head competition if they’ve ever used mind-games to affect their opponent and I would bet every one of them would say ‘yes’ and would probably share a story or two (I’ve got a few).

So, in the end, I believe that this story has too much value to our continuing discussion about human performance, sports medicine, and general health to shelve it because of the strong language.  While I don’t use profanity in general, my former experiences as an athlete suggests that the language used in this piece is fairly typical for the setting and context and thus lend a reality to the story that would be missing if the profanity were stripped out (or replaced with “wow!” and “darn!”).  Further, I continue to be reminded that these are just words that only have the power I give them (sticks and stones and all).  While to some that may seem like a naïve-attitude, I think that words that offend people, only offend those people because they give power to the words. No, I don’t necessarily embrace profanity, nor do I want it in my everyday life but if confronted with profanity I also realize that I can easily ignore and get past the profanity to hear the real message of the speaker.  So, if we don’t get distracted by the language and hear the real message, we have a chance to actually talk about some important topics.  And wouldn’t this be a great thing for all of us to remember not only in regards to podcasts about gene doping, but in every day life (and in elections)?




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