INDR commentary, John Gleaves

Why I chose to stay as a USA Cycling Anti-Doping Advisory Board member

By John Gleaves

Following twenty-four hours of travelling from Los Angeles, California to Athens, Greece, in late May this year, I received news that Paul Dimeo had been asked to step down as chair of USA Cycling’s Anti-Doping Advisory Board. Paul had resigned following a journalist’s misleading article that depicted him as an advocate for legalizing certain substances on WADA’s Prohibited Substance List.  Much has been discussed about Paul’s resignation, so I will not rehash the issues here (but for a quick brush-up, see the INDR editorial from June 2016). I simply wish to articulate the reasons I chose to continue as a member of USA Cycling’s Anti-Doping Advisory Board.

In the Spring of 2016, Paul approached me with the news of an exciting project and asked if I would be interested. Through his research, he had connected with USA Cycling, who was starting their own anti-doping advisory board. This advisory board was the first started by a national governing body. USA cycling sought an advisory board whose members reflected diverse perspectives that could assist USA Cycling’s efforts to prevent doping in American cycling. I was interested and Paul offered my name to USA Cycling. My formal invitation came from Jon Whiteman at USA Cycling. He indicated the advisory board’s aim was to “determine how [USA cycling] can best reduce banned doping practices within amateur and professional cycling in America.” It also came with the express claim that I would not receive any compensation for my service, that it would require roughly one hour per week, and that my advisory position came with no formal voting power. They really knew how to sell the perks! Still, I was honored to be asked and willing to serve.

News of Paul’s separation was incredibly disheartening. My initial reaction was that it would be impossible for me to continue with USA Cycling. Not only did I disagree with USA Cycling’s actions following Paul’s comments, but Paul is a scholar that I deeply admire and a person I am lucky to count as a friend. As colleagues, Paul and I occasionally disagree. He has teased me more than once that I seem to have made my career by going around and finding all of his mistakes. I respond that he has made so few, which explains why I have accomplished so much less than he has. Thus, I was disappointed to see one of the brightest doping researchers leaving the group.

As much as I was disappointed, I also was concerned. It appeared that USA Cycling expected members of the advisory board would not offer opinions contradicting any of their official positions. If this were the case, it clearly threatened my academic freedom and I was not prepared to make this concession. I firmly believe that academics have an obligation to share what they discover, regardless of how receptive the political or cultural landscape finds the results. Making matters more complicated, I appreciated how choosing to stay on the advisory board would give the tacit signal that I ascribed to all of USA Cycling’s anti-doping positions, which I do not. I had agreed to advise them on the specific aims of the committee, I had not agreed to being a spokesperson defending all of their positions.

After returning from Greece, I had set up what I expected to be a difficult phone conversation with Jon Whiteman. I needed to know my academic freedoms remained intact and that there would be no censor over my writing or research. We agreed that as long as I offered such positions as a faculty member at California State University, Fullerton and not as a USA Cycling Anti-Doping Advisory Board member, I was free to write and speak in line with my research.

As for my disagreements with certain anti-doping policies, such as my opposition to cannabis being included on the banned substance list, the obvious point is that those policies are not even decided by USA Cycling but by the World Anti-Doping Agency. USA Cycling was not asking for my opinion on that issue and I was free to hold this perspective. I would only be asked to advise on the policies USA Cycling could control, such as anti-doping prevention efforts within amateur cycling, and I had no problem doing my best to advise them on such efforts.

More importantly, by choosing to stay I knew I could ensure that USA Cycling would at least hear diverse perspectives before they make decisions. This is not because I considered my positions “outside the norm” but because I never felt my job was to advocate for one perspective. In fact, I considered my role was to help translate the vast amount of research on the topic so USA cycling could use it to achieve their goals. Having served four years as Co-Director for the INDR, I have had the privilege to work with scholars from various disciplines and perspectives. In this role, I have edited the INDR quarterly newsletter, reviewed abstracts for two INDR conferences, and co-edited two special journal issues that have resulted from the conferences. These efforts have made me aware of research from various disciplines and from around the world. Thus, as an advisory board member, I believe my obligation is not to advocate my perspective but rather to ensure that USA Cycling hears the various perspectives that scholars have asserted through their research. And I considered my fortunate position as INDR co-director made me a good candidate to provide such breadth.

Ultimately, however, I chose to stay for two reasons. First, I believe that academics have an obligation to share their knowledge with the public. I research at a public university and I received my doctoral degree from a public university. Thus, my knowledge has been heavily subsided by the public. In turn, the public should have access to what I know. In this case, another public organization, USA Cycling, has asked me to share what I know to help it do better. So I believe I have an obligation to share my knowledge with them so long as they request my services. I offer it free of charge and to the best of my ability. 

Second, I chose to stay because I am also a USA Cycling member (License #205245). Often I have criticized those who write the anti-doping policies because they have no skin in the game. They know it will not be their arm poked with a needle or their morning routine interrupted by anti-doping testers. As a licensed member, I am bound to USA Cycling’s anti-doping policies, which I initial every year when I renew my license. So, I know that it will be my arm poked with a needle and my morning routine that is interrupted. I also know that any new policies that result from this advisory board will directly affect me and the people I race with. As much as I respect Paul, his Scottish nationality meant that he would never have to follow USA Cycling’s policies. As a member, I know I will have to live Kant’s “Universal Maxim,” and only support those policies that I am prepared to follow. I also know that I have an opportunity to advocate for all of the other cyclists not in the room and do my best to represent their collective interests to USA Cycling.

Despite expressing these reasons, I suspect some in the scholarly community will look upon my decision to stay with dismay and doubt. Critics might, as one email implied, consider me a prostitute. If I am, I must be a rather cheap one. But joking aside, I disagree with that assessment. I am confident that the scholarly community will (and should) continue to judge me through my work. If what I write suddenly changes its tune or starts to omit certain relevant research, I know my peers will call attention to it. This fact reassures me. That I will always have colleagues, including Paul, who are willing to speak honestly and pointedly gives confidence that tacit biases and scholarly mistakes will be rectified. They can certainly expect that I will do my best to return the favor.