Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently come out with a new autobiography titled Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.
This has lead to a lot of polarizing debate about whether he should be revered or reviled due to the confounding facts regarding his amazing feats in bodybuilding, movies and politics as well as his personal life choices, specifically regarding the use of steroids and adultery.
I’ll be honest, I’ve always found Arnold to be a bigger-than-life character from seeing old video clips of him during his bodybuilding days and some of his earlier movies. The fact that he was in English movies at all, considering his thick Austrian accent and not speaking much English at all until he was 20, is remarkable in and of itself. I rolled my eyes when I heard he was going into politics in 2003 for the Governor of California post, and wasn’t shocked when he made it in, but the fact that he didn’t completely implode the state during one of the biggest economic recessions in history is damn near amazing.
The campaign brought into question his own personal ethics, having used steroids and having a father who was a voluntary member of the Nazi party in pre-World War II Germany. While I think what his father did before he was born should be of no matter to who he is as a person, the steroids issue is one a lot of people took onus with, calling him a cheater and saying he wasn’t honest.
First, as a high-caliber bodybuilder, you could say that everyone competing at that level was on some form of crank, so in essence if he wasn’t taking juice in one form or another, he would be actually falling behind. Taking the same drugs as the other competitors would therefore not be seen as creating an advantage, but simply levelling the playing field.
Second, at that time steroids were not indicated as a banned substance by any governing body regulating the testing of bodybuilding events, which meant it was not actually cheating since it didn’t break any rules, therefore meaning we’re holding him to a measuring stick based on today’s research for something he did 40 years ago. That’s like condemning home builders who used asbestos insulation in a house 60 years ago knowing what we know now about the dangers of the substance.
Next, to say he won simply because of the steroids is ludicrous. TO anyone who has ever tried to gain serious muscle, you can attest to how incredibly difficult it can be. While the steroids can assist in creating hyperplasia and hypertrophy of the specific muscle cells and creating a hormonal environment conducive to growth and assist in recovery, they cannot replicate this in the face of poor training and diet.
Additionally, a feature of steroid use is the very rapid accelerated strength gains seen in the muscle fibers but a disproportionate gain compared to the tendons and ligaments, which don’t respond as well to the stimulus, meaning tendon and ligament injuries happen a lot more frequently. To simply stay injury-free while taking any kind of juice is a feat in itself, especially considering the intensity these guys would typically train with.
Lance Armstrong has been dogged for his entire career for doping allegations, which is along a similar vein (pardon the obvious but still amazing pun). Cycling is one of the most “enhanced” sports on the face of the earth, and is one that constantly has people testing positive, leading to a question about whether the testing is even efficacious in deterring riders from using PEDs in the first place, or whether it’s just a way for the World AntiDoping Agency to make some money from fines and hush-payments.
Again, simply doping does not guarantee victory, especially when everyone else is doing it too. Cycling takes an entire team of riders to get one to wear yellow in Paris, a concept often forgotten in the harsh glare of the media.
I’ll be clear here: I’m in no way in favour of doping, but I can understand why it would be used. What I cannot understand is how people can be so quick to vilify someone for choosing to use them, especially in a culture that always favours the winner over any other competitor.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt
His adultery is also a big bane for a lot of people. While I would find his choice of people to cheat on his wife with somewhat concerning (Seriously Arnold, you could have at least cheated UP on that one!!), it’s not much different from the cheating past of many many, MANY other politicians who are judged on their moral character and fiber.
Does his cheating make his accomplishments any less incredible? Of course not. Thomas Jefferson is alleged to have had 6 children with the enslaved Sally Hemings following the death of his wife, prior to and during his time as President of the United States, which for the times was surely more of a cause for concern. He still managed to produce one of the US’s best terms in office in many academics opinions.
The bottom line is that you can love him or hate him, or whatever you decide to do, but regardless, he’s lead a hell of a life. From reaching the highest eschelons of bodybuilding to becoming one of the world’s most recognizable movie stars to a stint in public office, his has been a very extraordinary life. For anyone to accomplish even 10 percent of what he has done in their time on earth would be viewed as remarkable, so for that reason alone I’m going to be reading through his book as soon as it arrives.
What do you think? Should he be judged on his private life or his public persona? Drop a comment below and let me know what you think.