Sports journalist and University of California San Diego alumnus Mark Johnson will take guests inside the metaphorical locker room to share the real dope on doping in professional sports, the focus of his new book, published in July 2016. On Thursday, October 20, Johnson will discuss Spitting in the Soup: Inside the Dirty Game of Doping in Sports, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Geisel Library’s Seuss Room on the UC San Diego campus. The UC San Diego Library event, open to the public and free of charge, will include a reception and a book signing.
During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Johnson was catapulted to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post and the airwaves of ESPN, where he shared his insights on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russia for its doping record. At his October 20 talk, Johnson will opine on the recent Olympics, and shed light on the complex relationships that underlie elite sports culture—the essence of which, he says, is not to play fair but to push the boundaries of human performance and broadcast “the potency of nation states.”
Johnson, who has covered cycling as a journalist and photographer since the 1980s, claims that—notwithstanding today’s morale outrage—doping has been a common phenomenon for as long as we’ve had organized sports. For the last 150 years or so, says Johnson, the use of performance-enhancing drugs in a variety of professional sports—from baseball and cycling to horse racing and track and field—has been the norm. For much of that time, doping to improve performance has been more or less accepted, he says, while doping to throw a game has mostly triggered outrage.
“Today, athletes are often vilified for using performance-enhancing drugs,” said Johnson. “What prevails is a perception that athletes who are caught doping are moral deviants, dopers who are an affront to the athletes who don’t take shortcuts. But, the truth about doping in sports is both messy and shocking, and anything but black and white. It’s not about individual athletes—it’s a collaboration of sorts. We can’t ignore decades of history in which teams, coaches, governments, scientists, the media, and even spectators have been complicit.”
Johnson’s previous book, Argyle Armada: Behind the Scenes of the Pro Cycling Life, was a behind-the-scenes look at the Garmin pro cycling team. His work has been published in Cycling Weekly in the UK, Velo in France, and Ride Cycling Review in Australia, as well as general-interest publications including the Wall Street Journal. Johnson is a graduate of UC San Diego, where he received a Bachelor’s degree, and also holds an MA and PhD in English literature from Boston University.