Thursday, January 10, 2013

I suppose that Lance Armstrong’s finally ‘fessing up could be considered a good career move…

Competitive cycling is not a sport I generally follow.

Sure, one time when we were in Ireland, some major bike race blew through Galway. Cycling interest in Ireland was pretty high at the time, as local (Dublin, anyway) lad Stephen Roche – who had been a Tour de France winner – was still popular.

We lined up with the crowds near Eyre Square, but the riders came down the hill into Galway at such great speed that all we saw was a streaking blur.

Not much of a spectator sport, to me at least. (Maybe it’s like race car driving: you can’t really see all that much, but you’re always hoping for some kind of blow out, flame out, spin out drama.)

But even if you don’t follow cycling, it would be difficult not to be aware of Lance Armstrong, with his many achievements – all those yellow Tour de France jerseys, his personal story (recovery from cancer), his ads, his bracelets, his good looks, his Sheryl Crow…And, of course, the allegations of doping that were credible enough to result in the loss of those seven Tour de France titles and in his being barred from Olympic competition for life.

As with the doping scandals in all sports, there’s more than a whiff of hypocrisy, not to mention a whiff of self-righteous hysteria,  around the whole thing.

Personally, the one and only reason I can think of to ban professional athletes from using performance-enhancing substances is that they may be emulated by young, impressionable athletes who end up drastically damaging their health (if not killing themselves).  And not letting young athletes go the performance enhancing route is what parents and coaches are for, no?

If the pros want to endanger their own lives, well, have at it, as long as everyone’s upfront about the doping.  As drugs get more sophisticated and complex, it will become harder and harder to decide what’s okay and what’s not, so chasing after this is going to be a hopeless and endless endeavor. Kind of like the greyhound trying to catch Speedy the Rabbit.

And the money is so great in sports nowadays, who can blame an old geezer of 34 from trying to eke out a few more $20M/year seasons?

Maybe all professional sports will end up with two leagues: the naturals and the juiced. My bet is that fans would rather see a ‘roided up Roger Clemens pitching to a ‘roided up Mark McGwire , who sends it out of the park, than watch little Joe Schmoe lob a slow curve to little John Doe, who dribbles out a cheap-o single.

Anyway, the speculation last week was a will-he-won’t-he on whether Lance Armstrong was at long last going to end our long national cycling nightmare and confess that he had, in fact, had a very PED-ded up pedal to the metal all those years.

If he does come clean, he may have his punishment reduced and get back in the saddle again. Maybe not for the Tour de France, but in triathalons and other events that aren’t 100% cycling oriented.

According to the World Anti-Doping Code, an athlete may be eligible for a reduced punishment if he confesses and details his doping. He also must say who helped him and how he got away with doping…Armstrong has been in discussions with the USADA Chief Executive Travis Tygart as he tries to get the lifetime ban reduced, the [New York] Times said, citing a person familiar with the situation. Herman denied his client was talking to Tygart, according to the newspaper. (Source: Bloomberg.)

Well, if Lance does come clean, I suppose it’s a good career move, but there’s certainly going to be an element of too-little-too-late.

He was banned for life from competing in sanctioned events by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which cited a career “fueled from start to finish by doping” when it released a 202-page summary of its investigation into the rider and the U.S. Postal Service cycling team on Oct. 10.

And he has, after all, had his cycling records expunged. He resigned the chairmanship of his cancer foundation, Livestrong. He has lost his endorsements. No more Oakley sunglasses. No more Trek bikes. No more Nike swoosh.

If he does true up, he will no doubt be in line for a major money book contract and movie. And he can always become a clean-up-the-sport-crusader. So he’d have those career pluses…

But wouldn’t it have been easier to have just owned up immediately?

I know, I know.  We all have an incredible capacity to rationalize our behavior: it wasn’t all that bad, it wasn’t illegal, everyone was doing it – this just leveled the mountain passes. Etc. Etc.

But what if Lance Armstrong had stood at the podium when the first rumors started swirling and said, ‘Yep, I did it. And I’m sorry/not sorry. But, let’s face it guys. That’s what this sport is all about, and we can either acknowledge and live with it, or come up with a better way of setting up and enforcing the rules…’

Maybe he would still have loss the Oakleys and the swoosh. Maybe he would still be banned.

But wouldn’t his reputation be in much better shape than it is now, when his maybe/maybe not after the fact confession may be good for the soul, but do a lot less for his career than owning up immediately would have.

On the other hand, is there any possibility that he’s clean?

What a mess.

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