Friday, August 24, 2012

On Lance Armstrong and Pyrrhic Victory

Well done, anti-doping agency.  

You know, its too bad if Lance Armsotrong did dope.  It certainly left a lot of questions around his 7 Tour victories.  But here's kind of what I think:

It's a bicycle race.

Cycling is not a particularly popular sport, especially in the US.  Americans didn't ever care about it except as something Europeans and the occasional nutty American participated in.  And, yes, Armstrong's 7 victories look suspect.  It's an unbelievable feat.  Apparently TOO unbelievable.

But what I think we all learned from watching the fiasco of Armstrong's doping accusations over the past decade, and especially this most recent go-round, is that Lance Armstrong, a well known jerk/ philanthropist, must have made somebody really, really mad who had absolutely nothing better to do than worry about bicycle races that occurred about 10 years ago.

I guess if your whole job is going after people you suspect took steroids, then you'd feel obligated to prove this guy was totally doing steroids.  But when you're the third organization that's tried to make a go of demonstrating something that happened a long time ago...  well, it makes everybody involved look a little sad.  I guess part of what I'm thinking is:

I'm betting folks who work for the tour looked at Lance and even at their own results (which maybe were positive and maybe which weren't) and said "he's the only interesting thing that's happened with this race in 100 years.  He got TV viewership in the states and general interest in the sport.  This is a bad spot we're in."  They may have made a very complex decision that the American group pursuing Armstrong's doping career - did not .

Lance isn't admitting he doped.  He's giving up and, I'm betting, is going to wind up something of a martyr as a lot of people start to question why someone was still hounding him years after he won his last race.

In the pragmatic world of @#$%- that-actually-matters, Armstrong has raised an insane amount of money for cancer research, which is a whole lot more than the organizers of the bike ride or the anti-doping groups can say.  So, hey, kudos for chasing that one to the end.

One of the things I find interesting about particularly sprawling books or movies is that they so seldom come to a pat conclusion that you'd expect from a quick and dirty action movie.  Sometimes the guy you're pursuing relentlessly is a genuine jerk who lied and cheated his way to the top, but when he got there, he started helping out sick kids and orphans.

Again, Lance didn't steal an election or from a kids charity.  He won a bicycle race.

And just as he went to all kinds of extremes to win those races, I sort of have to wonder about the determination of the anti-doping folks and their focus on winning.

I guess I'm saying this more or less confirms everything I find ridiculous about adults playing sports as a profession and how we look at it as a life and death situation.

It's a bicycle race.


J.S. said...

And lets not forget- he DID prove that he was extremely good at getting away with stuff. Even throwing in the towel on defending himself this time because he was supposedly too exhausted to fight any longer? Genius.

Simon MacDonald said...

Honestly, I find this entire situation utterly fascinating. Regardless, of whether or not they could prove Armstrong was doping it seems pretty certain that he was cheating. Two of his teammates have testified that he was doping but lets face it, if they were the chase the second place finisher in any of those races to see if he was doping then I'm sure they would find out he was. Plus, this would probably be true of anyone in the top 20 or maybe even the top 50.

To me professional cycling = doping.

But, who gives a crap, it's cycling.

Cheating is bad, we all know that but we have to balance his alleged cheating against the number of cancer victims he's inspired and the millions of dollars he's raised for cancer research. Is Lance Armstrong a perfect person. Of course he isn't.

Anyway, at this point the US Anti-Doping agency looks petty.

The League said...

You never want to be the one who looks like you're still harboring a grudge from high school. I like to know the truth as much as the next guy, but... it's sports. It's the same disappointment I feel when MLB players are sitting in front of Congress testifying as if MLB were in some way under the oversight of the federal government. Clearly even our elected leaders can't see the line where this has passed into crazy town.

The League said...

And I have to agree with Jason - "there's no point in fighting anymore, but I didn't do it, so take my medals"? A masterstroke.

Anonymous said...

Armstrong's problem is his longtime confidant, Hincapie. Slate mentions this variable in the doping saga, and I think they are right on the money.

When my brother was sick, my Mom bought Lance's book: "It's Not About the Bike." Actually, yeah it is. It's actually all about the bike...and Lance.

I hear what your saying about his role in cancer funding, but he, like so many celebrities, is a face. He shows up to events, etc. I wouldn't say he is slogging it out in the trenches, and that's not to take away his personal struggle with his disease. Honestly, I could care less if they dope or not, as long as they all get to dope. I've been watching the Tour de France since I was 11. Greg LeMond's poster hung in my closet. But I feel the same way about Armstrong that I do about Clemens: it's not the doping that makes him unappealing, it's his righteous attitude. And that has nothing to do with having cancer.


The League said...

I guess my point is - nobody here comes off looking good. Nobody. If Americans ever cared about cycling - we've basically learned over the years that the only way to win is to dope, so the sport has lost legitimacy. And we've learned that some folks working in anti-doping agencies are incredibly dogged about something nobody really cares about anymore in relation to a game, a sport.

I won't say I don't care at all about the appeal of an athlete, but that's never been Armstrong's strong suit.

At the end of the day - to my point, I have absolutely no idea what the US anti-doping group just won. It certainly wasn't a belief in the rule of law or certainty that athletes will never dope again. Or finally taking down that dastardly Lance Armstrong as the people were clamoring for.

Nobody won this one. Not the anti-doping folks, Armstrong, cancer charity or cycling. And it's all a little sad.

Anonymous said...

What I was shocked to find out this past week was that LiveStrong has actually not donated any direct money to cancer research since 2005.

LiveStrong has continued to raise cancer awareness, branding, and provide excellent counseling and support services to new patients. That cannot be taken away.

I also did not realize that there is (profit) and (nonprofit).

Nor did I realize that Lance charged for speaking at cancer awareness fundraisers and conventions. Wow. In one case, it was between 2 and 3 million in stock options.

Agree with everyone else on doping and cycling. It was and is pervasive.


The League said...

I think is pretty clear on where its funding goes, and I its unrealistic to have a beef with the many places they redirect their funds. They're on the ground and putting funding where its needed, not where I think it needs to go.

The option is news to me, and it does seem odd there's a profit side using the same branding. Except that its basically raising funding for the .org side of the branding while promoting preventative options for cancer via athletic training, diet, etc...

I'm less inclined to rationalize Armstrong's speaker's fee. That comes as a bit of a shocker.