Friday, October 12, 2012

re Lance Armstrong, USADA, and the other shoe

those of you in the cycling and triathlon communities are probably buzzing over the news about Lance Armstrong and USADA.  if you weren't caught by Armstrong's statement that he would no longer contest USADA's charges (reference: Lance Armstrong's statement) or USADA's subsequent stripping of his Tour de France victories (reference: USADA stripping of TdF titles), then you should be in the wake of USADA's release of its report on its investigation of Lance Armstrong.

i held off posting about Lance Armstrong because i wanted to wait for the USADA report to come out and evaluate it for myself. i wanted to see just what USADA had uncovered and just what evidence it had against  Armstrong. especially since USADA had said it ran over 1000 pages, making it one of the more--if not most--comprehensive investigations into Armstrong and doping in professional cycling that's ever been conducted. coming from a legal background, i was particularly interested in the weight of the evidence behind the allegations of doping.

well, the report is out, and you can read it for yourself. it's available at either of the 2 following links:
with respect to the report, i have to say it's pretty damning. ~1000 pages, with 200 pages of testimony from 26 witnesses, including 11 former teammates from the Tour de France victories. i won't summarize it here, since there have been very good commentaries in the media that i recommend, including the ESPN interview with USADA CEO Travis Tygart and the statement from a number of Armstrong's former and closest teammates:
going beyond the USADA report, i have very mixed feelings about this entire situation. to me, it's in some ways simple and in some ways complex.

it's simple in that the weight of evidence is now about as close to convincing (by the legal standards of a preponderance of evidence, clear & convincing evidence, and even beyond a reasonable doubt) against Armstrong. i recognize that without a "smoking gun" that much, if not all, of the evidence is circumstantial, but legal cases, even criminal ones, are often tried on the basis of circumstantial evidence in the absence of anything more direct. i'm among those who first believed, later questioned, then suspected that Armstrong had, like so many others in his sport during his era, engaged in doping. now, however, i'm among those convinced that he did.

it's also simple in that Armstrong was not the only one. in fact, i'm convinced that most, if not all, professional cyclists doped or are doping. and not just in the Tour de France. given the details of the USADA report, as well as all the other doping investigations conducted of other professional cyclists in recent years, i think it's clear that doping has and is widespread, common, systematic, and institutionalized not just as a culture among athletes but as a structure maintained by teams, sponsors, organizing bodies, and even government entities at all levels of professional cycling. the scale and intensity of it is just horrifying.

it is, however, so much more complex than just this. i'll put my thoughts in bullet points to help keep them organized:

  • given the scale and intensity, just what are the prospects of ever cleaning up this sport? when all elements related to the sport appear to be complicit or active in doping, who can be responsible for oversight or change?  and even if you change the structure, how do you change the culture?
  • given the scale and intensity, how do you change the record books? i'm not sure, but it seems that even though Lance Armstrong is stripped of his Tour de France victories, that all the other cyclists were also doping. in which case, do you have an entire era of cycling with races where the record books show *no* podium places?
  • given the scale and intensity, is it time to heed the voices of those who think that attempts to stop doping in sport is futile? some people refer to the U.S. experience with Prohibition, when the U.S. federal government engaged in a vain attempt to stop alcohol that drove the industry underground and encouraged the rise of organized crime. such voices claim that it's hopeless to try and stop doping in sport, and that all sports, not just cycling, need to consider acceptance of it or allow categories for athletes who engage in it.
  • sport is not just sport. athletes are not just athletes. sport and athletes are symbols and avatars for society at large. as public figures they exert an influence on society outside of competition. Lance Armstrong the cyclist became Lance Armstrong cancer fighter. the Livestrong Foundation has done a significant amount of work raising awareness and money to fight cancer. it has helped thousands, if not millions, of cancer victims and their families. what does the USADA report and the stripping of Tour de France victories do for them? should it do anything to them? will it change Lance Armstrong's role on behalf of them? should it change his role at all? 
  • is it really justice if the actions against Armstrong end up hurting all the people who have benefited from the Livestrong Foundation? it may be justice for cycling, it may be justice for all the cyclists hurt by doping, it may be justice for USADA, it may be justice for sports in general to take action against Armstrong. but is it justice if such actions hurt all those who have benefited from the Livestrong Foundation? for that matter, if action is taken against any and all cyclists who have doped, is it justice if it affects all the charitable work done by them? we might blame the athlete, but that's not much consolation if you're the one who's depending on the charity.
i don't have answers to any of these questions. like i said, they're just thoughts. and to me, indicators of just how far the ramifications of the doping era in cycling--and in sports--goes. it's not just a sports problem, it's a society problem.

i'm just shaking my head. like the kid said to Shoeless Joe Jackson in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal: say it ain't so, joe. say it ain't so.

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