Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Today is Livestrong Day and Lance Armstrong Was Doped to the Gills

Today is Livestrong Day, which commemorates the day that Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer. He came back from cancer, to re-enter the world of professional cycling. Helped by testosterone, EPO and blood transfusions, he won the Tour de France seven times. Lance, with his tainted winnings, established the Livestrong Foundation, which supports people with cancer.

This is not a simple ad hominem attack against Armstrong.

I am blunt because there are many who have bought into his claims that he has not really been convicted, that he is the victim of a witch hunt and a massive conspiracy, that he won seven Tours clean. He did not. All the second and third place finishers in all those Tours have been linked to doping cases. Many have confessed. Joseba Beloki, a second place finisher in 2002, was cleared by Spanish courts, although he was linked to a major doping case. Armstrong said he has passed hundreds of drug tests, but Marion Jones also passed hundreds of drug tests. They learned to evade the tests. Other cyclists learned too, but they were simply less meticulous than he.

Armstrong's continued lies deserve condemnation. But he's not alone. Cycling, my sport, has a sordid history of doping, and a code of silence still reigns over the professionals. American Major League baseball has its problems with steroids and human growth hormone.

Part of the problem lies with us, the viewers of sports.

We laud sporting heroes. We demand a spectacle. We pour billions of dollars in. Well, when there's money and fame at stake, people have an incentive to behave badly ... but then we sweep things under the rug. We say, OK, these are just rumors. This guy was found guilty, but he served his time. And he did raise substantial doubts about the testing methods - I did this with Tyler Hamilton, a colleague of Armstrong, who wrote and published a detailed confession. We all do this.

It's not practical to say that we should boycott professional sports, that we should take the all money out of them. It might well be an appropriate Christian response. But it won't happen in this world. Here are three things we can do.

1. If politics among cycling's governing bodies permit, is to have a truth and reconciliation commission. Confess fully. Tell us when, where, how. Who sold you the dope, who else you know did it. Do this and you're forgiven. But the sport has to be clean from now on, and if you're caught, or if you don't confess, then you're punished. Preferably heavily.

Pros: it's a very Christian thing to do.

Cons: it's going to be hard. Frankly, the doctors and others who enable the doping will stand to lose money, so they'll threaten riders. Riders will stand to be shamed, so they'll threaten their colleagues. But if we don't do this, there's little hope for actual transparency.

2. Continue refining test methods. Cycling now collects longitudinal blood data, multiple times a year, on all cyclists.

Pros: It's intrusive but it can help detect doping, and experts contend that it's really made things better.

Cons: It doesn't eliminate doping completely. People will always be ahead of the tests.

3. These idiots are just the sideshow. Get off your fat ass - you being the reader. Exercise. Take up a sport. You don't have to be good. Just get moving.

Pros: Sports are supposed to teach discipline and perseverance as well as keeping people entertained. You cannot learn discipline and perseverance from your couch.

Cons: None.

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