I’ve said multiple times on this blog that I think the whole steroid argument is a bunch of crap. Whether or not you believe that, there’s no denying the current situation with Lance Armstrong, when viewed against some other past instances, proves the typical American sports fan is a selective over-reactor when it comes to this subject.
To illustrate that point, this argument is broken into three distinct parts:
1) The Part Where We Feign Moral Outrage:
This part is defined by two words…Lance Armstrong.
Here’s a guy who we Americans elevated to hero status not because anybody gives a shit about cycling, but because he was good at pointing how much the French suck at everything. They can’t even cheat properly.
In June 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) charged Armstrong with having used performance enhancing drugs, and in August they announced a lifetime ban from competition as well as the stripping of all titles. This sanction however has yet to be ratified by the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the sports international governing body. At this point, that seems like a formality, but ultimately it really doesn’t matter.
What matters is that Armstrong’s name now goes right next to those of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, namely as guys who became selected targets to be whipping boys in sports that were awash in PEDs. Just like the Mitchell Report and Jose Conseco blew the whistle on the rampant using of PEDs in baseball, such activities in cycling are not news, nor are they a secret; here’s the list of just the guys we know about.
- Alex Zülle – Part of the Festina affair, a doping scandal surrounding the 1998 Tour de France. He admitted to taking EPO (but only to make his sponsors happy, he said).
- Jan Ullrich – He was banned from the Tour de France in 2006 amid doping speculation, and was stripped of his 2005 third-place finish as a result. Was named in the Operación Puerto (Operation Mountain Pass) case, a doping network run by Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. In 2012, Ullrich admitted to working with Dr. Fuentes, saying it was a mistake.
- Joseba Beloki – Implicated in the 2006 Operación Puerto doping case (though was later cleared).
- Andreas Klöden – Allegedly visited the Freiburg University Clinic during the 2006 Tour de France for an illegal blood transfusion.
- Ivan Basso - Involved in the Operación Puerto doping case, banned two years for “attempted doping.” He eventually “widely acknowledged his responsibilities” in connection with Operation Puerto and offered “full cooperation.”
- Alberto Contador – Stripped of his 2010 title after he was found guilty of doping. That title then went to Andy Schleck … whose brother, Frank, found himself in his own doping controversy during this year’s Tour.
Then, there’s the Floyd Landis case. Not only was this guy a PED user, he may also very well be a con artist.
What gets lost in all of this hub-bub over steroid and doping first surfaced during the Landis case…fund-raising under what may be less than honest circumstances. Landis is also in deep with the Justice Department because Landis established the Floyd Fairness Fund, which was intended to be little more than a donation fund for his defending against doping charges, which he falsely claimed were untrue. It is very possible he may go to jail over this matter.
“Landis ‘knowingly participated in a scheme or plan to defraud … money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises.’ Had he told the truth about his past, extensive use of doping, the prosecutors reasoned, at least some donors would not have been willing to help fund his defense.”
Now, look at Armstrong’s situation. On Wednesday, he announced he was stepping down as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation, which is reported to have raised in the neighborhood of $500 million for cancer research, treatment and support.
To really understand the Armstrong, let’s walk through it step-by-step.
First off, after two years, federal prosecutors dropped their doping investigation of Armstrong in February, with no charges filed. But then in June, the USADA picked up where they left off, accusing Armstrong of using EPO, blood doping, testosterone, corticosteroids, and masking agents. The USADA claimed they had blood samples from 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”
Stop me if any if this (cough, Roger Clemens’ case, cough…) sounds familiar.
Armstrong responded with the accusation that the USADA was violating their own rules while one of the doctors implicated in case denied the claims, claiming “These charges are the same as those which the Justice Department decided not to pursue after a two-year investigation.” Lance filed a lawsuit against the USADA on July 9, but it was thrown out by a judge the same day.
So Armstrong filed another lawsuit the very next day , but that suit got tossed on August 20. It needs to be noted that the judge who threw out the lawsuit also was suspicious of the USADA, saying “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention than faithful adherence to its obligations.”
I didn’t realize Bud Selig and Roger Goodell were members of the USADA. But I digress…
As a result of the dismissal of the lawsuit, Armstrong had until Thursday night to enter arbitration, but instead he opted to simply drop the case, releasing a statement on his website essentially saying “enough is enough.”
“I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart’s unconstitutional witch hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.”
After all this, the following day the USADA pounced. Despite never showing any physical evidence, and by securing testimonies of other riders in exchange for lessened penalties (cough, Jonathan Vilma’s case, cough…), and ignoring the fact some of those riders had personal vendettas against Armstrong, and despite the fact the USADA’s jurisdiction to act on this matter is questionable at best, they stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life. I’m not sure what point banning a retired guy makes, but I know the crucial point it misses.
In the finest traditions of Selig, Goodell, the NCAA, and any of the other hypocritical and ultimately impotent regulatory bodies ruling sport today, the USADA has simultaneously acted while completely failing to address the problem.
Unless the USADA has a time-machine, their decision does not change what happened years ago. It sure as hell doesn’t help clean up cycling. All it really does is show they are capable of making an example out of a supposed cheater.
In other words, even if the allegations about Armstrong prove to be true, that means the USADA made an example out of Armstrong the cheater, who beat all the other cheaters. Now that they stripeed him of those seven titles, there’s no way of knowing they didn’t just hand that so-called victory to another juicer.
So what’s this all mean? In short…not a goddamn thing. Why? Consider the following.
What happens if the allegations against Armstrong prove true? What happens if it turns out Livestrong was used as a front to fund a world-class organized doping operation? You would think this country would be up in arms over somebody using a cancer charity for a nefarious and/or self-serving purpose. But Americans won’t care about that. They will pretend to care about the “integrity of sport,” but won’t give a frog’s watertight ass about exploiting human suffering and death profit.
How do I know that? The NFL has been awash in PEDs and profiting from breast cancer for years, and nobody gives a shit.
2) The Part Where We Don’t Care: The NFL
For those of you who don’t remember, Houston Texans linebacker won the 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. He then that award stripped when it was discovered he had tested positive substance. But when the same writers who are so adept at creating the steroid boogie-man were give a chance to re-vote the award, they gave it it to Cushing AGAIN.
First of all, Cushing is the third winner of the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award to test positive for the use of PED’s in the past ten years (Julius Peppers and Shawne Merriman).
Second, many people don’t know that it took nearly a year for the NFL to act on Cushing’s positive test. Prior to the 2009 NFL regular season and we find that Brian Cushing failed a test in September for a substance on the NFL’s banned list, but thanks to various appeals and general red tape, no action was taken until after the season. Compare this to baseball, where there is such a rush to be seen to act that due process and proper procedure is tossed out the window. Even ESPN’s own coverage of this story almost breaks it’s own leg running to make sure you know steroids are really a cycling and baseball problem.
Thanks to ESPN and it’s ilk, football is portrayed as having it’s PED house in better order than baseball, despite the NFL can’t pass the “look how yoked up those dudes are” test that gets applied so liberally to baseball.
Granted, it isn’t hard to figure out that the sheer violent nature of football allows the “survival of the fittest” mentality from those who, from the safety of their sofas, demand entertainment through sheer brutality; a quality baseball most assuredly does not provide. This may be why steroids have been a tolerated part of the NFL since the 1960s.
Make no mistake, they were then, and still are tolerated. Baseball players who test positive get calls for asterisks next to their names, or that they be banished all together. I have yet to hear such calls for the Pittsburgh Steeler dynasty of the 1970s, where there was widespread use of PEDs. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for them, either.
To be honest, it is the guy on the couch who IS the asterisk. They are the reason there is no outrage about steroids in football. The reason is rather simple. Most football fans don’t understand baseball, so by using the same suppositions which have been proven true about football, they get to think they have something meaningful to say.
To put it simply, football is a sport about bigger, stronger, faster. The very nature of football relies on size and raw strength. Steroids definitely help those qualities. To gaze upon your average NFL player and see nothing but the work of genetic good fortune and hours in the weight room requires a level of blindness only bias can provide.
In contrast, baseball is a sport which relies on hand-eye coordination, which steroids definitely do not help. If that weren’t true, ask yourself this question. How is it during the steroid era, not one average player suddenly became a Hall-of-Famer? Barry Bonds won 4 MVP awards before the “steroid era,” and Mickey Morandini stayed Mickey Morandini.
What really ought to concern football fans is that steroids will ultimately destroy the game. Let’s be honest, there has to be a correlation between the use of anabolic steroids for purposes of creating bigger, stronger, and stronger football players and the increase in the number and severity of on-field injuries. PEDs can turn a man into a 250-pound mass of turbo-charged muscle, but the don’t help the brain protect itself from the impacts those leviathans dish out.
Boil it all down to gravy, and what you get is the fact that while the NFL does test for PEDs, but when those tests turn up positive, it’s back-page stuff; there’s none of the screaming for immediate execution like you get when it happens in baseball. Not only was there the aforementioned Brian Cushing situation, but Shawne Merriman was elected to the Pro Bowl after testing positive in 2006.
After all that, the point remains…despite what we know about steroid use in football, it’s the baseball players who are subjected to public scorn and derision far than anybody in the NFL. If Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire were football players, they would be in the Hall of Fame, no questions asked.
To make a long story short, the problem the baseball steroid moralists ignore is that PEDs in football most definitely have a greater effect on competitive integrity than they do in baseball, they’ve been around far longer in football, which is why they certainly are a contributing factor to football being a far more dangerous game than it was 30 years ago.
Where’s the outrage over that?
3) The Part Where We Over-React: The Melky Cabrera Situation
FACT: Melky Cabrera broke the rules.
FACT: Melky Cabrera got caught, and served his sentence.
FACT: Melky Cabrera is not the first, nor will he be the last, because…
FACT: Sports are now, have always been, and always will be, based on cheating.
Melky Cabrera tested positive for testosterone, and he got suspended. But for too many of the self-appointed steroid moralists, that just isn’t good enough.
For some (usually those who turn their back on the same stuff in football) want Bud Selig to channel his inner Roger Goodell and just start making up Draconian punishments “for the good of the game.”
As an example, I offer CBS Sports pointy-head Gregg Doyel, who never met a blanket assertion he didn’t love.
Have the Giants known all season that Cabrera was juicing? I can’t say that. But I can say this: They didn’t want to know.
Seriously, what good would it do the Giants in May, as Melky Cabrera was embarking on the hottest month of his mediocre career, to wonder aloud how in the world he was doing it? That month Cabrera hit .429 with an OPS of 1.104. Hone in a bit more, and from May 4 to June 1 he hit .445 with a 1.175 OPS. For a month, middling Melky Cabrera was Mickey Freaking Mantle. When the month was over, Cabrera’s batting average — for the season — sat at .376.
To repeat, Melky Carew Cabrera was hitting .376 on June 1. Hell, he was still hitting .346 when it was announced that he had failed a drug test and would be suspended 50 games.
There’s two big assertions right off the bat, so to speak. First, Doyel admits he has now way of knowing whether or not the Giants knew about Cabrera, but that doesn’t stop him from braking the the “guilt by association” broad brush. I can’t wait to see how many comments I get that will do exactly the same thing.
Then there’s the part where Doyel shows his general ignorance of baseball. He compares Cabrera to Rod Carew, then to Mickey Mantle. That ‘s is comparing apples, to oranges, to a lugwrench. Either way, Doyel uses those stupid comparisons to ignore the fact that Cabrera’s performance could easily be explained by the fact that as a Giant, he’s playing the majority of his games in NL West parks, all of which are huge and have huge alleys, which are well-suited to a gap-hitter like Cabrera. After all, it isn’t like all of a sudden he was hitting 40 homers.
But, wait…Doyel gets even more self-righteous.
No team should be able to reap the rewards of a cheating player. Not anymore. Not in today’s baseball, which claims to be trying so hard, and caring so much, about the integrity of its game.
You want to show integrity, baseball? Don’t just punish the player when he gets caught cheating. Punish the team that won all those games unfairly.
Don’t forget Doyel already admits that he has now way of knowing that a team would be aware of a player’s cheating, but he still wants to punish everybody, lumping in the guilty with the innocent and tossing them all into the steroid moralists’ prison.
Not to mention, I would love to see how this sort of punishment gets past the player’s union in ANY sport, let alone baseball.
Then there’s the really fun part. When will I see this same call applied to football? I’ll die waiting for that to happen.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why any of these dopes don’t see the real problem. You can wave a magic wand and asterisk the whole record book if you want, it still doesn’t hit the real motivation…money. Sport is the purest meritocracy there is, and if you want to remove the concept of cheating for purposes of financial gain, you have to make the risk far outweigh the reward.
You want to end the use of PEDs in sports? Forget about suspensions. Go with real punishments, say something like a $10 million fine for a first offense, and no chance of re-instatement until the fine is paid. Yeah, don’t bother telling me about how the unions would never go for that…but that brings us to the point of what needs to happen if you really want this problem solved. Through whatever means, the leagues, the owners, the unions, and more importantly the fans, all have to get on the same page. Crying about the use of PEDs in sports while you keep buying tickets rings a bit hollow.
Generalizations and over-reactions don’t help, and being selective about which sports in which you will accept cheating makes it even worse.