I have a tendency to follow less than mainstream sports. I am a long time chess player and have always followed the tournaments, but the internet has allowed other native interests to blossom so that I can follow everything from Division III football to the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition in a very timely fashion.
But through the efforts of a co-worker I also follow some pro cycling, and the reaction of some American writers to the recent doping difficulties on the Tour de France is so silly as to be HC. HC, by the by, is the highest categorization given to a mountain on a Tour course, and translates roughly as “without comparison”.
For example, Michael Ventre at MSNBC wants to scrap the tour until it is perfectly clean. His colleage Bryan Burwell gets off a collateral shot while wallowing with his cynical side. In addressing the Barry Bonds fiasco he argues Bonds is not the only person in sports who is tainted, and then appends a list of names that included Lance Armstrong.
While I am not one to defend Tour officials and some of their questionable practices, one can only suspect from these columns that these and other writers have been engaging in some recreational chemistry of their own to toss this stuff out.
General to the topic, there is clearly as much chance of France moving to shut down the Tour as their is of a Greek held Olympic games deciding to cancel the Marathon event. The Tour is an event of international stature and national pride, and it will tough it out. Clearly if Mr. Ventre was engaging in real journalism, he would have made a similar suggestion about professional baseball during the steroid era…a column I cannot seem to find.
Regarding taint, Mr. Burwell might note that while Barry Bonds conduct has been of a level that he had to testify before a grand jury that Lance Armstrong-in winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times-was tested innumerable times and never failed a drug test. The French labs, which are so quick to claim doping, have never come close to reasonably suggesting he doped. When a sponsor attempted to welch on a contract with Armstrong because of doping concerns, Armstrong sued and won-which, if there was proof of doping, he could never have done.
Mr. Burwell also mentions Roger Clemens. Dang it and excuse me, but all I have never seen any allegation of doping on Mr. Clemens part…yet Mr. Burwell puts him in the same company as Barry Bonds and Floyd Landis (who, by the way, is still deep in an appeal process to show he is not guiltly of doping-which means the jury is still out). But that doesn’t matter to folks like BB, who prefer creation of flashy copy rather than good copy.
One of the mildly humorous aspects of all this is that the Doping enforcement model is based on a “guilty until proven innocent” concept…which I am sure these writers would find abhorent if applied to anything else.
The real cynicsm is found in Burwell’s comment “But the cheats are everywhere. The liars and witch doctors lurk behind every grand achievement.” He fails to mention the scribes and charlatans of the mass media who saw first hand what was happening, could have been in the forefront of sounding the call that something was amiss. To now adopt such a tone of ennui when sportswriters across the country saw what was in the locker rooms, saw up close and personal how these players bodies were being recreated, had the bully pulpit to say something-and didn’t…well, that is about as demented as it is to cast stones at folks who either have not been suspected or have been challenged and been found clean.
This is not to say that I approve of doping. I don’t. I think doping damages the players who use, undermines the sport they participate in, and sets an incredibly bad example for those who want to emulate them both morally and physically. However, as far as records go, baseball chose to turn a blind eye and not test. To the layman’s eye, Barry Bonds clearly juiced. Compare his body as a young man to what he has now, look at the sudden upturn in his statistics after the age of 35, and there really is no other explanation. However, without a test or without complete consensus to put an “RX” after steroid records, how can you say for a fact that he juiced? If he has the brazen chutzpah to say and believe he didn’t, and he wasn’t caught, and it wasn’t against the letter of the law when he did it, how can you not put him in the record books?
However, putting him in the record books does not mean we honor him. We don’t and we won’t. But unless you want to put an asterisk next to all those in positions of power who saw it happening and did nothing, how can you asterisk Bonds?
That’s crazy talk, as is talk about ending the tour or claiming that every great atheletic acheivement in the last fifteen years is questionable. It is the deluded babble of ink stained wretches who need to write something, anything, to meet deadline. It is the demented stylings of a profession who want to tear down folks they used to build up. It is the vicious scibblings of people who have a forum and an audience who find it easier to point fingers than to look in the mirror, own up to their part, and try to make things better so they are not tempted to indulge their silliness again.