Was Armstrong Strong-armed?

    Whether you side with Armstrong or with USADA, it seems that the only time we care about who is doping is when the athlete is successful. Did you know that there have been 21 total athletes that have received sanctions in 2012 from the USADA? Seven of these were cyclist related athletes. Three of those resulted in lifetime bans (Lance Armstrong, Michele Ferrari & Luis Garcia del Mora). Of these three, only ONE person was also sanctioned with loss of results, which was Lance Armstrong (probably because the other 2 guys are doctors, not athletes). The other 4 cyclists only received 2 year suspension plus loss of results. So what is the difference between those 4 cyclists and Armstrong? OH yes, Armstrong is famous, successful, and a strong cycling icon. Even people who do not follow cycling know him!

    “Brandt-Sorenson is also disqualified from all competitive results obtained on or subsequent to August 31, 2011, the date the Masters Road Nationals event began, including forfeiture of any medals, points, and prizes.” Brandt-Sorenson tested positive for Efaproxiral.

    Also, according to USADA, “Robertson’s (another sanctioned cyclist) 15 month period of ineligibility was reduced from the standard two-year period based on his providing Substantial Assistance under article 10.5.3 of the World Anti-Doping Code. Robertson began serving his sanction on February 14, 2011, while continuing to cooperate with USADA. As a result of the sanction, Robertson is also disqualified from all competitive results obtained on or subsequent to November 1, 2009, the date of his first use according to his admissions during the course of USADA’s investigation, including forfeiture of any medals, points, and prizes.” He “tested positive for a banned oxygen-enhancing peptide hormone as the result of a sample collected as part of USADA’s Out of Competition Testing Program on February 11, 2011.” So this guy became a finger-pointer to the USADA (a snitch) and was given a reduced sentence. Doesn’t say much for character when you are a cheater and snitch – yes I am sure his word is as good as gold as a snitch.

    “Stacy accepted a sanction resulting in a six-month period of ineligibility, beginning on May 1, 2012, the date she accepted a provisional suspension. As a result of the sanction, Stacy is also disqualified from all results obtained during any Competition at the BMX National Championships on April 1, 2012 and any other competitive results obtained subsequent to April 1, 2012, including forfeiture of any medals, points, and prizes.” Of course, this is unique because the drug in question can be found in a ton of various herbal supplements, including prescription medication for things like ADD and ADHD. Even the USADA states, “The ongoing problem of dietary supplement mislabeling continues to create a risky environment for athletes. Unfortunately, due to the current permissive regulations governing the supplement industry, USADA cannot give guarantees to athletes regarding whom products are safe and free from contamination.” So they don’t know what does and doesn’t contain this drug, so the athletes have to figure it out for themselves? Since its inception, the FDA has no jurisdiction on herbal supplements, which have varying amounts of active ingredients even in the pills that are in the same bottle. However, it seems a little comical that the USADA would hold athletes accountable for this issue instead of the FDA. We are now expecting an average athlete to know the ingredients of a supplement that is for sale at the local pharmacy when the FDA has no clue.

    Finally, #4 was David Anthony, who tested positive for EPO, was banned for 2 years and stripped of his winnings, too.

    So what’s the difference between them and Armstrong? Well, Armstrong is a huge national and international icon, successful, and a huge contributor to cancer research (to the amount of over $500 million). His winnings on the bike have been unprecedented. Oh, and Armstrong did NOT test positive with the USADA during their witch hunt! “USADA announced today that Lance Armstrong has chosen not to move forward with the independent arbitration process and as a result has received a lifetime period of ineligibility and disqualification of all competitive results from August 1, 1998 through the present, as the result of his anti-doping rule violations stemming from his involvement in the United States Postal Service (USPS) Cycling Team Doping Conspiracy (USPS Conspiracy). Mr. Armstrong chose not to contest the fact that he engaged in doping violations from at least August 1, 1998 and participated in a conspiracy to cover up his actions.” How classless is it that the USADA states that he chose not to “contest the fact that he engaged in doping violations and participated in a conspiracy to cover up his actions.” It is a matter of semantics. To word it this way truly attempts to paint LA as some sort of a demonic, creepy- Mr. Burns-type of character hiding in a cave somewhere, hunched over by the weight of his own guilt. They could have said that he declined to contest accusations of doping, but that would not have the same effect, would it. They could have said that after battling cancer that threatened to take his life for two years, winning 7 TDF races, surviving accusations of doping for each race, relentless training, providing countless previous drug tests conducted by foreign administrations as well as the USADA over the past 9 years (which he passed each of them), announcing his retirement at the age of 40 from a sport America hadn’t even heard of until Lance Armstrong came along and dominated it, and creating an organization that has raised over $500 million since its inception (before he became a bad ass of the cycling world): He simply is out of gas to face bogus charges with baseless accusations in a lawsuit created by the USADA breaking all of its own rules to customize LA’s downfall. He recognizes that regardless of what he does, his name is now associated with doping, and the likelihood of getting a fair hearing from an organization that unilaterally is the judge, jury, and executioner is not likely. Even adhering to the rules and remaining in the perimeters set by the USAPA, Roger Clemens continues to suffer fallout. His name is forever tarnished as a doping cheater even though there was no evidence to substantiate the claims. So because he chose not to fight against USAPA’s accusations, he is guilty (according the USADA). I can’t blame Armstrong for NOT contesting it. If an athlete wants to contest, “The athlete has the right to contest the sanction sought by USADA. The athlete may elect to proceed to a hearing before the American Arbitration Association (AAA) using a single arbitrator (or a three-arbitrator panel, if requested by either of the parties) selected from a pool of the North American Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) arbitrators, who shall also be AAA arbitrators. The American Arbitration Association Supplementary Procedures for Adjudication of Doping Disputes (the “AAA Supplementary Procedures”) and the USADA Protocol apply to the hearing before AAA/CAS. The regular CAS Appellate rules apply to hearings held before CAS.” So you can contest your accusations with the people who helped make the accusations and build the case against you in the first place? If you have ever been a party to a law suit, it takes a lot of time, money, and is incredibly stressful. They pick through every detail of our life and twist any evidence to suit their desired outcome. Not to mention, all it takes is the accusation to ruin a reputation, proof is rarely required after an athlete is accused of doping. Because they are great (like Armstrong) at their sport, it’s just easier to believe they are doping and not working their asses off living, breathing, and doing their sport every waking moment.

    Most of us cannot comprehend the dedication it takes for these athletes to be good, yet alone, great. In the back of our minds, when an outstanding athlete is accused of doping, we all being to think, “Yeah, that makes sense. He was too good to be true.” Regardless of how much loved them, cheered for them, or bought their jersey, they are forever burned in our brain as cheaters and we pretend we never liked them or believed in them to begin with. How fickle our society is…we demand the nearly impossible from our greats, and when their Achilles tendon is exposed, we become deflated and lose faith in their outstanding abilities.

    “The evidence against Lance Armstrong arose from disclosures made to USADA by more than a dozen witnesses who agreed to testify and provide evidence about their first-hand experience and/or knowledge of the doping activity of those involved in the USPS Conspiracy as well as analytical data. As part of the investigation Mr. Armstrong was invited to meet with USADA and be truthful about his time on the USPS team but he refused. “I love whoever writes for the USADA. This quote implies that LA refused to be truthful about his time on the UPSP team, instead of what he actually refused, which was to contest the bogus claims of their “dozen witnesses.” Bottom line, USADA does not have one test that Armstrong took that meets their criteria for a “positive test,” only the word of “a dozen witnesses.” And this is now all it takes to convict someone of a crime? Witnesses hold very little water due to the idea of “reconstructive memory” and the like, but tests are far more valuable. Of course, the USADA insists, “Additionally, scientific data showed Mr. Armstrong’s use of blood manipulation including EPO or blood transfusions during Mr. Armstrong’s comeback to cycling in the 2009 Tour de France.” This is interesting and sounds very condemning. Except that how can they have scientific data that showed “EPO OR blood transfusions?” A conclusive test that is strong enough to convict would have a definitely clear indication of EPO. Or blood transfusions. However, according to the USADA, the test shows “EPO (erythropoietin – which is something our bodies can produce on its own when we are short on oxygen carrying capacities – and thus creates more red blood cells), OR blood transfusions. The word “or” implies a choice, whereas the word “scientific evidence” implies there is a decisive piece of firm information. To me, it sounds like USADA has more circumstantial or potential scientific evidence…which can be surmised as bullshit.

    This was a pathetic witch hunt ran by an agency with no checks and balances, and who has administered grossly unjust punishment on Armstrong. Do we care? Well, I do. But little will change while the USADA sets its own rules and then proceeds to break them when Mr. Travis Tygart decides to do so. It seems tragic that Mr. Tygart and the USADA exert all efforts and spare no expense in chasing down a successful athlete while ignoring and/or applying weak penalties for less successful (or unknown) athletes. Some sanctions were lessened if the accused finger pointed. So while these athletes are deprived of their successes, have had their reputations shattered, and suffer the stress and humiliation even if they DO contest USADA findings, the bottom line is once the accusation is made, it sticks…whether they were cleared or not. Just ask Roger Clemens.

    I wish they would turn their blood hounds onto our US government to sniff out cheaters, liars, and thieves and stick these rules (whether currently in place or made up as needed) to them. Hell, that’s money far better spent!

    What’s the solution? Well, how badly do we want to know if an athlete is cheating? As far as Olympic sports go, let the Olympic committee do the testing PRIOR TO and IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING a competition. And test them ALL, not just the winners. The gold goes to the first athlete who passes the drug tests and crossed the finish line first. But what about the NBA, NFL, MLB, and all the other sports we celebrate throughout the year? Who deemed the USADA as the grand poo-bah of the sports industry?

    I think that each league/sport should have their own policy enforcing body. If a baseball player is accused of doping, then let that play out before the MLB governing body for testing, sanctioning, etc. I am betting these organizations have far more money than the USADA and they have more vested in their sport than the USADA. They can fund it out of those exorbitant salaries of their players, the owners/managers, ticket sales, etc. Let each organization care for and police their own. If a league doesn’t believe doping to be wrong, then so be it. If the fans object, and the sales slowdown, then chances are the league will re-evaluate their mandates.

    The USADA claims their mission to be, “To be the guardian of the values and life lessons learned through true sport.” Yet, at what age does this apply? Did they drug test the little league baseball team when they won the little league baseball world series? Why not? At what level of athlete do we care? If I told you that a junior high softball player you never heard of used EPO in order to win a local tournament, would you care? Chances are you would think the parents are participating in a form of child abuse or something along those lines, but would you be utterly concerned about the integrity of the tournament? Would we strip them of their little trophy and give it to the second place team? Would we drug test the second place team before we handed over that same trophy?

    Truth is, for those of us that like sports of various forms, when an athlete stands out above the rest as exceptional, they capture our attention. They are viewed as just a fraction above human. We want them on our fantasy football team. We buy their jersey. We follow their stats and buy tickets to their games. We stay up at odd hours to watch them in the Olympics. We live our imaginary athletic version of ourselves vicariously through them and celebrate their victories and share their defeats. When our awesome sports hero so much as becomes accused of drug use, many feel betrayed or cheated. We stop buying the merchandise and tickets, and we celebrate their defeats. We begin seeing funny memes online and that same once-celebrated athlete becomes a punch line.

    Do we own any of this as spectators? Have we become the creator of our own monsters? Pressure can do terrible things to a person. Pressure to out-perform, out-do, out-run, and continue to rise to the challenge of competition in a forum as competitive as professional sports can bring an honest athlete to a pivotal moment. To dope, cheat, quit, escape through recreational drugs, and simply have mental breakdowns. Athletes live a very different life with very different pressures and require very different kinds of care and support. Life in the limelight isn’t always glowing.

    By allowing each sport to rule over their professionals, it frees up our tax dollars, holds the sport accountable to itself, and delineates its own types of followers. In a society of capitalism, it truly makes sense. We are already heading toward a socialized healthcare system, and now perhaps in a way, we are become a socialized professional sports society. All athletes are being held to the same standard? No. Only the elite athletes are being held to the same standard.

    Either test them ALL (not just the winners/elite), or test none. Accept that more athletes dope than we would ever really want to know, or pretend that none of them do it. Accept that drug pushers of every type are typically ahead of the game and when the rules change, they are quick to make adjustments to keep their product under the radar.

    The real problem isn’t really the doping, or how to find out who is and who isn’t doing it. The true problem is corruption. Who is doing the testing? Who stands to benefit if someone fails a test? Who stands to gain from it? Who brings charges? Who benefits and who doesn’t when an athlete’s name makes it to the news for doping before allegations are ever proven? Is doping truly cheating (many “natural” things can be done to obtain the same results and many athletes know it and do it, but it’s not cheating)? How much value should we be placing on sports in the first place? Sports have a special place in our society. The revenue generated from sports is beyond most of our comprehension with numbers so large; we truly cannot fathom the amount. It brings on many memories, emotional ties, and aspirations for so many. But why do we police it? It seems somewhat sad that we have state of the art stadiums with security that is equally state-of-the-art, while many of our schools are falling down and we have children carrying guns to class. They offer security at every level protecting our athletes, patrons, and employees, while our students are gunned down after recess at our schools. Athletes drive high dollar vehicle and get fancy grills on their teeth while our elderly have to choose if they will purchase food or medication for the month. We gasp and become passionate when one major athlete falls, yet we do not look twice at the news when they report a rape or gang violence in our cities. We shake our fists in the air, stand up and yell at our TV, and talk about it at work with our friends when our team fails to win. Yet, we simply shake our heads at hearing about a drunk driver that killed a family on a Saturday night.

    Lance Armstrong is an athlete, and his victories should not be tainted and/or stripped for accusations and baseless claims. Though it is sad, I do understand and respect his decision to not contest the claims. It is hard to imagine the trials and personal investment that goes into earning gold in 7 TDF races, and how he would be ready to just surrender instead of fighting for them. However, the man has fought most of life. He fought cancer, he fought against competitors, he fought against doping allegations for years, and he has fought to establish a very successful charity for cancer research. So to stand back and be upset that he isn’t contesting only solidifies that we hold our athletes to standards we do not hold to ourselves. Every man has their limits, and for their own well-being, they should.

    Had LA truly doped, it wouldn’t surprise me. If he didn’t dope, it wouldn’t surprise me.  In the world of competitive cycling, doping knows no boundaries.  But, I see LA as more than an athlete. He was untouchable in his field, he had the Armstrong Foundation before he began cycling, he beat cancer, and he refused to play the game with the USADA and called them out on their short-comings (which of course they completely ignored and never responded to). To strip him of all 7 medals and victories is pointless (not to mention baseless). What would they do? Hand them down the to the 14th place guy who either didn’t dope or was never tested for doping? Any guy who has generated $500 million for cancer research is pretty cool. A guy who did it based on a name not many Americans knew until he won an unprecedented number of victories in a sport that not many Americans ever followed until he came along: Well, that guy is OUTSTANDING. I believe in LA, and I believe accusing ANY professional cyclist of doping is certainly within the realm or plausible.  However, defending such an allegation after passing countless drug tests is still difficult, expensive, and humiliating…whether guilty or not.  Cycling is closely related to doping, and it’s just how it is and has been since its inception.  Did he dope?  I cannot say.  I don’t want to believe he did, but I must conceed that as rampant as doping is in cycling, it’s certainly plausible.  However, does he deserve to have all his title stripped (after he’s already been tested and passed for and during those victories)? No way.  Is he somehow less of an athelete or man? No way.  One thing I am certain of: I believe that USADA is wrong for setting the rules, and then changing those rules in the middle of the game (the game of trying to nail an athlete to the wall). If anyone has cheated, it’s the USADA.

    Live Strong.

     

    Sources:

    http://www.usantidoping.org/

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/lance-armstrongs-full-statement-on-usada

    www.bicycle.net