Lance Throws In The Towel
Who would have thought that Lance Armstrong would throw in the towel in his drug case? Last month I briefly reviewed the pros and cons of the case and I was waiting for things to heat up in the next few months before I commented again. The pro Lance arguments go:
- He passed a gazillion drug tests.
- The federal investigation of him was abandoned making many people think there was no clear money trail that could be followed to support allegations of doping. Systematically beating doping control with blood transfusions is logistically complicated and can’t be cheap. So if the feds could not find a money trail maybe there wasn’t one.
The anti Lance arguments go:
- The drug tests are beatable (ask Marion Jones). So passing drug tests proves nothing.
- How could he dominate for so long and in many cases so decisively in a sport where a high percentage of the people he was beating were actually caught doping?
- Some of the power outputs that top people were doing during mountain stages in the Lance era are at the edge of what might be physiologically possible and are probably physiologically impossible.
- Rumors, rumors, rumors, rumors and would a guy like Lance ever “unilaterally disarm” if he thought the rest of the world was doping?
Here is what I thought might happen that did not. I expected a federal judge to rule that United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) was essentially an arm of the government. As an arm of the government USADA needed to follow certain standards of due process and that they were not. Lance then gets USADA in court and forces them to admit the limitations of drug testing and that he passed a bunch of tests even though he had been targeted for extra testing. There are also a number of credible expert witnesses who could easily have shot holes in some of the blood count numbers that USADA had deemed suspicious.
So then it would have been about what his ex-teammates were willing to say and how all of it sounded to a jury. A good lawyer could have had a field day. A star struck jury buys the arguments Lance and his team make and it is Lance 1, USADA 0.
For the younger people reading this post I thought of one precedent, Tarkanian vs. the NCAA, and have been surprised that no one in the mainstream media has made the connection. The basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian was in essentially a 20 plus year range war with the NCAA about claims of recruiting and other violations in the high profile college basketball programs he ran. He sued using some of the rationale I outlined above and eventually the case went to the U.S. Supreme court. Tarkanian lost there, but he was never banned from coaching and won a settlement from the NCAA based on claims that they were persecuting him. A lot of parallels with what might have happened had Lance pressed on.
Another issue that has been largely ignored by the mainstream media is how the whole issue of doping in sport, especially cycling, might have been handled differently. One idea is that there should have been a truth commission. In other words let everyone come clean, tell what they did, name names, and try to learn everything there is to learn about both the technical and cultural aspects of doping. Don’t strip anyone of medals or titles but get the truth out and improve the testing and compliance programs. Only go after the people who refuse to come clean.
The truth commission approach has been used to promote social reconciliation in places like post apartheid South Africa. Maybe it could have been used to clean up high level sport as well.
There is more than one way to define a level playing field, and in this era of rampant doping the athletes and those around them have been trying to define it themselves. Failing to use the truth commission or a related approach means that the cat and mouse enforcement games go on and that it is just a matter of time until there is another Marion Jones or Lance Armstrong. I believe the athletes want clean competition and that the key to this is fixing the culture which will require more than better drug tests.
This entry was posted on Friday, August 24th, 2012 at 6:52 am and is filed under Current Events, Elite Sports Performance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.