I’m not really much of a cycling fan, but I am a sports fan who lived in Austin, TX for part of Lance Armstrong’s string of Tour de France victories. Thus, I am not completely unbiased when it comes to the recent USADA allegations against Lance. However, I don’t think anyone else is either. More importantly, the situation is far more complicated than the popular press has been reporting. To pick just one example, check out the Huffington Posts rather short blurb about the situation.
I didn’t write about most of the mainstream press stories because–stop the presses–this is a regular occurrence for the mainstream press. However, seeing John Gruber’s recent link to the new book coming out by Tyler Hamilton made me at least want to discuss this one element of the situation: There is no ‘smoking gun’ here; this situation is massively complicated. Hamilton may have absolutely no credibility left. He is either a nearly broke, mentally ill individual that basically drove away his first wife, or he is simply a divorcee suffering from depression and seeking to make some money by telling an important story. Either way, he’s not being altruistic about this situation; he’s here to hock a book not graciously unveil the smoking gun that should have been revealed years ago.
Many of the facts of this case can be interpreted one way or the other. We know for a fact that the USADA alleges that Armstrong was doping. Was the USADA simply doing its job or were they on a crusade against Lance? We know for a fact that Armstrong is not contesting the charges. Is not contesting the charges an admission of guilt or was Lance really just tired of the fighting? We know for a fact that Armstrong never actually failed a drug test during his career. Is that because he wasn’t doping or because he was simply better at it than everyone else?
I don’t think there’s an easy answer here, and there are many parallels to baseball’s situation with the steroid era. How do you rewrite the record books to serve justice? It’s complicated. I think the best writing I’ve seen about Lance’s situation is from Craig Miller, a sports radio host in Dallas:
Do I think Lance doped? I think he’s a true freak of nature, and stronger in the mind than most athletes I’ve ever covered–yet, it’s hard to believe that he won cleanly when everyone else was doping. I believe he was better than everyone, but not that much better. However, the playing field was level–practically everyone in the 90′s and 00′s in the pro peloton was doping, therefore, Lance was the strongest. If the entire peloton, including Lance, had been clean, I believe Lance still wins. So, while I think it was highly probably that Lance doped, I don’t think it gave him an unfair advantage since everyone else was doping, too. It doesn’t make what any of them did right, it’s just (as Dan McDowell might say) the way it was.
I’m not sure I believe Lance was doping. He never failed a test during his career, and there were definitely others who did. It wasn’t like baseball prior to 2005; there was a testing procedure in place. If it wasn’t working, then we can fix it, but I’m tired of all the after-the-fact second guessing that goes on for decades. I’m starting to feel that the best approach to situations like this is to have a testing process and stick with it. If someone fails at the time, then they are out. If someone doesn’t fail, then they are in. If they were clever enough to beat the test, then so be it. Once you start questioning people who haven’t failed a test, then the whole thing devolves into a giant “he said, she said” argument with tons of money on both sides. Situations like that are massively complicated, and no one ever really wins them.