SPORTS WATCH | On Doping, Whistleblowers and False Redemption
by Gus Jarvis
Oct 25, 2012 | 1327 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print

I’ve gotten into a lot of arguments over the past week or so, ever since the final report that officially names Lance Armstrong and a supporting cast of teammates as dopers and cheaters. Frankly, most of the arguments I’ve been in stem from my distaste for whistleblowers and snitches who came forward with information after the fact.

Did I just say snitches? Am I really going to compare the Lance Armstrong scandal with the mafia, like Lance is some sort of godfather or Tony Soprano figure in the world of cycling? Well, it’s hard not to, especially when you read this quote that appeared on the front page of last Sunday’s New York Times.

“Lance Armstrong never came up,” Tour de California Director Andrew Messick recalled of a 2010 interview with Floyd Landis, who at the time, was coming clean about doping in the world of professional cycling. “But he did make a comment on the mafia. He said, When you’re in the mafia and you get caught and go to jail, you keep your mouth shut, and the organization takes care of your family. In cycling, you’re expected to keep your mouth shut when you test positive, but you become an outcast. Everyone turns their back on you.”

I find it hard to believe that the world of pro cycling was so intense, so corrupt and so flawed that it should be compared to the inner-workings of a ruthless mafia family. But, hey, I shouldn’t be so obtuse here – when there’s a lot of money at stake, that’s when mafia-like politics take shape.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always believed Armstrong was doping at some point during his run toward seven straight Tour de France titles. I think this has been in the back of most people’s minds over the years. So when this report finally came out on Oct. 10, there were many questions to be answered. How prevalent was doping on the U.S. Postal Service Team? How widespread was the doping culture? Was Lance really the ringleader? How did Lance beat the system for so long?

All of the answers these questions will be fascinating. For me, though, the most mysterious aspect is the mystery of what caused all of these cyclists and former teammates of Armstrong to come clean and out Armstrong as the world’s largest doper and cycling fraud? Why now? What happened to that mafia-style code of silence regarding Armstrong?

The story that appeared in Sunday’s New York Times gives a rough timeline of when the cycling world shifted against Armstrong – it all started with that interview Landis gave to Messick back in 2010. Because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was inept in garnering a positive doping test from Armstrong, it decided to invest in a sort of RICO Act investigation, relying on snitches.

From Landis, the investigation went to David Zabriskie, who showed up at a courthouse in 2010 to explain to investigators that being pushed to use drugs was one of the worst things he’s had to experience,because his father had a terrible history of drug use.

Next in line was George Hincapie, who raced alongside Armstrong for all seven of his Tour titles. Hincapie met with federal investigators voluntarily in 2010 to tell them he had doped, and that Armstrong was a doper too. From there, the investigation snowballed, picking up snitches at every corner. After all was said and done, in the investigation, the list of Armstrong teammates and pro cyclists who submitted sworn affidavits was long and noteworthy. Those riders include Landis, Zabriskie, Hincapie, Frankie Andreu, Tyler Hamilton Levi Leipheimer, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, and Jonathan Vaughters.

According to The Times, only Hamilton and Leipheimer opened up when a subpoena for a grand jury compelled them to. Everyone else decided they’d had enough of Lance’s legacy and turned on him.

Don’t get me wrong here. If there is a villain in all of this, it is Armstrong. Call him what you will. He’s a cheat, a fraud, a liar, doper, druggie, whatever. Just turn on any sports talk radio station these days and you’ll hear even more names called out. But I do think all of these turncoats should be called out as well. I am never impressed when a whistleblower blows the whistle – way after the fact.

Frankly, all of Armstrong’s teammates basked in the glory of victory over the years. They enjoyed the limelight. No, they weren’t Lance, but they were a part of Lance’s glory, and at the time, they all seemed to be pretty OK with the glory of winning. Why blow the whistle when things are fun? No, they waited until the glory days had ended – and then they blew the whistle. The fact of the matter is, these cyclists doped alongside Armstrong when it was convenient. Now they want to be good guys again.

What if they blew the whistle back in the day? What would Armstrong have done? Hired thugs to break some kneecaps? Maybe, but I suspect not. Would they be confined to a boring life inside a federal witness protection agency? Probably not.

The fact of the matter here is that these cyclists are good at following the leader. None of these guys had the balls to think on their own. When Armstrong and his cronies handed them various forms of illegal substances, what did they do? They took them. They followed the leader. When Landis started talking to investigators, what did the others do? They followed the leader and talked as well. Talk about a group of professional athletes without an ability to think and make decisions on their own. (At least Armstrong is sticking to his innocence. As crazy and as wrong as it seems, at least he is sticking to his story. He’s kind of like a young version of Ron Paul. Crazy and unwavering.)

I should mention former pro cyclist Scott Mercier in all of this. Here’s a guy who didn’t follow the leader. He was the one who was able to do what no one else did and refused to dope. As a U.S. Postal Service rider, Mercier resisted the doping, but in doing so, he had to turn down the offer of a new contract with the team and basically was forced to quit.

So, I guess, that was the major punishment for not doping – you get kicked off the team. Mercier was forced out of the sport he loved because he showed integrity in his decision-making. It’s too bad all those other snitches couldn’t follow Mercier as a leader. If they had, perhaps Mercier would still be riding and the cycling world of doping wouldn’t have gone this far.

Instead, all those whistleblowers chose to follow Armstrong into false glory, and now they want redemption.

Well, I’m not going to give it to them.

Twitter: @gusgusj 

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