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The imminent Lance Armstrong PED hubub will be instructive

Jan 19, 2011, 9:29 AM EDT

Lance Armstrong

My steroids bailiwick is pretty much limited to baseball, so I view the latest stuff about Lance Armstrong as a civilian. I don’t know much about it other than to say that (a) cycling is apparently rotten with PEDs; and (b) any criminal investigation led by Jeff Novitzky should be viewed with extreme dubiousness given his track record.  But no, I have no clue if Armstrong took steroids and, aside from the ecological implications of 50 million people throwing away their “Livestrong” bracelets at once, I really don’t care.

But Buster Olney raises a baseball-related question about it this morning:

Should Armstrong be viewed in the same light as Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro and other ballplayers linked to PEDs?

Of all the cases of the baseball players, Armstrong’s most resembles that of Clemens — in the face of a lot of evidence, Armstrong, like Clemens, has angrily denied use of performance-enhancing drugs, while attacking the credibility of his accusers. If Clemens and Armstrong have been lying, they are bald-faced, unrepentant lies.

And while Clemens has never had the warm and fuzzy image that Armstrong has, as the cyclist has helped lead the fight against cancer, the pitcher — like Armstrong — has done a whole lot of philanthropic work.

It’s a tough question.

I tend to think that most of the outrage about steroids in baseball is based on the notion that baseball was somehow pure and golden and symbolic and all of that counterfactual barfy stuff, and as such the people who have brought the outrage over it have done so out of a sense of misplaced betrayal, not because the ‘roiding is such a grave transgression in and of itself.  Cycling certainly isn’t like that.

But of course, Armstrong transcended cycling a long time ago, in part because of his dominance, but also because of his inspirational story. Beating cancer. Honing his body to ridiculous levels of efficiency. Dating Sheryl Crow and Kate Hudson when that meant something.

In light of that, if the PED allegations against him pan out, I would guess that Armstrong gets some pretty rough treatment, especially in the cycling world (France will probably issue a shoot-to-kill order).  But I also guess that all of his anti-cancer work and the fact that he has transcended the relative backwater that is international cycling, mainstream America will view him as a flawed but still-worthy figure.  He’ll get smacked around a whole hell of a lot, but he won’t be demonized like Clemens and Bonds have been.

  1. BC - Jan 19, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    Novitsky isn’t exactly the most reliable source out there. And Floyd Landis ceased having credibility years ago. Hopefully this just goes away. He’s racing his last competitive race this week, anyway. And he’s done 500,000,000 times more good outside his sport than Bonds, Clemens and the rest of the (alleged) baseball PED users have done combined.

    • Utley's Hair - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:06 AM

      Wasn’t his last competitive race back when he won the Tour de France last time? Dude is like Jordan and Favre.

  2. lar @ wezen-ball - Jan 19, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    The biggest thing Lance has going for him, besides his image as a hero, is his long history of drug tests. Sure, his accusers will say they were wrong or tainted with untestable drugs or whatever, but Lance being able to say “I passed those tests” will go a long way to challenging the credibility of his accusers…

  3. theswordsman - Jan 19, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    #1, it’s not a steroid story. As far as doping, cyclists have for years been doing own blood transfusions. You can do it any time and not fail a drug test. Period. The story isn’t about Landis either – he was just the beginning of this big push. If you don’t think he’s credible, how do you feel about the Italian police? Or the Spanish, or Interpol, or the French anti-doping agency, because Novitsky & an FBI Special agent met with all of them last year. This won’t be a story about a guy getting drugs at the gym and cheating to win at sport – according to the SI article it could be “conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering, drug trafficking and defrauding the U.S. government.” Others have suggested perjury in winning a $7.5 million lawsuit, possible violations as an employer, etc. Forget the steroids and wait.

  4. theswordsman - Jan 19, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Cyclists have been transfusing their own blood during the Tour de France for years, and there is no test for it. You just don’t let anyone see the blood bags. A lot of the tests aren’t for substances, they’re to go on file for the Biological Passport. Give someone half an hour notice of a test and they can hang a bag of saline, drink water, or do various other things to beat the test. A guy named Frei tested positive for microdosing EPO a year ago because he didn’t drink a liter of water before the test at six the next morning. Under 23 Lithuanian riders had detailed microdosing regimens and were only caught at a border crossing – they never tested positive either. People have bribed labs for warnings. There are twenty other things I could say. It’s easy to not get caught. The UCI wants to give the image of a clean sport, not clean it up. Seriously, this story can be huge.

  5. phillysoulfan - Jan 19, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    The simple truth is, and people in cycling have been saying this for years, Lance Armstrong is not a good guy. He’s probably worse then Bonds, Clemens, etc.

    And please spare me he had cancer crap. Millions of people have cancer. None of them can do what he did. That should tell you something.

    • Tim's Neighbor - Jan 19, 2011 at 10:32 AM

      Hell yeah. The guy is way overrated and a jerk. I remember when my grandpa beat cancer and came back to win the WWE championship belt 6 times. I don’t find his story inspirational at all. Only idiots (like Peter LeFluer) would buy into that.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:26 AM

      And please spare me he had cancer crap. Millions of people have cancer. None of them can do what he did. That should tell you something.

      Love this line of thinking. So because millions of people have something, but no one can replicate a person’s achievements, we should question their ability? Change Lance Armstrong to Babe Ruth, or Wayne Gretzky, or Pele, or Michael Jordan….

    • drunkenhooliganism - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:34 AM

      Millions of people take steroids and none of them have raised as much awareness and money about cancer as Armstrong. That should tell you something.

  6. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jan 19, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    If I can’t say Milton is guilty yet then I will withhold judgment on Armstrong as well. Phooey.

    • Utley's Hair - Jan 19, 2011 at 2:25 PM

      Sucks, doesn’t it?

  7. apbaguy - Jan 19, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    Very tough call on this one. Lot’s of correct observations in the comments so far: plenty of “smoke” concerning Armstrong, lots of jealousy from rival riders and teams, history of PEDs in the sport way beyond what baseball is used to, you can beat the tests-especially if you have money and are well connected, Floyd Landis is the Conseco of his sport, and while Armstrong has extreme jerkish tendencies, his off track work is admirable.

    What does all that tell us? Outside the Tour de France, 99% of baseball fans couldn’t name a competitive bike race (Paris-Tours, anyone?). That’s neither good nor bad, but it’s why the TdeF is on Versus and not on the Worldwide Leader every day in July. Second, even among racing fans, everything builds to the TdeF and then falls away from that event. It’s incredibly popular in Europe (see the crowds lining the route de tour for their 8 second glimpse of the peloton. Truly amazing.) Lance dominated the TdeF for 10 years and this angered and infuriated his rivals, the European press, and many, many European fans. So along with the smoke, there is a huge wagon load of sel de mer that goes with any accusation from these sources. Still, there’s a LOT of smoke. There may never be conclusive proof. We may never know for sure.

    • Tim's Neighbor - Jan 19, 2011 at 12:50 PM

      Even Canseco isn’t on Landis’s level. Hacking into the anti-doping agency? Only admitting doping after being caught and tried and losing multiple appeals. Only naming names after got caught. Sorry, Landis has zero credibility. Canseco, desperate as he might be for fame still, never sank to Landis’s level.

  8. monsieurbear - Jan 19, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    “Doubiousness”? That would have been stricken by your supervising partner in a millisecond. Perhaps you were looking for “doubt”.

  9. paintedbirds - Jan 19, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    Another reason to regard the SI story with caution: Selena Roberts is the author. She continued to press the Duke Lacrosse rape story even when DA Nifong’s case fell apart. Similarly she mixed unproven and circumstantial allegations about A Rod’s high school steroid use and pitch tipping to opponents with proven charges about steroid use when Rodriguez was with the Rangers. Not a track record that inspires complete confidence in her journalism.

  10. baseballstars - Jan 20, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    If Armstrong was using PEDs and lied about it, the only reason I’d feel angry is because he could have helped us understand how some of the drugs he was using could help people who are suffering from cancer.

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