By Bob Cesca: Several weeks ago, I wrote about the most recent doping allegations against Lance Armstrong and detailed my ambivalence about performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in sports. To recap, while it’s competitively unfair, with wealthier teams/franchises/athletes getting better treatments thus giving them an unfair advantage, there are a wide variety of legal performance-enhancing mechanisms in sports, from supplements to state-of-the-art equipment and the like.
Today is the first rest day in the 2012 Tour de France following seven days of brutal crashes involving punctured lungs, lacerated kidneys, broken bones and battlefield injuries of all levels of severity. And no, my views on PEDs haven’t changed. Still frustratingly ambivalent. But the Tour is as spectacular as ever. Thrilling, excruciating and full of tradition and history (legendary former rider Marc Madiot’s cheering for French stage winner Thibaut Pinot — yes, it’s pronounced “Teebow” — was truly awesome to watch, and Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll continue to be the best commentators in all of sports.)
However, I’d like to revisit the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s new round of attacks against Armstrong.
First, news leaked out last week that the USADA has struck an immunity deal with current American Tour de France participants and former Armstrong teammates Levi Leipheimer, Jonathan Vaughters, George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie who will evidently testify against Armstrong in exchange for a six month out-of-season suspension for doping themselves — basically, a slap on the wrist. The USADA released a non-denial denial in the wake of the leak. Because they’ve heretofore had spotless records on doping, if these guys do in fact testify, the news will create shockwaves through the sport, likely causing additional riders to come forward in related or separate cases.
Next, Armstrong lost a lawsuit yesterday in which he tried to block the USADA’s investigation. He can re-file, but it probably won’t work. The USADA proceedings are too far along and too commonplace for a judge to make an exception in Armstrong’s case.
All of that said, the USADA investigation is absolutely a double-jeopardy witch hunt against Armstrong.
Whatever he did or didn’t do, and whatever PEDs he took or didn’t take, he passed every drug test he was ever administered by a variety of cycling officials.
Hundreds of them. And that should be it. Game over.
If the governing agencies and anti-doping units didn’t catch him contemporaneously, it’s their own fault. But it’s unfair for Armstrong to be repeatedly re-indicted like this. Again, he passed the tests already. By the rules established when he was an active pro rider, he was clean and free of PEDs. If they happened to have caught him doping at the Ironman Triathlon this October, then, by all means, throw the book at him. But re-litigating the drug tests from 13+ years ago is absolutely an injustice. (By the way, the USADA has banned Armstrong from participating in the Ironman this year because of this investigation.)
Engaging in a valiant, noble effort to ensure that sports are clean and on the level is one thing, but getting fanatical about a partially retired athlete and the drug tests he took more than a decade ago is ridiculous.
And you know what? I really don’t like Armstrong. I admire his accomplishments on a bicycle, of course, and I admire what he’s done for cancer victims, but like a lot of celebrities, I think he’s a self-absorbed prick with no sense of humor (he continues to inexplicably block me on Twitter after I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post in which I defended him against the 2010 doping accusations from Floyd Landis). I believe that he used PEDs like every other cyclist has, but it doesn’t matter. Unlike other cyclists, he miraculously passed the drug tests, and so, by rights, case closed. Armstrong slipped between the raindrops.
He might be spitting in the faces of anti-doping officials with his arrogantly vocal denials, but that’s not a legal justification for putting him on trial every Summer for infractions for which he’s already been exonerated in countless drug tests — not to mention the abandoned Novitsky investigation earlier this year. The on-going denials from Armstrong in the face of incredulous officials and fans only makes Armstrong a dick — it shouldn’t make him guilty after hundreds of previous rulings of innocence.