Friday, August 24, 2012

You can rewrite record books, but you can't rewrite memories

On June 2, 2011, the War on Drugs, the United States initiative to reduce the worldwide illegal drug trade, was declared a failure by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
On August 24, 2012, the War on Drugs in the sports world should be declared a failure.
Late Thursday night, the United States Anti-Doping Agency stripped Lance Armstrong of his record seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life from cycling.
The ruling came after Armstrong chose to discontinue his fight against the USADA’s doping charges, the final salvo in Armstrong’s previously never-ending fight against allegations of drug use by cycling federations around the globe.
“I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999,” Armstrong said in a statement Thursday night. “The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.”
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now,” Armstrong said in a statement.
If there were an imaginary line of people lining up in support of Armstrong you would find me at the back of that line.
But what has been proven by Armstrong being stripped of his Tour titles?
There are two conclusions I can draw: revisionist history and mudslinging.
And neither are productive.
Operating from an imaginary perch of moral superiority, we have seen doping agencies and the U.S. government pursue users of performance-enhancing drugs and try to knock them down to size.
Armstrong called the USADA investigation against him an “unconstitutional witch hunt” and I can’t disagree.
Armstrong and baseball’s Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the headliners in the hunt for PED users.
Bonds and Clemens were each acquitted in perjury cases against them in the last two years, but the court of public opinion has not ruled in each of their favor over time – and that’s where it should end.
In cycling, the record book now reads that only one American has ever won the Tour de France, Greg Lemond in 1986, 1989 and 1990. With Armstrong’s seven removed and Floyd Landis’ 2006 win vacated in 2010, Lemond now stands alone.
The ruling against Armstrong drags the sport he brought great notoriety through the dirt even more than it has already been in, becoming the third rider (Landis, Alberto Contador and Armstrong) to be stripped of the yellow jersey.
But have the memories of people who celebrated the wins of Armstrong, an undisputed cancer survivor and philanthropist, or the riders who lost to him on those seven occasions been wiped from their minds?
I didn’t think so.
Ask any Penn State alumnus from the past decade what their football game experience was like. In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, late coach Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions were forced to vacate 112 wins, dating back to 1998.
Penn State isn’t the only school to have wins “vacated” by the NCAA. USC football, UMass and Memphis men’s basketball programs have also been stripped of wins and championships in the past decade.
So the 100,000-plus fans to pack Beaver Stadium on a weekly basis all fall for the entire decade were all in dreamland? Well then...
Surprisingly, it seems baseball has gotten it right with PEDs. Since the Mitchell Report in 2007, Mark McGwire, of the great home run chase of 1998, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and former Clemens best friend Andy Pettitte are among players who have admitted steroid use. In the last month the San Francisco Giants’ Melky Cabrera, the All-Star Game MVP in the middle of a career year, and Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon have been suspended 50 games for positive tests.
But the record book remains unchanged.
Disputing Armstrong, Bonds or Clemens’ guilt is not what any of this is about. After the last five years of PED courtroom mudslinging, I frankly don’t care if they are guilty or not.
I can understand an athlete’s desire to perform better at all costs with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, ignoring rules and regulations in the name of success. Rules are not made to be broken. They are in place to protect the sport and its athletes.
I can understand the choice therefore I’m not offended by it.
But don’t tell me my memory of a 73rd home run into the San Francisco sky, the buzz around Happy Valley every fall, or a cyclist riding through the Champs Elysees, both hands off the bars, one with all five fingers point, the other with two raised never happened.
And no doping agency or courtroom ruling can tell me otherwise.

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