Marolt: Giving up on a New Tour’s Eve resolution
Two important truths that Lance Armstrong uttered are nearly completely lost in the tangle of sound bites, tweets and sworn testimony he grafted together in order to obscure his cheating, yet they are the most important things he ever said and should be his legacy. They are not earth-shattering revelations taken separately, but together they should leave the sports world lying awake searching its soul rather than continuing to perpetuate the big lie.
First there was the defiance: “I am the most tested athlete in the world, and I have never failed a drug test.” Then came the admission: “I used performance-enhancing drugs to win Le Tour.” The implications of the two statements together are enormous.
Oh, yes, and another important thing he told us that was true is that there were people out there who were hell-bent on destroying him. They knew he was cheating. They were relentless in their pursuit of exposing him. Yet, for his entire career, nobody could nail him. By the time the truth was told, he was retired, unrepentant and apparently irrelevant. Atlas shrugs again.
On this New Tour’s Eve, we are assured by the organizers. They say it will be the cleanest race in years. But the true assurance is only that fewer cheats will be caught. This is almost a certainty as the guard of the public, thus assured, is possibly at an all-time low and that of the participants, thus assured, at an all-time high.
Any fan of sports who believes that cycling is on the level should take a break from the propaganda and learn what is going on in Major League Baseball concurrently with the cleanse of the peloton.
Baseball was in dire straits after the Barry Bonds era was exposed and interest in that sport collapsed. Disillusioned fans needed to be reassured. What they got was a lot of talk, but it was convincing talk. Over the course of the next few seasons, league officials pointed to drastic decreases in home runs, fewer runs scored and even the noticeably altered physiques of the sport’s power hitters as evidence that they had gotten ahead of the cheaters. What they didn’t point out was that the lower offensive production could have been caused by a great many things, but they didn’t want fans to consider the possibility of things such as de-juiced balls, expanded strike zones, slightly raised mounds, pitchers catching up with hitters in their own chemistry lessons or even plain old anomalies. The plan worked, and people re-embraced clean baseball.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the steroid shop. During a recent raid of a Biogenesis clinic in Florida, records purportedly revealed that more than 90 current professional baseball players were among its regular customers, none of whom have failed the new test in the self-touted most strident drug detection program professional baseball has ever implemented.
Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun was on the list. Based on nearly indisputable evidence, Braun tested positive for banned substances last year, yet he still honestly can claim that he didn’t flunk the test. He, like Armstrong, was passed by the governing body of his sport for reasons apparently too complicated for a fan to understand.
We now know that testing positive for PEDs is not the same thing as failing the test. While almost everyone inside the sport of professional cycling knew that Armstrong and most others in the peloton were riding fast with the tailwind of modern science behind them, most of those people didn’t want to see him or, more accurately, the driver of their livelihoods exposed. Apparently, the people who grade the tests have the leeway to issue passing grades based on past performance.
As time passes and more episodes of cheating by athletes who have never failed a drug test are exposed by circumstantial evidence, it becomes clear that sports never will rid itself of modern chemistry and make winning available to those who pursue it only in the bodies God gave them altered by determination and hard work. To believe in that possibility is almost to believe that science and technology will tread backward, that the steam engine finally will prevail.
Perhaps the saddest thing the onward press for success in high-level athletics makes clear is that the honorable ideal of doing the right thing will continue to be ignored by those who pursue the game not for the love of it but for the gain in it. Most heartbreaking of all, they will dominate. And, in case there was any confusion, this isn’t just about sports.
Roger Marolt continues to struggle with the end of the steroid era in sports mostly because he can’t see it. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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