That’s a man, man.

Well, another Olympics is in the books which means the positive drug tests are soon to follow.  And right on cue, the first medal was stripped today.  Shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus was relieved of the gold medal due to a positive test for a steroid called metenolonea.  Ostapchuk is pictured here:

Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus (Icon SMI)

What leads me to write about what is just the first in a long list of disgraced athletes?  It’s because Ms. Ostapchuk was the gold medalist for the women’s shot put.  Go ahead and take a second look at the picture.  You know you want to.

It goes unsaid that I’ll never grace the cover of GQ, and this isn’t about Ms. Ostapchuk’s looks per se.  But if the picture had been captioned with “Denver Broncos defensive end Nadzeya Ostapchuk”, I would had never have given it a second thought.  My first reaction was to assume that the web site where I noticed this had mistakenly attached a picture of a different athlete.  A quick Google search confirmed that is indeed Ms. Ostapchuk.  Just when I think this week’s nightmares would come from watching too much of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, this comes along.

In today’s world, where performance enhancing drugs are at the center of many sporting conversations, what would possibly make someone think they could pull this off?  When she walked into the testing room, I bet they just checked off “positive”, and the actual blood draw became a formality. Now while I’m sure Ms. Ostapchuk feels that losing her medal is a real kick in the crotch, she deserves whatever she gets.  Thanks to her audacity, another medalist was robbed of her chance to stand on the podium and hear her country’s anthem.

If I ever meet Ms. Ostapchuk in person, I’ll be happy to share my thoughts directly with her.  I’ll just make sure my will is updated first.

NFL, Amen.

A sports athlete who used to perform in Denver, whose name I forget, recently admitted that he looked at his fame as a platform by which to promote his religious convictions.  Athletic success was nice, but the bigger payoff for him was the attention and promotion that came to his deeply held beliefs.  Upon reflection, it occurred to me that professional football is a sport not only surrounded by spiritual men but is in itself a spiritual endeavor.  Consider the similarities and characteristics:

  • Where other major religions gather at a church, mosque or temple, football fans gather in spaces called stadiums.  If a member of the church of football is among the infirm, the economically challenged or otherwise is unable to attend the main service, there is a support system in place to allow that parishioner to worship privately in his own living room or neighborhood bar.  Instead of wine and wafer, however, the football worshipper partakes of beer and wings.
  • Sunday is not a day of rest for the church of football, but it has significance nonetheless as the holiest day of the week.  Football also has its major holidays, like the Super Bowl, the first day of the draft and the day the Detroit Lions make bail.
  • Like other religions, football parishioners offer tithes, commonly in the form of payments to Ticketmaster or the cable company.  Often these donations are of a shockingly large sum, yet in return there is no expectation of salvation. Rather, the tithe allows the parishioner to watch grown men beat each other to a pulp for a large salary and sometimes intentionally injure each other for a small bonus.
  • Like other mainstream spiritual structures, followers of football hold a belief in a higher power.  However, the power that rules over football does not provide unconditional and unending love.  You hope for some love, but sometimes there is hate, which is often revealed late in a game and usually involves a turnover or stupid personal foul.
  • In fact, unending love from any god of sport is downright dull.  Like wondering if the afterlife will offer you a path towards Heaven or Hell, the whole reason a game is exciting is that you don’t know where you stand in the eyes of the immortal until after it ends.  Take the 40-0 run by the Baylor women’s basketball team, for example.  That was not 40 games of pure, spiritual ecstasy.  That was 38 games of boredom followed by 2 games of, “wouldn’t it be interesting if they made it?”  It’s the unpredictable, flippant, and often petulant attitude of the sport’s highest deity that draws so many followers.
  • Further, the power that rules over football does not love all equally, but instead it displays overt favoritism.  The Jets literally can’t buy a competent quarterback, yet the Colts have less than 90 days after the Payton Manning era ends before the Andrew Luck era begins?  That’s your proof right there.  Who knew the chosen people actually resided in Indianapolis?
  • Ancient religions, like that of Greece, had gods, heroes, monsters, and the Oracle at Delphi.  Similarly, football has owners, players, Art Modell and TV analysts.  The parallel between the Oracle and the TV analysts is indeed striking.  A vague prognostication is handed down, and the masses become obsessed in debate on the intended meaning of the words.  Yet not until after the heroes battle will the true meaning of the prediction come to light.
  • For some, conviction to the church of football takes precedent over all else.  While many vow a devotion go God, country and then family, true football devotees vow first to their team and then their family, provided there is not a pre-game, game, post-game or sports debate show on.  Also, they often ignore their own heath to embrace deeper worship through the consumption of even more beer and wings.

So, before any other athletes look to football as a vehicle to promote their own spiritual path, they should keep in mind that football is not devoid of its own system of beliefs.  And besides, if their higher power wanted singular devotion, why did he schedule church during the pre-game?

More Questions for Manning

I just watched the press conference where the Broncos announced Peyton Manning as their new quarterback.  As expected, there was not enough time to answer all of the questions.  If I was there, though, here are some of the questions I would like to have asked:

Q: Sorry, but am I the only one in the room who thought we were getting Eli?

Q: Peyton, you realize that we had John Elway so your cute, little one title means nothing to us?

Q: Did the Nene trade help or hurt your decision to come to Denver?

Q: How soon until you can start working with your running backs on practicing the spread option?

Q: Man, that recruiting process must have been a real pain in the neck, oops.  Too soon?

Q: You realize that unless you make it to the conference finals, you will have done the same or worse than Tim Tebow?

Q: Is that huge forehead where you store your extra football brains?

Q: We had a quarterback who got us to the second round of the playoffs in his first season as a starter, but now we’re trying to trade his ass to Jacksonville for a 7th round pick.  How do you like that kind of pressure?

Q: You know that just because you signed doesn’t mean we will stop stalking you, right?

Q: Now that the ink has dried, did you know that last week was 40 degrees above normal?  It’s usually snowy and cold well into June.

If you think of any others, feel free to enter them as a comment to this article.  Love to hear some good ones.

Tebowmania RIP

Christmas came early in Denver.  Condolences to Tennessee, San Francisco, Miami and Arizona.  Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego can just stick it.  Peyton Manning is our new quarterback, and Broncos fans are going nuts.  Productivity plummeted today in the Mile High City, and we have John Elway and team to thank for it.

Not a single game was played, yet March 19, 2012 will go down as one of the greatest days in the history of Colorado sports.   Sure Denver got Peyton Manning, who if healthy stands a chance at eclipsing John Elway as the team’s greatest quarterback.  Sure, the team is suddenly among the favorites to win the AFC.  Sure, the team has a hook with which to lure other high profile free agents.  But none of that is what has people so ecstatic.  In the blink of an eye, in the fraction of a second it took to digest a single tweet from Chris Mortensen, Tebowmania in Denver came to an end.

It’s one thing to get a great quarterback.  It’s another thing entirely to land one when a day earlier you were looking at a starter with an abysmal 47% completion rate.  San Francisco, had a chance to trade in Alex Smith for Manning.  Big deal.  For us, instead of taking the two hour drive from Denver to Vail, this is like flying from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to the top of Mt. Everest in a heartbeat.  We’re going to get a colossal case of the bends and could not be happier.

Tebow had the franchise handcuffed.  As a quarterback, he was challenged, to put it mildly.  Mark Schlereth, former Broncos player and current ESPN analyst, recounted how when watching Tebow play at training camp he actually wondered if Tebow may not in fact be left handed.  Tebow’s passes were that inaccurate.  If his name wasn’t Tebow, Schlereth speculated, he was watching a player who should have been cut.

Yet in a flash, with the simple writing of a massive check, Denver gets out of the death grip of Tebowmania.  While Tebow was here, the chances of a title were slim and the possibility of recruiting offensive free agents was non-existent.  The passion of his loyal fans made his replacement a challenge unless it was by someone truly great.  Manning fits that description, and Denver can turn the Tebow page.  As another ESPN analyst Merril Hoge commented, “the team should have paid [Manning] an extra $20 million just for that.”

Farewell Tebowmania, we knew thee way too well.  Later this week, we’ll get introduced to the new our new starting quarterback.  But Peyton Manning is just the cherry on top.  The real payoff was our escape from the prison of football lunacy.  Even if Manning does not bring another title with him to Denver, it won’t matter.  We’ve already won.

The Tebow Chasm

It is no secret that Tebow needs to improve his passing skills.  Therefore, it is not hard to assume that this is the main reason John Elway, Broncos executive and NFL passing legend, is less than enamored with the young quarterback.  But is there something more?  Is the underlying distaste more centered around Tebow’s approach towards life in general?

For example, last December during the height of Tebowmania, the Broncos had their largest challenge of the season, a match up against the Superbowl-bound New England Patriots.  Going into the game, hopes were never higher for Denver, and the contest was viewed as a real litmus test for post-season prospects.  The Broncos were humiliated and limped away with a nationally televised  41-23 beat down.

The things that separate professional athletes from the rest of us are not just centered on physical ability.  It is the relentless drive to prepare and compete and the unquenchable desire to win.  Most of us at some point will decide to try something different or to sleep in, but athletes who make it to the professional ranks will jump out of bed to do the same thing until the day their knees tell them to cut it out.  After a loss like the one described above, elite athletes have been known to be driven to do everything from smashing up the locker with a bat to staying up all night watching game film.  But when asked how his faith help him with the loss, Tebow gave the following response:

“God is still God. I still have a relationship with Christ, and a loss doesn’t change anything. Win or lose, everything is still the same. What matters is the girl I’m about to see, Kelly Faughnan. If I can inspire hope in someone, then it’s still a good day.”

Now while admirable without question, that is the last thing an elite competitor like John Elway expects to hear.  Elway wants to hear anger and frustration.  He wants to hear vows never to let it happen again.  That is what Elway would do, and quite frankly that is what just about every other elite athlete we have ever known would do.  But not Tebow.

And this is where the unique dichotomy of Tebow reveals itself.  In a world where work ethic and preparation are prized, Tebow is a leader.  In a world where passion and competitiveness are lifeblood, Tebow stands out.  In a world where leaving everything you have on the field is a pre-requisite, Tebow sets the bar.  But he leaves more than just his energy on the field.  As he steps away from the competition, he completely switches his thoughts to other endeavors.  One perspective is that his deep faith gives him a unique ability to live both worlds.  Another perspective, and one Elway may have, is that Tebow’s ability to “turn it off” means there are times when it is not “on”.  And that, Elway may conclude, precludes Tebow from joining in with the ranks of the elite athlete.

Last summer, while most young players were working on preparing for an upcoming season, Tebow went on a national tour to promote his new book.  It is easy to believe that his motivation was not money driven, but rather a sincere desire to get his message out.  It is also easy to believe that while he was traveling, he spent hours preparing for his job as quarterback.  But to have spent time doing anything other than preparing for football, especially for a player with so many opportunities for improvement, seems inconceivable to many.  After all, every minute spent away from football is a minute spent away from football, and to the elite athlete that is inexcusable.

The chasm between Elway and Tebow may be driven by more than just playing style.  It may be driven by attitudes towards life in general.  One view maintains the highest need is an unwavering obligation to a life of football, while the other view maintains the highest need is an unwavering obligation to life outside of football.  If that is the case, then no amount of training or coaching will lead them to work well together.  It is time for one of them to move on.

Manning to Denver or The Kitten Gets It!

Peyton Manning is a free agent, and who knows where he wants to work next.  But the Broncos need to do whatever it takes to get him to Denver.  Kidnap his pets (joking), offer him ownership of the team (half joking), give him the Hope Diamond or the means by which to procure it himself (totally not joking), whatever.   If the Denver Broncos don’t offer everything they possibly can in pursuit of Manning, I will be mightily pissed off.  There I said it.

The Broncos are in a dark place.  Their current quarterback is good at everything except passing, which as a fan makes you kind of embarrassed to think of it that way.  Yet, despite this glaring gap in their repertoire, they made it to the second round of the playoffs and can’t expect to draft a quality passing prospect until at least 2013.  One option would be to trade away every player and pick of value that they have to move up in the draft and grab somebody worthwhile.  Another more elegant and simpler strategy, though, would be to write a big fat check to Peyton Manning and draft for defense.

I’m sure Tim Tebow is a nice enough guy, and his penchant for timely playmaking is fantastic.  But the league through its rule changes and penalty guidelines is moving every day towards rewarding the pocket passer.  Why would you reinvent your entire team in the hopes of catching fire with a running quarterback when you can find success much more easily with a passing game?  To ignore the advantages of past-first talent means leaving yards, points and, more importantly, wins on the table.

The Manning solution is almost too easy.  He’s a free agent, so you don’t need to give up any personnel or picks to get him.  All you need to do is write a gigantic check that isn’t even our money (it’s team owner Pat Bowlen’s money).  Even if he is here for only two or three years, you get your hands on one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game.  Manning has already said that he will accept an incentive laden contract, so the team might be able to get out after a couple of years if things aren’t working as planned.  Of course, this assumes that Manning is healthy and fully recovered from his recent spate of surgeries.

The availability of an elite quarterback almost never happens, and in this case is the result of a perfect storm.  Manning was injured the same year his $28 million roster bonus came due.  Meanwhile, the team stunk so much without Manning that they earned the right to draft the best quarterback prospect since John Elway.  From the Colt’s perspective, all they have to do is release Manning, and they save millions of dollars while they waltz into another era with an elite quarterback.  Meanwhile, Manning ironically loses his job because his team was so bad without him playing on it.

However it happened, Manning is available, and there is still some significant tread left on his tires.  Signing him would immediately get the Broncos out of the pickle they find themselves in and launch them into the realm of title contenders.  Manning can play for 2-4 more years, while his back up learns the finer points of running a pro-style, passing offense.  When it comes time for Manning to finally retire, hopefully Denver will have seen another championship and can comfortably hand the reigns over to the heir apparent, Adam Weber.  That dude can throw.

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe

I watched an NBA game last night, and yet again the contest was plagued by unbelievably inconsistent officiating.  It seems every game I’ve watched lately has a bad call, which will then, with uncanny predictability, be followed by an equally bad “make up” call.  Maybe the refs are trained to offset miscues, but even a 5 year old knows that two wrongs do not make a right.  The league, and by that I mean The Dictator (d/b/a David Stern), needs to put some more effort behind this problem.

I get that the game moves at incredible speed, but if to err is human, NBA refs are proving themselves to be super human.  Not only is there gross inconsistency when fouls are called, but there also seems to be certain players who are at less risk of being penalized.  With respect to the latter, stars rule the NBA.  All of them have guaranteed contracts, meaning that short of murdering their team’s payroll administrator, the checks will keep coming.  It’s not unheard of for a star to actually get his own coach fired, and in reality, if they do murder their payroll administrator, it’s more likely that their next check will simply be delayed pending the hiring of a new administrator, subject to that star’s approval.  There are not a lot of other jobs where that can happen.  But it’s the way the league works, and it won’t be changing soon.  And since it is so well known, I’m kind of OK with it.  If everyone knows that Kobe Bryant will get a shooting foul, even if he is on the bench or a defendant in court at the time, then opponents can adjust accordingly.  The issue that is driving me nuts, though, is the seemingly random calls that occur on a nightly basis.

I’ll pose the following scenario to you.  A blazing fast power forward drives into the lane, and an equally fast member of the defense slides over to deny easy access to the basket.  At some point, the two players may bump into each other.  Two questions come up: 1) Is there a foul?,  and 2) if there is a foul, who is it on?  The answer to question #1 is that it’s usually a defensive foul, unless the defender is a star or the offensive player falls into the “decidedly not a star” bucket.

But if both players are of equal star value, the official’s thoughts seems to play out like this. “I heard a whistle…why is everyone looking at me…oh, that was my whistle?…crap…what happened…that guy bumped into that other guy…I think…damn, it happened so fast…sure neither of them is a star?…no?… damn…ok, remember to breathe….this is easy….you’ve done it hundreds of times…wow, that girl is cute; is she looking at me?…stop, focus…do I need to make up for a recent bad call?…no…she looked at me again…wait, everyone is looking at me…did I turn the hallway lights off?…mmmmm, pork chops….eeny, meeny, miny, moe…it’s a charge.”  And then with great panache and dramatic flair, the ref signals the foul.  All of that happens in less than a second, so I suppose there is superhuman processing in there somewhere.

As a proponent of fair play, losing a contest due to poor officiating is only slightly more annoying than winning a contest for the exact same reason.  Other sports seem to have cracked this nut, either through the judicious use of instant replay or the aggressive evaluation and training of officials.  However they go at it, the NBA needs to do something soon.  One of the other common complaints with the NBA is in reference to the ferocity at which players argue with referees about foul calls.  But in light of the inconsistency, I understand their frustration.  More to the point, I share it.

Going Crackers

There is no question that the emergence of Jeremy Lin has been “linspirational” to millions of benchwarmers everywhere, but I’ve really been avoiding writing anything on the topic.  Many people have asked me why, probably because we have amazingly similar stories.  We’re both male, we both have spent time living in Manhattan, and we both have some trouble dribbling a basketball with our left hand.  But the story had been so thoroughly covered, I couldn’t think of much to add.  That is until earlier this week when ESPN published a now infamous headline.  After the Knicks finally experienced their first loss in eight games with Jeremy Lin as their starting point guard, ESPN published a headline on their mobile sites that read “Chink in the Armor”.

The offending headline was pulled after approximately 30 minutes, but not after being re-reported on ESPN News and viewed by possibly millions of ESPN customers.  A day later, ESPN issued a formal apology and announced the dismissal of one employee and the suspension of another.  That’s the part that got my attention.

When I was a young investment banker, one of my many altruistic and spiritually fulfilling duties was to assemble pitch books, or lengthy sales presentations for prospective clients.  The pressure to produce a pitch book quickly was intense, and staying at my desk all night was an expected and frequent occurrence.  One day, a peer of mine was cranking away on a pitch book for a potential initial public offering.  Who knows how long it had been since he had last slept, but when the books went out the door, the title pages didn’t read “Initial Public Offering” but rather “Initial Pubic Offering”.  Even the spell checker can’t help you with that one.  The partners ripped off the covers before they got to the client’s office, and we all got a hearty laugh about it later.

Now in my example, no customers were offended, our brand was not marred and it ended with a successful pitch.  No one lost their job as a result of what was probably a stupid oversight.  Not the case with ESPN.  It is certainly reasonable to assume that the writer of the headline was a bigoted jerk who thought he was being hilarious with the timely use of a not so subtle double entendre.  If so, he can enjoy the next phase of his career as an unemployable writer.  More likely, in my opinion, is that you had a late-20s employee who was scrambling like crazy to get a headline published after a high profile event before millions of customers cut over to Sports Illustrated to see who won the game.  The phrase “chink in the armor” does fit the context of an “undefeated” team experiencing its first loss.  Hours later the guy is out of a job.

I don’t blame ESPN for the actions they took.  They are a business, and if an employee does something that infuriates a group of customers, it can’t go ignored.  If the terminated employee had editorial responsibility, then looking out for offensive contexts was kind of in his job description.  My concern comes from the public reaction.

Even after the rapid apology and subsequent employee actions, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund called on ESPN to go further such that the apology “be aired prominently on ESPN’s television programs, so that it is clear to all viewers that this racist language is unacceptable.”  Jay Caspian Kang, writer for ESPN property, wrote that the headline “was completely unacceptable and made me seriously reconsider my continued employment with the company.”  Really?  Even if the comments were intended in the worst manner possible, would you really leave your job because a single employee out of your 6,500 co-workers was an a-hole who was quickly fired?  Heads up Jay, because with that many employees you probably also work with an anti-Semite, a communist and a felon.

Look back to my first paragraph, and note that I pointed out that Lin has trouble “dribbling” a basketball with his left hand.  In reality, no one who covers the sport will say it like that.  If you watch ESPN, or any other network, instead you will hear commentators say Lin struggles to “drive” to his left.  Wait a minute, is that some kind of shot at the stereotype that Asian’s can’t drive?  Of course not.  I did a Google search for the phrase “nipped at the buzzer” and got 492,000 results.  Are editors across the country scouring rosters to ensure there were no players of Japanese descent featured prominently in those contests?

I don’t mean to make light of racism and the smoking hole it continues to leave on the fabric of our country and the world.  Reactions to bigotry and racism are justifiably harsh and swift.  But the reactions to an appearance of racism seem to have become grossly disproportional.  ESPN commentators and analysts have had their own share of trouble, with arrests for everything from DUI to domestic battery.  Some have been dismissed, but some have not.  Even in the cases where an employee was dismissed, it took days, weeks or months for that to happen.  In the case of the Lin headline, justice was meted out  in less than 24 hours.  I have no doubt that management at ESPN decided an overreaction was the only acceptable reaction.

The part of this story that scares me is that as I work to start my writing career, another may have just been ended over what could have been a naive, completely unintentional misstep.  Racism certainly still exists.  Lin reportedly heard racist taunts during his Harvard playing days, but even he when asked about this incident was quoted as saying, “I don’t even think that was intentional.”  I’m not Asian, and I’ve tried to recall the last time I’ve heard the offending remark used in an intentionally offending context.  I’d literally have to go back decades.  I asked some of my friends what their perspective was, and the reaction varied from “I kind of forgot that could be used as a slur” to “Do people still use that term?  Seems like a word someone in their 80s might say”.  It is possible that the culprit in this case wasn’t even aware there was a slur involved.  In fact, it has to be an encouraging sign that I can’t remember the last time I heard any racial slur that was not used as an odd term of endearment by the targeted culture or used in conjunction with some kind of artistic expression, like music or film.

When I first considered writing on this topic and the fear of unemployment that came with it, I wrestled with the concern that the piece itself might contain some unseen slight that made trouble for me somewhere.  Similarly, I bet there are not a lot of people who will pose in public that this entire episode may have been a tragic mistake.  For doing so could get them branded themselves a racist, and few can afford to have that happen.

But after I’ve given it more thought, a job is just a job, and the loss of that is not my true source of concern.  In reality, the outcome of this for me is that race will be a topic I stay far, far away from.  The real fear is that I and others will be intimidated into avoiding discussion of the issue entirely.  Constructive dialogue is a leading strategy for pushing racism out of a society, and the fear to talk about it serves to perpetuate the problem.

In addition, while bigoted perspectives should be addressed, foolishness or carelessness should not be  dealt with the same ferocity.  By doing so, we not only stifle legitimate discourse, but we dilute incidents that are a cause for justified outrage.  An Asian friend summed it up like this, “There’s real racism, real racist remarks and there’s this. They aren’t equal. Firing the guy makes us think it’s all equal.”

In the meantime, it seems we’ve moved our focus from vilifying real persecution to protecting against perceived insult, and I’ll leave the discussion of race to the independently wealthy or the successfully self-employed.  And I won’t write about Jeremy Lin either.

I believe in unicorns, faeries and Lance Armstrong

OK, the Super Bowl is thankfully over, but we’ll have to endure the mania of NY fans for a while.  Just three months ago, fans were roasting quarterback Eli Manning as an underachiever.  Today they think his entry to the Hall of Fame is just a matter of time, and even a little bit of an insult to his legacy unless he gets a private wing.

One story that you may not have seen with all the big game hype was the latest chapter in the professional cycling doping saga.  At this point, I think it’s gone beyond a saga and passed over to multi-volume epic.  The two bits of news that came out were: 1) Alberto Contador, 2010 Tour de France champion, was stripped of that title due to a positive drug test, and 2) the U.S. Attorney office announced that they would no longer pursue Lance Armstrong as part of their investigation in to a doping program involving many of Armstrong’s team mates.

On Contador, I give a healthy “yawn”.  I think I read somewhere that since 1961, 13 of the 25 Tour de France champions have been implicated in doping or performance enhancing drugs through positive tests or admissions of use.  The sport has been riddled with cheating for decades.  Find a champion, flip a coin and watch heads come up less often than a cheating champion.

The Armstrong thing is another issue.  His story is legendary.  Armstrong won the Tour de France seven consecutive years from 1999 through 2005.  In the midst of that, he survived a bout with testicular cancer, and his success serves as an inspiration for even non-sports fans.  Armstrong, due in part to his athletic record but also due to his tremendous work around cancer awareness, has a gigantic legion of loyal followers.  And to his credit, he’s had no positive tests, despite reportedly being the most tested athlete in world history.

From my perspective, however, his success without some element of cheating is just not believable.  There isn’t a lot that separates one elite athlete from another.  Competitors in 100 meter dashes are routinely separated by tenths of seconds or less.  And, as we have seen in track and field and more recently baseball, PEDs give athletes shocking advantages over the field.  I refuse to believe that an athlete could have completely dominated a sport, specifically a sport that has been riddled by cheating, and not have cheated himself.  It defies logic.

Sure, we’ve seen athletes dominate sports.  Edwin Moses didn’t lose a championship race for almost an entire decade.  Michael Jordan led the NBA in scoring for years, while also taking home defensive player of the year awards.  Wayne Gretzky scored more goals that any other player has scored points (goals plus assists).  But in those examples, and countless others, their successes didn’t come against a field of athletes later proven to have been chemically enhanced.

The defenders of Armstrong will point to the lack of a positive test, and claim it’s me that is being unreasonable.  But the way I see it is this.  Imagine I have a 100 mile commute every day, and I make that trip in right about an hour.  I’ve been doing it for years but have never been ticketed.  Now a reasonable person will conclude I’ve been speeding.  Maybe I have a radar detector, maybe after years of the drive I know where the speed traps are, maybe I got pulled several times but always cry my way out of it, but there is no way I could make the trip without breaking the law.  An Armstrong defender will point to the fact that I never got a ticket, and say there is no way I’ve been speeding.  The same goes for seven (SEVEN!) consecutive tour victories in an era of cheating.  There is no way that was done clean.

I’m not looking to diminish Armstrong’s legacy.  If almost every top cyclist was cheating, including himself, then his domination came on an oddly level playing field.  The fact that he was able to continue his training and successes despite significant medical issues is truly inspiring.  One cannot adequately describe in words the positive impact his philanthropic crusading has had on those whose lives have been impacted by cancer.

But if he did what he did without any special help, then he has to be considered the most outstanding athlete we’ve ever seen.  He would have flat-out owned word class athletes who were aided by cheating.  I cheered him in every Tour, and I’d like that.  But, that isn’t the truth.  Drugs move everyone up a notch.  Drugs turn solid pros into major leaguers, drugs turn major leaguers into all-stars, drugs turn all-stars into hall-of-famers, and drugs turn hall-of-famers into legends.  That is what we’ve seen here.

It’s not hard to see why Armstrong and his supporters still cling so tightly to the idea that he was 100% clean.  His image, one that inspires so many around the world, is worth fighting for.  But the incessant denials, amid performances that scream to the contrary, are doing more damage than good.  It just keeps the story alive, and as each of his contemporaries falls, Armstrong looks to be more and more in denial.  What happened is ancient history.  Everyone was doing it, and Lance was still the best.  Come clean, pun intended, and let’s move on.