When last I posted, I expected that it would be about a month before my next missive. That’s because I’d taken on an after-hours project that should have completed by the end of November. It didn’t. And it’s still not done. The current estimate is another couple of months, give or take a bit. So it may be a while before the follow-up to this one.
Now that I’ve got that bit of housekeeping out of the way, where to begin? Maybe it’s time for a brief look back, and a look ahead.
Who would’ve guessed at the beginning of 2012 that Lance Armstrong wouldn’t face federal charges stemming from Jeff Novitzky’s investigation of Armstrong and the US Postal Service/Discovery cycling teams? Not me. All signs pointed to Big Tex facing Big Fed at the OK Corral. But, as we saw the Friday before the Super Bowl, Big Fed folded his tent and went home (though, to be clear, that wasn’t Novitzky’s decision). USADA picked up the ball, however, and managed to convince enough former Armstrong teammates to dish what they knew. The net result being that they built a strong sounding dossier of the behind-the-scenes methods that Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel and company used to win those seven straight Tours de France. Strong enough that Armstrong, when his attempts to litigate USADA’s jurisdiction failed, chose to walk away from the fight with the anti-doping agency, rather than seeing his dirty laundry aired in public.
Funny thing, though. USADA made a whole bunch of information public as part of the “reasoned decision” they forwarded to the UCI. So Armstrong really didn’t successfully dodge that bullet. Nor did he manage to hold on to his long-time sponsors. In the course of 24 to 48 hours, virtually all of his sponsors dumped him. It’s been a tough year for the Texan. Or a time of comeuppance, depending on your point of view. (I tend to the latter perspective.)
Armstrong has gone into hibernation, as best I can tell, despite a few ‘”in-your-face” comments on Twitter (like the picture of him on a couch surrounded by his seven maillot jaunes). Meanwhile, SCA may still be considering legal action against him to recoup the $7.5 million settlement stemming from the legal tussle over whether they had to pay out on the bonus for winning his sixth straight Tour. Looking ahead, I’ll conjecture that they either will let the matter quietly drop, or they will lose. Armstrong’s lawyers said a while ago that the settlement’s terms precluded any further challenges. My guess is that they managed to wrap that up pretty tightly, and SCA is boxed into a legal corner. Time will tell.
In the matter of the Times of London/Sunday Times’ lawsuit to claw back what was paid out over the excerpts from David Walsh’s book L.A. Confidentiel, my prediction is that if Armstrong’s lawyers are truly worth the money he pays them, they will convince him to quietly settle the case, pay out what the Times/Sunday Times wants, and let this fade into the past. If the disgraced Tour winner has any hopes of publicly rehabilitating his image, he will need to find ways of burying his misdeeds and his past. Or publicly atone for what he’s done, which isn’t bloody likely.
One last prediction, vis-a-vis Lance Armstrong. 2013 will not be the year he launches any public attempts at image and brand resurrection. He’s going to have to lay low for a good long while before contemplating any of that. If Armstrong does manage to win the Dallas Morning News’ Texan of the Year award (kudos to Jeff for the link), it won’t help his reputation any. According to VeloNation’s article:
A newspaper editorial relating to the award made clear that it considered Armstrong’s legacy to be profoundly – and almost certainly irreversibly – affected by the events of the past few months.
“The head of the U.S. anti-doping agency revealed him as a serial cheat, the enforcer of ‘the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.’ Sponsors abandoned Armstrong. Nike said he misled the company for a decade.
“Now the Armstrong brand will forever be that of a fighter, a survivor and a cunning, steely-eyed liar.”
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Armstrong kerfuffle, the UCI was finally forced to start an “independent investigation” into the actions of their current and prior leaders, and what role those actions may have had in enabling Armstrong and company (and, by extension, all of the teams who doped, because no one seriously believes that only the USPS/Discovery teams were dirty).
My cynical prediction as to the results of the investigation: At best, one or more low-level officials will the thrown under the bus to give an appearance that something has been done to clean up the governing body and the sport. But the reality will be that the people running the show will be just as corrupt as before. Unless the fans, the athletes, and the sponsors exert real pressure on the member federations to enact change, no change will occur.
As the year drew to a close, we heard the story of Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, who successfully appealed a four-game suspension for coming up positive for performance-enhancing drugs. (Thanks to William for the link.) Whether or not Sherman took PEDs and broke NFL rules, the people testing him have to follow the rules for collecting and processing the samples. As ridiculous as his “broken cup” defense may sound to the casual ear, the end result is the right result. It appears that the person collecting the sample didn’t follow the protocols perfectly, and that left an opening for Sherman to appeal.
The video commentary on ESPN’s page is, in some ways, quite amusing. One guy spins a quasi-conspiracy theory that the NFL conveniently arranged another “random test” to show Sherman was clean. One problem with that line of reasoning, though. Even if Sherman tested clean one day, it doesn’t mean he was clean any other day. I won’t mention any names, but one cyclist managed to be tested “500 times” and never come up positive (or officially positive, anyway). So, not testing positive is not the same thing as being clean, no matter how anyone wants to slice it. And I find it a bit hard to believe (though given the UCI’s alleged shenanigans, not impossible) that this Sherman character rises to the level that the folks at the NFL would give a rat’s tail end about whether he was suspended or not.
Even more amusing was the concern over the financial impact of a four-game suspension (a quarter of the regular season, and hence a quarter of the player’s regular season salary). While I think that the shorter suspension is a good idea, along with escalating suspensions for subsequent offenses, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on how a positive test would affect an athlete in a sport where WADA and its minions rule. The player would be out for two years — which would wreak way more financial devastation that merely being out for a quarter of a season.
That illustrates the power and benefit of an athletes union — something that you don’t see in cycling or many other sports. You can argue whether unions are a good or bad thing, but in this instance, the union certainly managed to look out for the players’ interests.
Team owners, sponsors, and federations make a whole lot of money based on the athletes’ efforts. And they all play a role in whether doping is encouraged (or tacitly encouraged) or not. While it’s all too often the case that doping is presented as an individual athlete’s failing, the truth is that there are many who enable and encourage that activity. Those people need to be held to account, as well as the athletes. Which, incidentally, was the approach USADA followed with a certain case that achieved notoriety this year.
To wrap up this rambling rant, I’ll make one last year-end/new year’s prediction which I’m pretty confident in: Much as it would be good if doping in sports would fade away from the headlines during the next twelve months, it won’t.
Happy New Year, everybody.