With the Tour de France ended, Chris Froome donning his final maillot jaune, the royal baby being born (Prince George? really? they couldn’t have gone with something more unusual like Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-
Never fear, fans of doping scandals, the All-American pastime — that’s right, Major League Baseball — will provide us with a bit of that old doping schadenfreude. After all, what’s sports without a doping scandal or two?
So right on cue, Monday brought the announcement that Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers’ big hitter, accepted a 65-game suspension related to his connection to the Biogenesis Lab in Florida. Braun’s name, apparently, was on a list of customers. As were the names of a number of other MLB players who have yet to take their medicine or publicly fight back against whatever charges the MLB home office might level.
In accepting the ban, Braun issued a statement that didn’t really acknowledge the specifics of why he was being suspended. As The New York Times reports:
“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” Braun’s statement said. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers’ organization.”
The Times’ Steve Eder also reminds us of a couple of other stories:
Three of the top track sprinters in the world, including the American Tyson Gay, recently revealed that they had tested positive for banned substances, the latest in a long line of doping violations in that sport. The Tour de France, professional cycling’s showcase event, ended on Sunday under a cloud of suspicion because of revelations this year of an elaborate doping program conducted over several years by Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour seven times.
Because, of course, no doping story is really ever complete without a reference to professional cycling or Lance Armstrong. Let’s take apart that sentence about the Tour, just for grins.
I’ll begin by asking whether The Times still employs copy editors. I have a hard time believing that they do. What the hell does this sentence even mean? Was Eder not following the Tour? Did he not talk to — I don’t know — James Dao or Juliet Macur? These are his colleagues at the paper. They’ve both covered professional cycling. Macur, especially, as she’s reported on both the racing aspect and the doping aspect for a number of years now.
I’ll grant you that the Tour may have finished under a cloud of suspicion (and when, in recent memory, hasn’t it?). But Armstrong was only minimally connected to that cloud, which follows the sport of cycling around the same way that the cloud of dust follows Pig Pen in the Charlie Brown comics. No, for those who are inclined to suspicion, it was Chris Froome’s performances — some of which harken back to the good old days of rampant EPO/blood doping.
Armstrong’s doping program was elaborate, as USADA documented in their “Reasoned Decision” last year. But Lance’s last Tour victory was eight years ago. And his comeback tour (pun intended) ended a couple of years ago. So tying Lance into the current Tour is a bit of a stretch. While USADA’s case finally brought the downfall of pro cycling’s 800-pound gorilla, it wasn’t much of a shock to anyone I know that Armstrong might have been doping all those years.
Rumors dogged him from 1999 onwards, after all. Aside from some collateral damage, and some minimal suspensions offered to those who assisted USADA’s investigation, Armstrong’s past only serves to reinforce the notion that all top cyclists are on the juice. The revelations over the past several days about positive test results from 1998, the year before Armstrong’s streak of victories began, only adds to that impression. At least for riders of that era.
Particularly rich is Stuart O’Grady’s admission, given what he said about Floyd Landis back in 2006 after Landis’ infamous failed drug screening. Kind of reminds me of the old taunt, “It takes one to know one, and you’re the one it takes to know.”
What with the release of the 1998 results, CyclingNews.com tracked down Armstrong for his reaction.
“My initial reaction is that I am not surprised. As I have said, it was an unfortunate era for all of us and virtually all of us broke the rules, and lied about it,” he told Cyclingnews.
On Twitter, I saw some references to 1999 positive results being released, but at this point, I don’t have a link to an article that contains many details. When I find out more on that, I’ll add an update.
Meanwhile, getting back to Braun, at least one pundit makes him out to be … wait for it … “the Lance Armstrong of baseball.” That’s overstating it a bit. Yes, Braun publicly proclaimed his innocence. He fought the 2011 positive test result and won on a technicality. And somewhere along the way, he and his lawyers took a pretty nasty swipe at the reputation of the guy who collected the sample that came up positive. All part of the Lance Armstrong playbook, to be sure.
But not on the scale of Lance. At most, we’re talking about two years of lying and character assassination. Armstrong was doing that for the better part of 15 or 20 years. He and his lawyers wreaked havoc upon many more people that Braun. Just ask Greg LeMond, Betsy and Frankie Andreu, Emma O’Reilly, David Walsh, Paul Kimmage, and on and on and on. Getting on the bad side of Lance could be dangerous to your professional health. Getting on the bad side of Braun? Not so much.
In terms of magnitude of their “crimes” against the sport, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Jose Canseco might deserve the title “the Lance Armstrong of baseball,” but Ryan Braun is the palest of imitations of Lance at his worst. I’ll give Braun some credit, though. Even though his statement is vague about why he’s being suspended, he saw the writing on the wall and decided that taking the rest of the year off was preferable to getting into a protracted legal battle that could bleed his bank account dry. That is definitely not out of the Armstrong playbook (at least, not until last year).
And speaking of bleeding bank accounts, it turns out that some of the people who donated money to LiveStrong may file a lawsuit to recover their donations. So the fallout of Lance’s fall from grace continues.
Watching the Tour’s closing ceremonies, one couldn’t help notice that Miguel Indurain and Eddy Merckx, both of whom experienced positive drug tests during their professional careers, accompanied Chris Froome to the podium on Sunday, while Lance Armstrong was a million miles away. Armstrong seems to almost accept his current pariah status within cycling, if not all of professional sports. As he told CyclingNews.com:
It is what it is. It’s popular now to make me the whipping boy. I get it, I understand it, and I will live it. After all, I brought it on myself.
That’s pretty darn adult of you, Mr. Armstrong. Good to know you understand the impact of what you’ve done.
As for Ryan Braun, Buster Olney’s comparison of Braun to the tarnished cyclist is not warranted. Ryan Braun hasn’t earned the “privilege” of being called the Lance Armstrong of baseball. Yet.