One of the great things about living in a society that values free speech is that it allows for an exchange of ideas. Got something on your mind? You can pretty well say whatever it is, within a few limits. (Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater will get you in trouble — unless the theater really is burning.) These days, it’s even easier to put your ideas out there. Without the Internet, people wouldn’t be speaking their minds on blogs, or in numerous small, Internet-based publications.
Some of what’s out there is bizarre, ridiculous, and even hateful. And some of what’s out there is useful — at least to some people. Some of what our public figures say is truly bizarre, too. And some of those public figures have a way of taking their good reputation and standing, based on whatever their achievements in whatever pursuit has made them famous, and bringing scorn and abuse upon themselves.
Some of those people are easy targets. Which brings me to Greg LeMond. When the subject turns to doping in cycling, LeMond has a way of saying things that get a lot of media attention (being the first American Tour winner and all) and that draw a fair amount of ridicule, too.
For the media who don’t go beyond his claims, he’s a voice crying out from the wilderness, prophesying the doom and downfall that will be heaped upon the wicked sinner — professional cycling — unless the sinner’s evil ways are changed. The vast majority of writers on the subject never go beyond questioning LeMond (and to be fair, any other prominent athlete or official depending on the story). They just parrot his words as the gospel truth.
Some of what he says even manages to be true. There’s doping going on in professional cycling. Always was, and I suspect there always will be. How much went on in the past, how much is going on in the present are open questions. And the debate over the anti-doping system might (and only might, because we’re also talking about human nature) change how much goes on in the future.
Certainly, there was organized doping going on in the past. The Festina scandal in 1998 (which led to the formation of WADA, among other things) is a prime example. The Operacion Puerto scandal looks like something organized going on, too.
And cyclists using various drugs, despite the various scandals that have consumed cycling over the last year or more, shows that they’re still willing to risk getting caught, even when they ride on teams with prominent anti-doping stands (Sinkewitz for T-Mobile and Moreni for Cofidis).
But when LeMond starts talking and it begins to sound all conspiracy-theory, or it’s based on allegations unsupported by any solid evidence, then he starts crossing the line. And when he gets to sounding like a psychologist or psychiatrist talking about how things will eat away at you, well — to put it politely — he’s out of his realm. He starts sounding more like a nutjob than a serious person. And he reveals more about himself than many are comfortable seeing.
After I saw his interview in the Denver Post, I read the following to a psychologist I know:
It’s proven throughout psychotherapy and (with) psychologists and psychiatrists that trauma or lying or not being true to yourself has a dramatic effect on self-destructiveness.
You know what the reaction was? “That sounds like something Greg LeMond would say.” I’m not kidding. And this person hadn’t even seen the interview in the Post at that point. Yes, but is it true? Well, came the answer, no. Not like he’s saying.
Plenty of people lie every day and never suffer (emotionally) from it. Some of them even make it to positions of prominence in politics, for instance. And some of those folks, by all appearances, are OK with the behavior. Think Karl Rove. Then again, maybe it’s better not to think about him.
And there are plenty of people who suffer trauma and go on to live productive, happy lives never needing the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist. Not being true to yourself, that may be a different matter, but it’s not a guarantee of needing psychological help there, either.
Now people who suffer childhood trauma may need some help — but even then there are some who manage to survive and thrive despite the trauma. Unfortunately (in more ways than one) Greg LeMond is someone who suffered trauma as a child. He sounds like he’s got some serious issues to deal with there. If he hasn’t already done so, he should get help. Really. That’s not a snark.
His interview is all over the place, and it’s a sad spectacle to see. First he says Floyd Landis is entitled to justice and to defend himself, and then he criticizes Landis for going out and trying to defend himself. You can’t have it both ways there, Mr. Greg.
“Everybody’s entitled to justice,” LeMond said. “Everybody’s entitled to defend themselves. But the reality is to go out into the public, like the Floyd Fairness Fund, and be asking people who are so gullible and who really don’t know what’s going on? I don’t know how, in a morally conscious way, that he’s able to do that.”
So here’s a question: LeMond has not raced in 13 years. Granted he may be a bit better plugged in to what’s going on than Joe Couch-Potato, but how much does he really know about the inner workings of the sport these days? How is it that he has been blessed with the omniscience to know what is going on?
“I know what’s going on in the sport, and it’s despicable,” he said. “It’s criminal, actually. Organized blood doping. Secret motorcycles. … Hiding places. Doing human growth hormone, testosterone, cortisone, insulin growth factor, EPO.”
Those last bits — about what people are using — that I’ll agree with. There have certainly been enough stories about what people dope with. The organized blood doping, too (Operacion Puerto by another name, perhaps?). But drop the “secret motorcycles” reference, man. That just sounds like the anti-UN nutcases who think that there’s secret black helicopters just waiting to attack us and destroy our country and our liberties. If you’ve got proof, show it. Otherwise, let that one go.
And then there’s Greg, the armchair shrink:
“I told him, ‘Floyd, you may think you can get away and hide your lie, but it’s always there and it works on you and it works on you,”‘ LeMond said. “‘And in 15-20 years it manifests itself. It’s proven throughout psychotherapy and (with) psychologists and psychiatrists that trauma or lying or not being true to yourself has a dramatic effect on self-destructiveness.”‘
Of course, Landis denies that he admitted to LeMond that he cheated. So admitting to something he didn’t do would hurt himself and those around him. LeMond seems to relish the role of father/confessor, however. What he was told (by both Lance and Floyd) and what he thinks he was told may well be two different things. I find it hard to believe — even if both other US Tour winners did dope (which I doubt) — that they would admit such actions to Greg LeMond or anyone else outside of their inner circles. That would be plain stupid, and whatever else you might think about Lance or Floyd, neither one is that stupid.
And then there’s:
“People misunderstand me,” LeMond said. “I’m not against Floyd. I’m not against Tyler. The only thing I’m against is a guy who’s not an honest person and who lives a faÃ§ade, that he’s really not a good person. That’s my only issue with them. But Floyd and Tyler, you don’t see European riders who get busted and who go out on this PR campaign and try to tell everybody, ‘Believe in me.”‘
Yes, we don’t see any European riders standing up and saying, “Believe in me.” Not Basso. Not Rasmussen. Nope, it’s just an American thing. I must’ve been imagining that press conference Rasmussen had before his undoing. Or the one Contador held not long after the Tour.
I will also partly agree with one other thing LeMond said to the Denver Post, on the effect of a Landis victory over charges of doping at the 2006 Tour de France:
[I]t would be a big blow to the anti-doping movement.
Actually, it would be a big blow to how the anti-doping movement is currently structured. That’s all. Most people are against doping in sports. But they’re also against systems that don’t allow for due process, have officials who don’t respect their own rules, and don’t offer any real justice. And one thing the Landis case has exposed is just how far the system can run amok. A victory by Landis would go a long way towards restoring (or creating) balance in the unbalanced anti-doping system.
But back to free speech. LeMond is certainly free to speak his mind. And he could even be useful to the fight against doping. But there are times and situations where the biggest and loudest statement is made by those who know what not to say.