The Waiting Game (Calm Before The Storm?)

by Rant on September 20, 2006

in Doping in Sports, Floyd Landis, Media

So now it’s Wednesday, and no decision has been announced by the USADA Review Board. Everyone interested in the Landis case is waiting, waiting, waiting. Wondering what the decision will be. Trust But Verify has some good analysis as to what this wait might mean. And if you haven’t viewed the TBV site yet, well, consider it the Google News or CNN of Landis coverage. It’s a great daily summary of what’s happening in the world of Floyd.

I’m not sure why the wait continues, or when it will end. But I have a hunch on what the timing of the announcement may mean. So here we go: I see two possibilities. If it’s good news for Floyd, I expect that the announcement will come after 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific time which will miss the major news cycles and not break in the national media for the most part until the following morning.

Very likely such an announcement would happen on a Friday, as the weekend news cycles aren’t followed as closely as the weekday cycles. Just ask any canny politician worth his or her salt when they’d release bad news, and if they’re honest (yeah, I know that an honest politician is an oxymoron — although some are just morons, but that’s another rant entirely) they’ll tell you such information would be released late on a Friday.

In that case, expect to see small stories buried deep within the sports section or news section of each paper. For web news outlets, it will likely not make a big splash, and with a few exceptions (Google News and the various online cycling publications), you won’t find a direct link to the story from the home page. The stories that do appear will have headlines like, “Landis Beats Doping Rap.” Some news organizations may even give it splashy coverage and a bit of pundit analysis for one or two news cycles. Network and cable news will give it a brief mention, but not much. After that, the story will be done, over, finito.

Of course, the real story at that point will be how the system failed and branded an innocent man a cheater, and what should be done to prevent the same fate befalling future athletes. You’ll likely see some stories like that in the cycling media, but don’t count on much in the mainstream media. It would be a great follow-up story, but once the sensationalism has passed, the mainstream media will lose interest very quickly.

That’s a shame, because they’re a big part of how this story has played out. And they bear a huge amount of responsibility for the way Floyd Landis is perceived by many hard-core cycling fans, as well as sports fans and others with a passing interest in cycling and the Tour de France.

Also, the mainstream media (and others) need to keep coverage going in order to generate the pressure to change a system that clearly isn’t working. This story is really much deeper than the allegations against Floyd Landis. It’s about a process that is clearly biased against the athlete and which presumes any finding is proof of guilt. I was pleased with the BBC article about the Marion Jones result. I hope (but don’t expect) that there would similar articles if the Review Board finds in favor of Landis.

However, if the Review Board says there’s nothing to prosecute, you should expect that Dick Pound and WADA will appeal. Pound will pontificate about the process being perfect, he will question how the Review Board came to such a conclusion, he will demand to see all of their transcripts, notes, and so forth. And expect him to threaten some sort of legal action, too. It’s happened before when things didn’t go his way, expect it to happen again.

Now, the second possibility is if the Review Board decides there is a case that should proceed. If that happens, expect that announcement to come out on whatever day they wish to make the announcement, at a time of day when it could hit the major news cycles. After all, the anti-doping folks want to make as big a splash about the consequences of cheating as they can. And they want to appear to be taking strong, decisive action against those who would chemically enhance their performance.

In that case, you’ll have the likes of Dick Pound crowing about how well the system is working, and how it’s ensuring the rights of the athletes and how they’re winning the war to clean up sports — especially the “dirty” ones like cycling and track. (Interestingly, Pound — a former Olympic swimmer who finished 6th in the 100 freestyle at the 1960 Olympic Games — never makes a big fuss about doping in his own sport. Remember the 1972 East German wo/mens team? And others since? He’s awfully silent about swimmers who dope.)

If the case goes forward, expect some big, splashy stories in the print media, on the web and on network news and cable news networks. Some will focus on how Landis and company are trying ever more desperate tactics to wiggle free of the anti-doping police, and they’ll talk about how they’re destined to lose. Some will show Landis as defiant, promising to prove his innocence, even if it has to go all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the sports world’s equivalent of the Supreme Court — kind of.

There may even be a few stories that would examine the case from Landis’ side, but they won’t be many. Most stories will focus on how Landis would be one step closer to losing his Tour title and a two-year suspension. Don’t expect much analysis in terms of the tests, their accuracy, or even how the problems that the Landis side say prove his innocence could have occurred.

Anyway, at this point, it’s still a waiting game. As someone in Hollywood once famously said, “Nobody knows nothin’.”

In a related note, I’ve noticed what can only be described as a whole lot of nervous crows around here. Perhaps they’re afraid that Landis will prevail and there will be a huge number of pundits, columnists and sports writers (and Mssrs. Pound, McQuaid, Prudhomme and Lefévère, too) who will have to eat crow. Fly away blackbirds, far, far away. I hear Honduras is a good place to weather out the coming storm.

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