Careful How You Say Things

by Rant on September 21, 2006 · 1 comment

in Doping in Sports, Floyd Landis

It’s mid-day Thursday, and no news to report on the Landis front. So in my free moments, I’ve been checking to see if other blogs have new information or new posts that I’ve missed.

At Gibbie’s Bioscience World, which has a link to Rant and to TBV, I checked the comments attached to one post, where I left a reply in which I pointed out that the uncertainty of whose samples were tested raise considerable doubt (at least in my mind) that there is convincing evidence to show that Floyd Landis doped. In my reply, I paraphrased Johnnie Cochran, saying, “If the codes don’t fit, you must acquit.” If you’ve been following my rants, you’ve seen this quote before.

The person I responded to wrote back, saying:

“First let me say that your arguments are well composed and a worthy rebuttal. However, since you quoted Johnnie Cochran’ statement in OJ’s case I wanted ask you this.

‘Do you belong to the minority club of true believers that OJ Simpson has not murdered two people and will eventfully discover his wife’s killer on the fairways of Florida ‘s golf courses?’

It seems to be you are confusing having a ‘good’ lawyer with not hav[ing] in all likelihood committed the deed. In our court system we have to be proven beyond the shadow of the doubt but as a trained scientist I have been taught to discern ‘improbable’ from ‘impossible’.”

I guess I should be a bit more careful about how I phrase things. While there may be some very superficial similarities between the OJ case and Floyd Landis’ case, they are just that: superficial.

OJ Simpson was being tried for committing a heinous crime — the murder of his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman — with a large amount of circumstantial evidence pointing to Simpson, himself. Landis is facing an anti-doping charge based on what appears to be sketchy evidence supported by lab work that may include tests of samples not belonging to Landis.

But in the popular media, they both appear to be guilty. So that’s a similarity, I suppose.

Simpson is a former football player. Landis is (hopefully) not yet a former bike racer. So there’s a similarity: they’ve both been professional athletes.

Simpson had a history of being violent towards his wife. Landis has no prior history of doping. In fact, all other tests Floyd Landis went through at the Tour and in prior races came back negative. That’s a huge difference.

It’s not clear what Simpson’s motive for committing the crime would be, other than insane jealously (which may well have been the case, especially given his history).

Given the strict anti-doping regime, and the general consensus that a one-time dose of testosterone wouldn’t be much help to an endurance athlete in a long, arduous race it’s not clear what Landis’ motive would be. The doping wouldn’t work, and he’d be risking his career by doing so. And with the draconian anti-doping testing, he’d be bound to be caught.

But it’s really not a good idea to draw comparisons between the two cases. Other than surface things like both being athletes and the information in the media convicting each before they’ve had due process, these two cases are very, very different.

So here’s what I think of the OJ Simpson case: He probably did it. Good lawyering by Johnnie Cochran and others, combined with prosecutors more concerned with book or movie deals than with prosecuting, shoddy police work, and poor evidence handling all mixed together to produce the not guilty verdict.

For Floyd, given that the anti-doping system is much more stacked against him than the American judicial system (if only he had to meet the reasonable doubt standard), he’s going to need exceptionally good representation to beat this rap. And parts of the evidence against him he can’t even challenge — like the science behind the tests.

Just think of the glove and Cochran’s quip, “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” Poor evidence handling and good courtroom theatrics combined to help cast doubt on the evidence against Simpson.

Poor police work didn’t help much, either. The murder weapon was never found. No one came forward to say they witnessed the killing. And the police really didn’t follow any other leads to rule out the possibility that someone else committed the crime.

The prosecution left many holes in the case that Simpson’s lawyers could blow wide open. Our judicial system enabled them to do so, and because they were able to raise “reasonable doubt” the jury came back in favor of OJ Simpson rather than the prosecution. This was the prosecution’s case to lose, and by not keeping their eyes on the prize, lose they did.

Remember, however, that many aspects of the Landis case, which could be attacked in order to raise reasonable doubt in the judicial system, are off limits in the anti-doping system. Fortunately (perhaps) for the Landis side, poor lab work (in the guise of testing the wrong samples) may be at the heart of the allegations against him. But don’t expect WADA/UCI/LNDD to roll over and say, “Yup, you got us. We screwed up.” They’re going to fight back, and fight back hard. And they’re going to do their damndest to prove Landis guilty.

That’s because in the anti-doping world, like in politics, perception is reality. So they want to be perceived as being tough on dopers, or people who appear to be dopers, so that they can show “progress” in the struggle against those who would cheat. And they are going to fight hard to maintain the idea of the infallibility of the testing labs. (Perhaps they should speak with the Pope about the dangers of a doctrine of infallibility in light of his comments that have inflamed the Muslim world.)

It doesn’t matter to some of these people (like Dick Pound) what innocent people they have to trample on in order to maintain their tough image. (I could prattle on and on and on about how this system isn’t working. But I’ve already done that.)

Whenever USADA announces the Review Board’s decision, don’t expect that to be the last word. This fight is likely to go on for quite some time. And I’m going to be a bit more careful in my paraphrasing in the future, in order to not give the wrong impression of my opinions on other matters.

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pelotonjim September 22, 2006 at 1:57 am

Well done! Looks like the response ignited your writing juices. I got what you were meaning but I also understand the dangers of picking a piece of another story for comparison. You have to be willing to take the whole baggage.

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