Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to digest Lance Armstrong’s questionable admissions to Oprah, most Americans have decided to forget about cycling and put their focus on what they consider “real sports.” Football is undeniably, with all apologies to baseball, the real American pastime. We seem so enamored with the sport. With the explosion of fantasy football, and coverage like NFL Redzone and Sunday Ticket, football has a firm foot hold in our culture.
So I listened to all of my friends rip Armstrong for cheating, doping, and lying. He was called a bully and a fraud. I won’t disagree with any of it. I myself have wondered about Armstrong’s cleanliness since he first returned, almost magically, from late stage cancer and a fifty percent survival chance. If he cheated cancer and went on to dominate a sport full of chemically enhanced athletes, how could I be naive enough to believe he was the only clean one on the podium?
Every July, my suspicions grew as he performed countless feats of superhuman strength and endurance. He was so far ahead of all the best athletes in the world and, one after another, they were getting busted for doping. How the hell could he be that good, and somehow clean? So when he performed on Oprah (granted I still believe there is more to tell than he’s said), it felt anticlimactic. But the thing that really bothered me was how all of the mainstream sports media and typical sports fans reacted. The overall attitude seemed to be, “Well, we can all go back to caring about football now,” and, “Cycling is just a bunch of dirty dopers and nobody but Europeans care about it anyway.”
The one thing I learned from Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, and Lance Armstrong is that they felt like they weren’t lying. They were told to use the PEDs as part of their training, so they felt like they were doing nothing wrong. They learned what to say to deny the doping accusations. And they did it out of a conditioned response, to the point that they even believed it themselves.
Now it’s over a week later and Ray Lewis is accused of trying to acquire deer antler spray (crazy, I know) to aid in the rehab of a triceps injury. The spray contains a performance enhancing substance. When questioned, Lewis sounded so much like the Armstrong of old that it was eerie. “I have been tested hundreds of times,” and, “I have never failed a test.” Not “I have never taken banned substances,” but, “I have never failed a test.” The uber-religious Lewis, who many still believe got away with murder in 2000 (he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice), should remember that little bit about how thou shalt not lie. In a sport where 280-pound superhero athletes can run under- five-second 40-yard dash times and jump like kangaroos, I am just as skeptical as I once was with miracle-boy, Lance Armstrong.
If cyclists getting paid less than a million dollars can beat the tests (most make barely enough to pay their rent), then how smart do you need to be to see that multi-millionaire athletes could do it easily? Pro sports in the US are way behind in testing. The doping control agencies are under-financed and have limited resources to battle the machines that are professional sports teams. So if you want to scoff at the Tour de France this summer, or make some comment about how they’re all cheaters, go ahead and call your satellite provider and cancel your sports package because “truth” is not a channel that’s included.