Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong's Crucible

Photo from LA Observed
When we were in high school reading plays like The Crucible was always an exercise in exploring the savagery of the past, but apparently the days of using circumstantial evidence to prove someone’s innocence or guilt are far from over.  Like a group of prepubescent tattletales, the USADA gleefully plunked the 1,000 page tome that the USADA plopped in front of the American public as proof that they can and would strip Armstrong of his seven tour titles, and the expectation that their judgment would be final.   The past few days would turn into a wild theater, where the public gets to wallow in self-righteousness, pastors get to blog about Armstrong sewing what he reaps, and the media gets to wag their fingers and shake their heads at the downfall of another hero.

And while the UCI has also decided to turn its back on Armstrong after failing to find proof enough to strip him themselves, they decide to uphold the USADA’s ruling and take all titles away.   While the media continues to chime in about how “damning” the evidence is, and how this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Armstrong is guilty, without any of us reading these documents aren't we just falling into some sort of media echo chamber?  Instead we read headlines and listen to soundbites of quoted testimony from teammates who create this image of Armstrong as a moustache-twirling godfather of cycling, tying innocent fellow cyclists to the railroad tracks and injecting them with performance enhancing chemicals to force a win. 

While I do not claim to have read the entirety of what is someone’s obvious grand opus of a document, I did bother to glance over the introduction and then get to the meatier pages surrounding the evidence being lobbed against Armstrong.  By far the most damning evidence is all, and I repeat all, testimony.  Verbal testimony by people who worked with Armstrong and who have admitted to having seen him do something.  Emails are included of calendars where Armstrong (gasp) left off a few dates, likely because he would like to be a human being for a few days without some stranger knocking on his door at 3am with a needle and syringe.  Many of the same people who have testified have admitted to having been given deals to lighten their punishment significantly by helping to tie Armstrong to the stake.

The so-called scientific evidence could easily be picked apart by anyone who has even a courtroom-drama level knowledge of the law.  The report openly admits that much of the testing hadn’t been honed until the past several years, toward the tail end and well after Armstrong’s career was through.  As well, footnotes cite that handling of the samples wasn’t always good, that practices weren’t always consistent, etc.  While medical experts also give testimony throughout, there are constant caveats about testing samples, and no evidence that there was any broad spectrum comparison done across samples from every other competitor in Le Tour.  As you flip through page after page, it becomes less a matter of convincing, and more an exercise in overreaching.  And begs the question, why was the USADA so desperate to take this man down?

The answer may lie more in what they win if the USADA destroys Armstrong’s career.  While it’s not a government entity,  millions of funding for the non-profit come from the office of the drug czar, which in its infancy would field scripts for television shows and reward them with monetary incentives if they changed their programming to a stronger anti-drug message.  With a big win under its belt it not only is guaranteed to continue to get funding to go after more athletes, but can do so partially on the taxpayer’s dime.   What’s perhaps more disturbing then? That the UCI, an international organization, would honor the ruling of the USADA and strip Armstrong of his titles officially.  By doing so, they allow the USADA to prove that they have international power over international sports, which is a rather large overreach.

For every charge of grand conspiracies and huge networks working together, there is an equal charge that must be laid on the USADA for bribing witnesses with softened penalties in exchange for fingering Armstrong.

Even if we give the USADA the benefit of the doubt for what I would consider to be a shaky case at best, and say that Lance Armstrong indeed participated in doping, as did the other people who testified, what next? The problem with laying a case where doping was so ubiquitous and rampant that everyone was doing it, is that if you plan on having even a modicum of fairness, you would have to go back and test and reread the results from every competitor in every tour Lance participated in.
Further, since more and more people have come forward saying that everyone was involved in doping of some sort, wouldn’t that mean that Lance was competing on an even playing field?  And, if you are only going to allow someone who has not doped be on record as a Tour winner, who exactly are you going to find?  Is the next in line going to be carefully examined to make sure he wasn’t a doper as well? And who will fund these intense investigations?  What kind of sport will it become if you have to go back ten or more years and rewrite every victory and can only give it to some schmoe who came in 142nd in the tour and was the lone representative of the country of Andorra?

When will the nonsense end?

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