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Monday, October 20, 2014

Lance Armstrong the latest sports star to have his accomplishments questioned

Remember the days when you could become arm-strong just on natural ability and work ethic? Well, those times are apparently as antiquated as using elbow grease and whipping out the old Thomas Guide to find your way somewhere. (Yes, boys and girls: the iPhone is a relatively new phenomenon.) Lance Armstrong has become the latest athlete to see his legacy crushed by allegations of cheating writ large.

Last week was the culmination of eight years of accusations against the renowned cyclist, after Lance decided to avoid arbitration with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), leading the agency to issue a lifetime ban and stripping the seven-time Tour de France winner of every accolade and title he achieved in the sport. Therefore, if this decision holds up, in the annals of official cycling history — must be a pretty short read these days — many of Armstrong’s accomplishments never happened.

Technically, Lance’s decision does not constitute an admission to the doping charges but it does yield a public indictment. Consider the fact that, if the USADA sentence holds up — to wipe out all the records in his career from the chosen date of August 1, 1998 on — pretty much the only thing that would be of note on the books is the world championship he won in 1993: a date that is significant now only to him and various members of the Funky Bunch.

While Armstrong remains steadfast that he is innocent and refuses to fight the charges, likening the ongoing investigation to the accusations of a witch trial against cycling’s most preeminent figures, sports is left with yet another figure who has been accused and suspended for running afoul of illicit supplement policy.

The Armstrong news comes on the heels of baseball’s latest doping revelations, a shock to no one except those who use the Mitchell Report to balance a rickety Lucite poker table. Melky Cabrera, who was having a career year which included All-Star Game MVP honors for the Giants, and Bartolo Colón, yet another in a long line of 0s from the ‘Big O’, were both busted for violating baseball’s policy on banned substances, an infraction as common these days as a parking ticket.

The pair’s return to any significant role for their respective teams is about as likely as me coming off the inactive list anytime soon. The Melky Way will not only cost the Giants outfielder a huge chunk of salary this year but also consider the windfall from his potential free agent contract next year now that he is damaged goods and faces a 100-game suspension should he get caught again, a reality as appealing to potential suitors as the image of Penny Marshall wearing leggings.

Bartolo’s misdeeds might very well be construed as a Colónoscopy. The former Cy Young award-winner will lose nearly a half-million dollars in salary due to his positive test for testosterone. As if the Bay Area hasn’t seen in its share of “Vitamin B-12” injections in the buttocks, now comes a whole new host of negative publicity to fit in with the Bash Brothers and BALCO of yore. And, with the new disclosures, come the apoplectic fits launched by the headline writers: everything from crying over spilled Melky to Colón-cleansing.

Matters are certainly not helped by the fact that not only the current athletes are popping PEDs like they were PEZ, but that formerly discredited sports figures are returning to the ever-growing bitter limelight. Roger Clemens was once dragged before Congress not for his mangling of the English language, though there will presumably be a day when Webster’s adds “misremembered” (which oddly was accepted by my spell-check) to the growing list of “booyah” and “meatspace.” (I’m loath to look up the definition of the latter.)

Clemens’ career had the shadow of doubt thrust over it after Jose Canseco’s book detailed claims of steroid use against the 354-winner, as well as other former players and Brian McNamee, his former trainer. The Mitchell Report, alone, mentions Clemens 82 times, a rather high total especially when you consider that J.J. from Good Times didn’t even get a blurb in the publication.

Whether for better or worse, Roger is pitching himself right back into the national spotlight. Last weekend, the 50-year old threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings for something called Sugar Land Skeeters (sounds fattening). The word is his 88mph fastball subdued the Bridgeport Bluefish (I think I got food poisoning at that place once), setting into motion talk about whether “The Rocket” might be angling for a comeback. (Bluefish? Angling? I just gave myself a pat on the back for the puns, but I digress.)

Some are contending that Clemens’ charade is for nothing more than to try to throw at least one more pitch in the Big Leagues so as to forestall his appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2014 with a ne’er-do-well cast of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro. The “hometown” Houston Astros would seem like a logical choice, since the team’s winning percentage has been falling faster than the sports’ collective testosterone level.

In sports these days, it seems like nothing is sacred anymore. Amidst all the furor of yet another doping scandal, it has become nearly impossible to witness some great sporting feat without having some lingering doubt in the back of the mind as to whether the accomplishment was garnered with blood, sweat, tears, and a little EPO or something ending in ‘-ol’.

Perhaps this is an indictment in the sports era in which we live, when even someone like Derek Jeter, whose image is cleaner than a Bill Cosby stand-up routine, can fall under the shroud of drugging allegations. But the reality is no one athlete is apparently above the scrutiny, especially someone who once was as mediagenic as Armstrong was. If she had been born about a century later, maybe little Virginia would have written an editorial wondering whether there was anyone with legitimately clean blood riding in the peloton.



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