Why now? Why Armstrong? Why is the government wasting taxpayers’ money selectively persecuting athletes without any physical evidence? Why did Armstrong risk his reputation when he made a comeback in 2009? Why should the public take Hamilton’s and Landis’ words at face value? Why is the media still beating a dead horse? Why are USADA and the Feds only selectively persecuting Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Lance Armstrong while turning a blind eye on more clear-cut cases such as Rafael Palmeiro violating his rights?
I would like to take all of you back to memory lane...
On July 24th, 2005, legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong won an unprecedented seventh consecutive Tour de France. On that very same day, Armstrong announced his retirement from professional cycling at the age of 34. His retirement at the top of his game was hailed as a fitting ending to a record-shattering storybook career that included a courageous bout with testicular cancer.
Like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, Armstrong is widely considered the unparalleled greatest of all time of his sport. He was instrumental in popularizing the sport of cycling and elevating it to the mainstream consciousness.
Most importantly, it was believed that Armstrong accomplished all of this clean, in a sport that is tainted time and again by allegations of widespread performance-enhancing drug use and blood transfusions ever since the mid ‘90s.
Since Armstrong’s retirement in 2005, cycling was hit by a new wave of scandal. Prior to the beginning of the Tour de France of 2006, 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ulrich and Armstrong’s heir apparent, Ivan Basso, among others, were expelled from the Tour due to their link with the “Operación Puerto doping case.” After the Tour’s conclusion, the winner, Floyd Landis, a former teammate of Armstrong, was found to have failed a drug test after stage 17.
The subsequent drawn out legal battle ultimately resulted in Landis being stripped of his tour title.
In 2007, cycling superstar Alexandre Vinokourov was kicked out of the tour for failing a test for an illegal blood transfusion after miraculously winning Stage 13. Hours later, the entire Astana team, which Vinokourov was a part of, withdrew. Its withdrawal led to new speculation that other cyclists from Astana withdrew to avoid getting caught. Days later, after finishing Stage 16, Team Confidis voluntarily retired the rest of its riders from the race after one of its riders tested positive for testosterone.
In a dramatic twenty-four hour period, the Tour leader at the time, Michael Rasmussen, was withdrawn by his team hours after winning Stage 16 for lying about his whereabouts to avoid previous doping control tests prior to the Tour.
Throughout the numerous controversies, Armstrong was able to stay above the fray, despite persistent allegations during the second half of his career and following retirement that he doped. These allegations range from baseless hearsay to blatant slander.
He never failed a drug test.
In fact, he made a comeback at age 38 in 2009 and was still able to finish third, and he once again passed all the tests. However, his impeccable record did not stop trigger-happy Feds, attention-seeking media and former teammates looking for their 15 minutes from constantly coming up with outrageous, far-fetched allegations.
A more recent allegation emerged on May 19th, 2011. Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate of Armstrong and disgraced cyclist who failed multiple drug tests, accused Armstrong of using the banned substance of “EPO” with him from 1999 to 2001 on CBS’ 60 Minutes. 60 Minutes also stated that two other teammates of Armstrong told federal investigators that they witnessed Armstrong taking banned substances.
Despite the constant bombardment of negative stories about Armstrong in the past few months, I find it difficult to take the newest allegation seriously.
Ever since the infamous BALCO scandal of 2003 that resulted in the downfall of home run king Barry Bonds, 3-time Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones, baseball superstar Jason Giambi and world-renowned sprinter Tim Montgomery, the Feds has shown a disturbing tendency of selective persecution.
Bonds, 7-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, Lance Armstron, and a few selective others were singled out, persecuted and in some instances, indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice without a trace of evidence.
On the other hand, the Feds turned a blind eye on more convincing cases.
Slugger Rafael Palmeiro failed a drug test mere months after vehemently denying using steroids under oath at a Congressional hearing. This case was not pursued. Other well-known athletes such as Ivan Rodriguez (named in Jose Canseco’s book “Juiced”), Gary Sheffield (BALCO client), Manny Ramirez (failed two drug tests) and David Ortiz (allegedly among the list of the players who failed a 2003 survey testing. The list is currently under court-ordered seal) who actually failed drug tests are not even asked to appear in front of the grand jury to address their respective issues much less indicted for perjury.
The selective “persecution” of individuals reeks of double standard.
While it could be argued that federal investigators do not have the resources to pursue cases against every single violator, it is odd that the government chooses to waste taxpayers’ money to persecute individuals without evidence instead of going after slam-dunk cases.
It is obvious that the grandstanding lawmakers and the Grand Jury are more interested in humiliating big names than restoring the integrity of sports. The Feds unsavory, and at time illegal, conduct is highlighted by special agent Jeff Novitzky’s illegal seizures of documents that are being used as evidence as they try to build compelling cases against Armstrong, Clemens and Bonds. Novitzky himself is currently under investigation for his conduct, which include illegally obtaining evidence without search warrant.
The irony here is that the federal prosecutors, in their zeal to selectively persecute the aforementioned athletes, are themselves the criminals.
This hypocrisy is further highlighted by the Alberto Contador saga. Contador, a cyclist who has won three Tour de France titles since Armstrong’s first retirement in 2005, has a much more sketchier track record than Armstrong. Not only has his name appeared in the previously mentioned “Operación Puerto doping case” of 2006, his urine sample contained trace of “clenbuterol”, which indicated possible blood doping.
Contador blamed this on food contamination, namely a “bad steak.” He was allowed to keep his 2010 Tour de France title and was not punished at all. Where is the outcry? Where are all the staunch defendants of the integrity of sports? Why isn’t Contador subjected to the same scrutiny that Armstrong has been facing? All things considered, we have significantly more reason to doubt Contador than Armstrong.
If Armstrong were guilty, he must be brain-dead to attempt a comeback at the age 38 in 2009 under much stricter drug testing methods. If Armstrong were paying any attention, he would know what happened to Ulrich, Basso, Vinokourov, Landis, Rasmussen and many others since his first retirement.
Armstrong finished third in 2009, despite his advanced age and under the strictest possible testing regimen. If his willingness to comeback does not exonerate him from his detractors, I don’t know what would make them change their minds.
There are so many holes to the 60 Minutes story that nothing adds up. There is nothing new about Hamilton’s accusation. Floyd Landis made the same accusation before. It is a recurring theme, namely disgraced cyclists attempting to drag everyone down the drain with them and making a quick buck at the same time. Tell-all books, late night show appearances, fifteen minutes of fame/infamy, the whole nine yards. Hamilton and CBS are a match made in heaven.
CBS, coping with the catastrophic Katie Couric experiment, needs a boost for new anchor Scott Pelley, and they obviously understand that controversy sells. If Hamilton’s outlandish allegation that UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale or better known as International Cycling Union in the English speaking world) covered up for Lance Armstrong, then Armstrong isn't the only one to blame here. All the dominos have to fall.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once said, “if you tell a lie and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The anti-Armstrong propaganda campaign is the exact testament of this method. I have no doubt in my mind that the court of public opinion will be swayed by the media and convict Lance Armstrong the same way it convicted Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens before they were afforded the due process. “Innocent before proven guilty” be damned.
For me, I am inclined to believe Armstrong’s spotless record over his detractors’ far-fetched allegation, unless tangible evidence emerges.
USADA going after Armstrong is just the latest example of a series of frivolous "show trials" to scapegoat selected individuals over a systematic failure from the top-down.
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