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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lance Armstrong's Last Stand: Unfairly Convicted, His Legacy Still Intact

The news that recently former American cyclist Lance Armstrong gave up his fight against accusations that he illegally doped during his seven year reign as Tour de France champion has rocked the sports world.

The man has been drug tested more times in the last decade than any athlete in the world, past or present. It is also likely that no one in the future will be under the microscope as often, either.

Not one time did Armstrong test positive for performance enhancing drugs. It has been reported that one time the French cycling union even asked for a urine sample while Lance was in the hospital with his wife awaiting the birth of their second child. If there was ever a moment where he would have been unable to mask his alleged use of banned substances, you'd think that would be it. But even then the sample he returned tested negative for banned substances.

Yet despite his repeated denials, and the negative tests, the United States Anti-Doping Agency has seemed hell-bent on proving that Armstrong did indeed cheat. They claim they have significant evidence against him (none of which is physical in nature, either). So they once again asked Armstrong to prove, for like the 1000th time, that he did not dope.

For Armstrong, the decision he came to regarding the most recent charges wasn't easy. When he wasn't defending his Tour de France title, he was either raising money for cancer research or defending his name. In fact, no one public figure who has given so much to charity(he's probably raised more money for cancer research than all other celebrities combined) has also been so vilified by certain segments of society.

So in the end, Armstrong decided the best thing for him, his family, and his cancer foundation was to give up the fight. He knew that even if he won this round, there could be another lawsuit waiting in the wings for him. So he decided enough was enough.

But by doing so, he has allowed the USADA to call him a liar and a cheater. They went on to then strip him of his record seven Tour de France titles(although the international cycling union disputes whether they even have the authority to do so), and ban him from competitive cycling for life. Not that he cares what USADA thinks, but no one really embraces being called a liar or a cheater, either.

He spent over a decade defending his good name. Fighting for himself and those people suffering from cancer who couldn't fight for themselves. Yet none of that matters to USADA CEO Tavis Tygart, who yesterday (in an interview with ESPN's Scott Van Pelt) claimed that Armstrong's decision confirmed his assertion all along that he had cheated. Never mind that the only evidence Tygart has are the testimonies of Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, former teammates of Armstrong whose motives and credibility might not be pure.

Look, I work for one of the largest pharmaceutical distributors in the country, and I have been drug tested over a half a dozen times in the past several years, to include pre-employment screenings, random testing, and post accident screenings. Not once did I test positive, either. Yet if I were to test positive, I just lose my job. In so doing I let down my family and friends, but, at the end of the day, I pick up the pieces of my life and move on.

In Lance's case he has been a role model of integrity for so many people. It wouldn't just be his family and friends he let down. Nor just the cycling community at large. Nor just cancer survivors in the United States. But his lying would be felt around the world.

With so much at stake, why would he then go to such great lengths to prove he was innocent if he indeed wasn't? Even when he made his final comeback two years ago, he said it wasn't for him, but to raise awareness for his foundation. It just doesn't make sense then that he would go through all the tests (over 500 of them, mind you) and spend all that money on litigation over the past decade, if he wasn't innocent.

My point is that he's innocent. This is nothing more than a witch-hunt by the US Anti-Doping Agency aimed at smearing the record of a global icon so their company will grow in stature. After all is said and done, Armstrong supporters know that he didn't cheat.

But it is a sad day when a man can be called guilty when so much of the evidence overwhelmingly points to his innocence.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Random thoughts on the Red Sox, the Jets backup QB, and...SEC dominance

So much has been made recently of the Boston Red Sox struggles. Now I will admit that I am not a Red Sox fan, and in fact, I actually prefer the Yankees. But I feel I have to say a few things about this topic.

First off, I want to make it clear that I think Red Sox fans have become spoiled. If their team doesn't have a legitimate shot of making the playoffs, they whine like no other fan base I know. Look, I get it, being a Cleveland fan I understand you want your team to win. Heck, I think fellow Cleveland sports fans can agree with me when I say we want our teams to be competitive.

But I digress. The point I am trying to make is that you need to give manager Bobby Valentine a chance. Don't blame Dustin Pedroia or Josh Beckett's struggles on a divided clubhouse, saying if the front office hired a different manager things would be better. He hasn't even had a full season, and this is the same team a few years removed from a World Series title. I'll be honest, I don't fully understand the impact a manager has on team chemistry in baseball, but I think it would be rash to fire any manager after one bad season unless he won less than 20 percent of his games(and this is not the case.)

So my advice to all the Sox fans is suck it up, your stuck with Bobby V for another year. And if you aren't, well don't complain when Mike Hargrove(hired as his replacement for 2013) can't right the ship in a year's time either. If you really want someone to blame, how about a front office that paid 100 million way back when to Japan just for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. So what has your ace been up to recently? He has a record of 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA in 5 starts. And to think a few years ago Boston management ponied up 100 large just for the rights to negotiate with him.

Bottom line is that whatever is wrong with Red Sox Nation now, firing Bobby Valentine isn't the solution.

...Moving right along, I have had enough of the talk about the Jets backup quarterback. So much so that this is the last time I talk about him. Ever. In fact I am so fed up, that, while not mentioning his name, I told Skip Bayless to tell ESPN to take their hero worship of a guy who will be a career backup elsewhere, the nation tires of it. The Broncos won last season because they ran the ball well, and despite everyone's knock on their defense, they actually stepped up when it counted. Peyton Manning will improve Denver, no doubt. But that is for another blog.

Finally, when will the SEC dominance in college football end? I wasn't aware it had ever begun. Yes, teams like Alabama and Florida have won four of the last seven national championships, but, taken as a whole, the SEC is not much better than the rest of the nation. As a matter of fact, the SEC was slightly better than the BIG 10 last year in bowl games, going 5-3 vs the latter's 3-4 record.

Fact of the matter is, because the Southeast has won the last six national titles, they are automatically considered the premiere conference in that nation. But let's go a little bit deeper into the conference. A Georgia squad that was a preseason title favorite in 2011 lost an overtime thriller to Big Ten runner up Michigan State. Florida, playing in the Gator Bowl against Ohio State(a rematch of their '06 BCS title game), ended up a 24-17 winner over a Buckeye squad featuring one of the worst offenses in the nation last year. Arkansas won rather handily over Kansas State.  Finally, while Auburn beat Virginia handily, Vanderbilt would fall to Big East champ Cincinnati.

But because they keep winning the big one, the media will continue to harp on the SEC as the elite league in the FBS. And while I am supposed to root for USC to end their dominance, I am not feeling it. Especially for a team that has its scholarships cut and then uses a loophole created by the NCAA to offer a scholarship to former PSU running back Silas Redd. But for all the talent they have on offense, the Trojans had better have watched last season's BCS title game. Cause offense wasn't really the reason Bama won their second title in three years.

So, when will the SEC's dominance of college football come to an end? I am not entirely sure. One thing is for certain: even if they don't win the BCS this season, don't expect them to all of a sudden fade into the background.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympic Sized Hangover??

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England, have finally come to an end.

Let the debate begin, but there is one thing we can all agree on: despite this feeling like the longest two weeks of the calendar year, it still seems like it went way too fast.

Many of us will wait and wonder how long it will be until we see someone win more than the 8 gold medals that Michael Phelps won in the 2008 games in Beijing, China.

Others will debate that this year's version of the USA basketball dream, despite its close margin of victories, would have been able to beat the 1992 squad that won gold in Barcelona rather easily.

Then there are others who would marvel at the people who underwent great personal struggle just to make it to these olympic games. One person that stands out among others is Oscar Pistorius, a South African sprinter and double leg amputee who competed not only in the 400 meter dash but also the 4x400 meter relay for his home country. Maybe more shocking than the fact that Pistorius was able to make it to London was that many people argued that his prosthetics gave him an unfair advantage when running these races. I myself am no doctor, but having been a former long distance runner, I can't begin to fathom how prosthetics would be better than real legs, unless of course they were bionic.

Maybe, however, the biggest regret that I have, and I am sure I am not alone in this, is that Americans as whole have become biased to celebrate only those athletes who win gold for our country.

We don't get excited for Jessica Ennis, the gold medalist for home country Great Britain in the heptathlon, and currently the unofficial greatest female athlete in the world.

Nor do we raise an eyebrow for fellow countryman Mo Farah, winner of both the men's 10000m and 5000 m runs-someone who pulled off an enormous double in his own right.

Then there is Jamaica's Usain Bolt. Fastest man in the world, he claims to be as dominant in his sport as Muhammad Ali was in his, or Michael Jordan was in his. Critics such as former US Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis take offense to such statements, claiming Bolt must have been on steroids. Other athletes would argue that 100 meter dash is not as technical as boxing or basketball, so you really can't compare the sports.

Of course, at the end of the day, all of this talk seems to leave us with an Olympic Sized Hangover, as we can't wait for the next round of  Summer Games to begin in Rio in 2012. We don't care what analysts think Michael Phelps will do, we want to see for ourselves that he has really gone into hibernation. We loved watching May-Treanor and Walsh-Jennings dominate the sand across the pond so much we hope their already thinking of South America four years from now.

And finally, just as Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman entertained us in this the 30th Olympiad, we can't wait for the show-stoppers of the 31st. Olympiad.

What was your favorite moment of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games? I'd love to hear from you.