Tuesday, August 17, 2010

UPDATED: Can We Drop the Fake Moral Outrage?

I'm all for clean sport b/c I've come to understand from first-hand experience how destructive doping can be...but: are you or is anybody else REALLY surprised that guys like Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton, both of whom were Olympic gold medalists, are reticent and inclined not to publicly admit their doping, even when it's apparently obvious to even the casual fan?

I mean, seriously - how upset or annoyed or frustrated or otherwise negatively impacted can you be by their totally-predictable decisions to deny having doped, or at least refuse to address affirmatively those accusations (even if in the long-run they might be better off b/c of the potential lifting of the mental burden of living lives based on lies)?

The likely outcome of such admissions would be total financial ruin, years of litigation, an exponential increase in harassment and persecution by the media and the loss of all public support, and in some cases possible criminal liability.

It's disingenuous for anyone to act surprised or offended or to be condescending or dismissive b/c Ulle won't admit to allegedly having been a Fuentes client - just like Hamilton won't admit to having allegedly blood doped during the Olympics and so holds onto his Gold Medal.

I have little doubt that the same people who urge Ullrich to come clean for his own well-being and for the long-term health of the sport are the same people who would jump at the chance to crucify the guy after he would make such an admission!

I'm sorry, but unless Ullrich loses "everything" and reaches the level at which Floyd was bobbing when he decided to engage the UCI behind-the-scenes to challenge them for their complicity in doping, it's totally not going to happen that he admits to anything while he still faces civil or criminal liability, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist or a PhD to realize that.

I don't mean to single-out anyone in particular, but can we drop the fake moral outrage and admit that we can, by and large, empathize with former-athletes like Hamilton and Ullrich who are widely suspected of having doped, and who have been sanctioned to one degree or another for doping infractions, but steadfastly refuse to acknowledge their alleged doping? And that we realize that it's unlikely that they would step-up and make such admissions prior to the expiration of any statutes of limitations, or their own arrival at rock-bottom, where they would finally have nothing that they'd consider valuable left to lose?

UPDATE: This post seems to have touched a nerve with a subset of the cycling population, including riders current and retired, other fans, commentators, officials and even some in the anti-doping movement. And while I can't reveal the details, I know that some of these like-minded individuals are themselves considering speaking on-record to the media about their own distaste for the witch-hunt mentality and no-hope-of-redemption mind-set that radical anti-dopers embrace.

We must clearly articulate, identify, highlight and protect a clear pathway back to competition and reintegration in Sport for those convicted of doping. While there are arguments in support of this that can be based on moral, ethical, even philosophical concerns, there is also a significant practical reality: few athletes sanctioned for doping will cooperate meaningfully with anti-doping authorities if the expected response is to be eviscerated by the media, the public, and even the ADA's with whom they're supposedly collaborating (see Bernhard Kohl's Life Ban, which he received AFTER he cooperated to a degree previously not seen in cycling at that level).

If the environment continues to be polluted with extremist anti-doping rhetoric that encourages the blacklisting of even those riders who meet all the terms of their sanction, we can forget the idea that the next doper might "do the right thing" and reveal the "smoking gun" evidence that so many people are crying for, or that he will provide investigators with a detailed explanation of how he and his co-conspirators defeated anti-doping controls.

No, instead you'll just see an endless parade of Ivan Basso's and Dan Staite's - riders who either want to come back and so will admit to only the bare minimum personal transgression (without "naming names" so as not to throw dirt at the sport) or riders who have no intention of ever competing in cycling again, and so basically tell the world to "F*ck Off."

Neither situation is a good one if one desires that the fight against doping in sport be successful. It might be distasteful to say it, but it's obvious that the ADA's need the cooperation of any and every doper they identify.

And while it's of interest to me that there be less radicalism in anti-doping and more opportunity for rehabilitation, there are countless others who don't even care about doping beyond not wanting to see it discussed as the number one topic each week on Cyclingnews.com. As one interlocutor explained to me:

"The more fans of cycling I meet, especially those with no direct experience of racing, the more I am beginning to believe that most spectators don't actually care about the issue of doping. They just enjoy the spectacle. And dope or no dope, that looks like it will continue. That's not to say you or I shouldn't care about it. We should. So as to avoid future instances of innocent athletes being cheated out of making a living, and to avoid guilty ones from being driven from making a living. Both, to me, are tragic. The other potential new fans who do care about doping, I worry will be turn away from a sport that has done more than most sports to ensure "fairness". And i think that if we are not careful, we can contribute to that, by engaging in the debate in a way that leaves the less informed with the impression that cycling is the "dirtiest" sport.

Yes, we should learn from the past, and that means discussing it openly, but like in Salem, witch hunts are pretty unedifying spectacles and are certainly not as entertaining as watching guys race their bikes. And witch hunts certainly aren't high up on potential sponsors lists of targets with which to advertise their wares. Something that is very relevant to our future. What is happening now will not take away man's innate desire to seek advantage, just as a lynching wasn't going to take away the desire of "slaves" to screw their "masters" wives. It might just have made them damn sure that they didn't get caught in future."


  1. Joe I think you are 100% correct, but that doesnt stop me wanting more of the big names to be as brave as you have and to speak with openness about what they have done. I suppose Riis, Zabel and Aldag have to some extent taken the path of being reasonably honest, but I guess an Ulrich telling his story would be really powerful, and I wonder if it would not be pretty helpful to him at a personal level. But you are right that would come at massive cost.

    I am personally finding that the moral dimension of things and the venom with which people are attacked is now maybe one of the things that is going to limit the sport moving forward. I find I am stuck between a rock and a hard place with my thinking towards doping now in that the pathway forward seems to involve a hell of a lot of angry looking back into what is a bit of a dead end. Its hard to see where the "new beggining" is going to spring from.

  2. SprintKing, thanks for the comment. I appreciate your support and praise, and I also think that were one like Ullrich to come forward, he would be displaying bravery far in excess to what I manifested. After all, I was caught red-handed (more or less) and so it was easier to reach the conclusion that I should come clean. There was just little to protect by maintaining the denials. OK, maybe money/material wealth - and defending it by denying the truth - isn't justification for keeping silent, but I can understand why people do it. It's scary to face the possibility of being left financially destitute, or to consider being caught for years in various legal battles - even when they arise out of your own bad decisions. I don't have any doubt that Ullrich's "Burnout Syndrome" is genuine and the public need to realize that their vicious response to confessed and "captured" dopers comes at a price.

  3. It does strike me as strange that we tend to treat dopers more harshly than the people who "cheated" on Wall Street to create the GFC or "cheated" in respect to basic safety proceedures at BP.

    Society seems to accept the validity of using slightly dubious means to establish an advantage in many areas of life, but to be very harsh in its analysis of others.

    While I am 100% against doping, we have to create a pathway forward from here and that is going to require us to forgive some people and that is going to really hard for a lot people. I do wonder how many of our own lives and decsions would hold up to real scrutiny. I am not saying that people should not have to take responsibility for their actions, but it does seem to be pretty easy to throw stones when you are not able to be scrutinised in return.

  4. I agree - there must exist and be protected and even highlighted a pathway BACK to competition and reintegration in Sport for those convicted of doping. While there is an entire argument for this that can be based on moral, ethical, even philosophical concerns, there is also a significant practical reality: that no athlete caught doping is going to cooperate with anti-doping authorities, or tell his story truthfully, in-full to the media, if the expected response is to be eviscerated. If those conditions become the norm, and are accepted - no, expected - forget the hope of someone revealing a smoking gun or providing investigators with detailed explanation of how athletes defeat the anti-doping controls. No, instead you'll just see an endless parade of Ivan Basso's and Dan Staite's - riders who either want to come back and so will admit to the bare minimum personal transgression but w/o "naming names" or riders who have no intention of ever competing in cycling again, and so basically tell the world to "F*ck Off."

    Neither situation is a good one if you want advancements in the fight against doping - because it's obvious that the ADA's need the cooperation of any dopers who they can turn.

  5. It seems that the German media has today come out against Ullrich again, calling him at risk for addiction and describing him as being on the brink of self-destruction. If folks actually cared about Ullrich the person, and they really thought he should have peace but equated that with the product of admitting to doping, I would encourage them to keep in mind the fact that if Ullrich is willing to keep lying, and he doesn't feel the need to publicly show himself, then he might also have peace if the media and the public just left him alone and stopped calling for him to publicly admit to doping. I mean, you can't make someone do what you want them to, if they're not willing to go there...

  6. To the anonymous reader who left a comment that included the following ("How's this for an idea? Let someone else not tainted like Saiz have a crack at running a team. This is why doping is endemic in the sport-the retreading of characters like Saiz. Remember, Saiz begat Bruyneel-where do you think "The Hog" learned his tricks?"), all I have to say is that it's not a question of "letting" someone else besides Saiz run a team. It's an economic question and if Saiz can raise the budget required to fund a pro team when someone like Gerry van Gerwen, why shouldn't he be able to create a squad? I know for a fact that at least two Continental teams that are applying for upgrade licenses (one to Pro Continental and one to ProTour) are dealing with doping scandals that haven't been made public yet - should their owners also be forced to bow-out of the sport and turn their budgets over to "someone else?"


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