bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Lance Armstrong gives up the fight

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Every once in a while I run into a story about which I want to write, but I can’t decide if it’s Bad Sports or Good Sports. The current Lance Armstrong saga is one of those stories. There are a lot of different facets to this tale, and they are fairly well distributed on both sides of the ledger. Armstrong is arguably the greatest cyclist of all time, having won the prestigious Tour de France a record seven times. Even more remarkably, all seven came after he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996. For a number of years, though, he has been dogged by allegations of doping, a problem that is absolutely rampant in the sport. This week, he announced that he was giving up the fight against the charges, saying that the process has been unfair and continuing to fight was a waste of time and effort. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency immediately banned him from the sport for life and stripped him of his titles.

I have no idea if Armstrong cheated or not. I like to think that he didn’t, and the charges and claims have seemed awfully superficial all along. He passed drug test after drug test, and yet the authorities continued to come after him. Other cyclists spoke out, both for him and, more often, against him. Their claims could be real, could be lies prompted by jealousy, or could be somewhere in between, which seems far more likely. Throughout sports, individuals and teams try to find whatever  competitive advantage they can. Sometimes that involves direct breaking of existing rules, and so those situations are very clear, as far as how to handle. Other times, people find loopholes and angles that may seem devious but are not actually against any written rule. This happens in NASCAR all the time, as teams do everything they can to find some small opportunity to be a hundredth of a second faster than the next guy. All the sports can do is continually modify and update the rules to try to level the playing field. They will never catch up, of course. There is too much money at stake and too many smart, motivated people involved to think that the rules-makers could stay out in front.

Should Armstrong have given up? Part of me thinks he was right in saying that enough is enough. The pursuit has been so constant, so heated, and so narrowly focused on just the possible negatives that he knew he had no way to be free of it. At the same time, giving up looks to most people like an admission of guilt. If he is really not guilty, why would he allow his legacy to be determined by his enemies? I have been thinking a lot about this lately, particularly in light of the scandal at Penn State. The public has decided what happened, regardless of any actual evidence, and the Board of Trustees’ decision to not fight or plead its case has simply allowed the school’s supposed culpability to appear to be fact. If Armstrong never cheated, it is a real shame to think that the record books will now say he did.

I am not sure how the USADA is able to strip someone of titles that it did not confer in the first place. There are so many governing bodies in cycling, jurisdiction would appear to be a major question mark here. Again, though, if the fight is over, I guess it doesn’t matter much. Armstrong will not compete in professional cycling again. As far as the Tour titles, does stripping him of those mean anything? We know who won those races. Will they give those titles to the runners-up? I am pretty sure most, if not all, of them have been accused of doping as well. I guess those Tours just never happened.

In the immediate wake of this week’s news, Armstrong’s charity, Livestrong, took in a record amount in donations. That says a lot about the goodwill that he has built up over the years. I have always admired his ability to overcome cancer and become so successful at something so physically grueling. I really hope he didn’t cheat, and I hope that this is not the end of his story.

Bad sports, continued (OK, I guess I decided):

2) The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol on Saturday was an exciting one, but it led to some pretty bad behavior. Defending Cup champion Tony Stewart wrecked along with competitor Matt Kenseth late in the race. To my eyes, it was Stewart’s fault. I guess he thought otherwise, though, as he stood out on the track until Kenseth went by again and threw his helmet at Kenseth’s car. Worse yet, in an interview after the incident, Stewart announced that he would wreck Kenseth every chance he got for the remainder of the season. I know that NASCAR has a history of fireworks like this, and I imagine that they even liked what happened, as far as the talk it generated, but if they leave this behavior unpunished, they are a bunch of hypocrites.

3) Michael Pineda, a pitcher for the New York Yankees on whom I wasted a reasonably high draft pick in my fantasy baseball draft back in March only to see him be lost for the season to injury just weeks later, was charged with DUI in Tampa on Monday.

4) NFL agent Drew Rosenhaus has been accused of offering money and other illegal benefits to Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant while he was still at Oklahoma State. Rosenhaus has always seemed like such a slimeball that it is amazing to me that it took this long to hear something like this about him.

5) A high school football player in Shelby County, Tennessee, died on Tuesday after losing consciousness when he was hit during practice. Dana Payne was 15 years old.

6) A 70-year-old professional tennis referee has been charged with murdering her 80-year-old husband by hitting him in the head with a coffee mug. Lois Goodman was extradited from New York to Los Angeles to face the charges.

7) University of Tennessee wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers was suspended indefinitely by head coach Derek Dooley for a violation of team rules. Rogers had been in trouble several times before, so this latest incident must have been the last straw.

Good sports:

1) A Little League team from Goodlettsville, Tennessee, made it to the finals of the Little League World Series this week. Although they lost to a team from Tokyo in the title game, the American team had quite a run to get there. In the penultimate game, a barnburner against a team from California that the Tennesseans won 24-16, Goodlettsville star Lorenzo Butler hit three homeruns, each one a three-run shot. It was an amazing performance in an exciting game.

2) Augusta National Golf Club broke 80 years of unfortunate tradition by finally admitting a couple of women as members. Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was one of the two women voted in, and she will begin her membership next month.

3) Remember Jim Joyce? He is the major league umpire who stole a perfect game from Colorado Rockies pitcher Armando Galarraga a couple of years ago with one of the worst calls of all-time. He redeemed himself a bit this week when he helped save a woman’s life by giving her CPR when she collapsed at Chase Field in Phoenix on Monday.

4) Lydia Ko won the Canadian Women’s Open in British Columbia on Sunday. At 15 years old, Ko is the youngest winner in the history of the LPGA.

Bad sports, good sports appears every Monday

Alan Spoll is a software quality assurance director from the suburbs of Philadelphia where he lives with his wonderful wife and children. He has spent his entire life as a passionate fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, and Penn State. Recent Phillies success aside, you will understand his natural negativity. Follow me on Twitter - @DocAlan02
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