Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Saga of Lance Armstrong

The Saga of Lance Armstrong
C. Neuroticus Absolutus
According to the caption below a picture of Lance Armstrong in The Roanoke Times (Saturday, August 25, 2012), “Lance Armstrong, who helped change the image of cycling, was deemed guilty of doping.” (The italics are mine.)
The accompanying article by The Roanoke Times Reporter Aaron McFarling said, “. . . Armstrong dropped his fight against doping charges by declining to enter the U. S. Anti-Doping Agency's arbitration process.”
Mr. McFarling gives the Times readers “three schools of thought” from which to choose: 1) Lance cheated but denies it. 2) Whether Lance cheated or not is not relevant because of his fund-raising efforts for cancer research. Or, 3)Lance is innocent, a target of a witch hunt.” Then Mr. McFarling says, “With all due respect, I don't know how anybody can believe No. 3 anymore. It just doesn't seem possible. Cycling is the dirtiest sport in the world. Everybody cheats. And yet Lance was the one guy who didn't—AND he beat all the cheaters? Seven times?. . .”
Do these statements allude to Mr. McFarling's personal contention that Armstrong is guilty? What do we care what Mr. McFarling thinks? This isn't reporting the news, this is an opinion piece. So what is it doing on the front page with the news? At least move it to the Sports section where such drivel is quoted and printed regularly.
I thought The Roanoke Times had an editorial page in addition to a policy of vetting all statements to ensure truth in publication. “Everybody cheats?” If the USADA couldn't prove it for one guy (Armstrong) how can you include everyone in the sport in your comment? And, “Cycling is the dirtiest sport in the world?” Lets see you prove that!
An examination of the choice of words in this article leads me to believe that the article was written by a freshman journalist. However, I assume Mr. McFarling's credentials are far better than that.
The Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary defines the word deem as follows:
Transitive verb: to come to think or judge: consider, < deemed it wise to go slow >

Intransitive verb: to have an opinion: believe

Synonyms: allow [chiefly Southern & Midland], conceive, consider, believe, esteem, feel, figure, guess, hold, imagine, judge, reckon [chiefly dialect], suppose, think

Related Words: regard, view, perceive, depend, rely, trust, assume, presume, presuppose, surmise, conclude, deduce, infer, accept”

Inserting some of these synonyms in place of “deem” in the first sentence of this story provides the following possibilities:
Lance Armstrong . . . was believed to be guilty . . .”
was considered to be guilty . . .”
we guessed he was guilty . . .”
we imagined him to be guilty
we supposed he was guilty
we presumed he was guilty
we reckoned he was guilty
we inferred he was guilty
we surmised he was guilty.
we figured he was guilty
etc., etc, etc.”

Got the picture yet? There was no standard burden of proof used in making the original statement, “deemed guilty.” Harsh words but perhaps appropriate when someone is being tried in the court of world opinion or the media.

Check out the amazing Olympic record of Michael Phelps. I suspect that by Mr. McFarling's yardstick, Phelps must certainly be deemed guilty of doping to have won so often and accumulated so many medals. Otherwise, it's just not possible!

What is the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) anyway? The following is quoted from the USADA website at

As a non-profit, non-governmental agency, our programs:
Provide deterrence and preservation of sport for athletes, coaches, students, teachers, parents, scientists and more through education and resources;
Include numerous protections for athletes to ensure that only athletes who are guilty of a doping violation are sanctioned;
Strive to systematically identify those individuals who are engaged in the effort to gain advantage over athletes who are competing clean; and
Fund pioneering research for the detection of doping substances and techniques, and the pursuit of scientific excellence in doping control.” (the highlighting is mine.)

By the way, these people report to no one but their own Board of Directors and are a self-proclaimed anti-doping organization.

Looking at the USADA statements above, “. . .only athletes who are guilty of a doping violation are sanctioned.” Where's the proof that Armstrong is guilty of such charges and thus should be sanctioned? (But they say they have 10 guys ready to testify that they saw Armstrong . . . Just remember, none of those witnesses have been identified and they haven't yet sworn an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in a court of law.)
And “. . .strive to systematically identify . . ?” After all of Armstrong's tests for doping and he having failed none, perhaps the USADA hasn't striven hard enough, or truly doesn't have the capability to detect everything that might be used to produce the near super-human endurance required to win the Tour de France seven times. If this is their fault, how can they justify stripping Armstrong's medals?
Well, forget all that. We just know he's guilty.
Further, it's not just the USADA that has been trying to catch these athletes, it's the whole world. Not just in cycling, but in all sports.
So Mr. McFarling, perhaps—at least for the moment— we'll not be able to accurately judge Lance Armstrong's actions or records. I've heard it said that it is impossible to prove a negative. So how should Armstrong prove that he is not guilty of doping, arbitration or not? The USADA and the anti-doping officials at the Olympics and the Tour de France had their chance and never found one iota of evidence of Mr. Armstrong having used doping.
What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty?
Lastly, readers would all appreciate a little more respect for the difference between subjective storytelling and objective reporting in our newspapers. Especially on the front page.

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