Lance Armstrong and the truth-tellers … well, sort of

The NYT has a curious piece hailing the independent media as the sole source of truth in the years before Lance Armstrong was buried under 1,000 pages of U.S. Anti-Doping Agency evidence.

Nice shoutout to NYVelocity.com, home of the ever-classic Tour day Schmalz, but it’s a little unfair to split the cycling media into “brave, truth-telling, low-profile underdogs” and “those who were unwilling or simply scared to tell the truth.” (Or even worse, “enablers.”)

The issue: For journalists to print doping allegations, they have to have something called “evidence.”

The main reason we wait for evidence: It’s simply ethical to do so. The other reason is one I supposed you could file under “scared,” but legitimately so: Lance Armstrong wasn’t just suing his critics over the years. He was winning.

Satire, such as NYVelocity’s inside joke-heavy “Toto” cartoons, has broader protection. And in a lot of cases, satire is better able to tell the truth than the “media.” Just go back a couple of years to the classic Onion story “Lance Armstrong Wants To Tell Nation Something But Nation Has To Promise Not To Get Mad.”

Sure, a few people pursued the Armstrong case when it wasn’t cool to do so. A lot of people in the cycling community owe Betsy Andreu an apology. But “enablers”? That’s a little harsh. And unfair.

Paralympics: How about we treat participants as athletes and show the sports?

You can’t really say the U.S. media had no impact on the Paralympics. Jay-Z is part of the media, and he added a Paralympic/Olympic-specific verse to Coldplay’s Paradise at the Closing Ceremony.

The Closing Ceremony drew a peak audience of 7.7 million, by the way. That’s in Britain, of course — not here in the USA, where we could only watch via streams.

And the lack of Paralympic coverage is something NBC might need to explain when the next Olympic broadcast rights are up for negotiation. (HT: ThinkProgress)

To be fair to NBC, it’s not as if the rest of the U.S. media rushed to fill the void in Paralympics coverage.

Perhaps one reason the Paralympics don’t get much play in the USA is that we forget to think of Paralympians as athletes. A BBC roundup of leading countries, their medals, and their media led to this conclusion:

Most news coverage has focused not on results or the medal chase, but on human interest stories or curiosities, with headlines such as “Shark attack survivor wins bronze.”

Contrast that with another quote in that roundup: Paralympian Josh George via The New York Times:

Even more amazing than the fact that Londoners have opened their arms and hearts to the Paralympics is the fact that they are interested in us for our athletic ability, not the fact that we don’t spend every day in our rooms crying about the fact that we can’t walk, or are missing a limb or two.

South Park has probably said it best on several occasions: People with disabilities often just want to live as everyone else does. And maybe we should focus on wheelchair rugby as a fun sport to watch instead of trumping up the “human interest” angle. We’re all “human.” Paralympians happen to be great athletes as well.

Then again, don’t we often hear the same criticism about NBC’s Olympic coverage?

Hope Solo: Too unique for a double standard

It’s tempting to respond to the cries of a “double standard” against Hope Solo with a segment of “Really!?! with Seth and Amy.”

Really? There’s a double standard against Hope Solo? She said something totally nasty about one of her teammates at the 2007 Women’s World Cup, but people actually like her because of it because it makes her seem like a badass. Really.

Really? A double standard? Landon Donovan quickly moved to apologize for talking in public about David Beckham — saying the same stuff that tons of Galaxy fans were saying as well — but there’s a double standard against Hope Solo? Really? Donovan and Beckham actually sorted it out while Solo still holds a grudge … and wait a minute, that grudge blew open with something she said? Really?

Really? Have any of Hope’s fans ever listened to a sports talk show? If a backup quarterback ever said, “I would have made those passes,” Colin Cowherd wouldn’t even need a microphone to broadcast his show nationwide. He’d just stand up on the roof at ESPN and yell.

Yeah, really! And then Solo does an interview with Jeremy Schaap, and her fans gripe that he asked her about her relationship with the older women’s national team players? After she wrote a book that talked about that relationship?

Really! If Jeremy Schaap interviewed Jose Canseco about his books, do Hope’s fans think he would not ask him about steroids? Really?

And the E:60 video is all Hope’s side! Where’s Cat Whitehill? Where’s Julie Foudy? Where’s Briana Scurry? Really!

Really! And yet Hope has fans on Twitter who say the old guard refuses to “pass the torch.” The Who can keep touring until they don’t have anyone left, but Brandi Chastain’s supposed to disappear at age 40 like some soccer-specific remake of Logan’s Run? Hope’s the one with a memoir out and the excerpts at espnW about her conflicts with the “old guard,” but they’re the ones keeping the past alive?

Really! Really? ….

(This has been “Really?! with Seth and Amy)

So yes, I’m a little skeptical of the “double standard” notion — at least in terms of how Solo and her book have been treated in the media.  The Schaap interview is labeled as “contentious” — which is often Schaap’s style, anyway — and yet Schaap didn’t really challenge anything she said in the book. Schaap didn’t fire back with, “You lost respect for Kristine Lilly? Really?” He asked her to name a name that’s named in the book so they could discuss it.

What I said the last time I wrote on this book two weeks ago is still valid — there are multiple sides to a lot of the issues in Solo’s book, and the other sides aren’t talking. That’s not acquiescence on the part of the “old guard” just because Solo’s book hit the NYT best-sellers list. A lot of NYT best-sellers are political smears, and the politicians in question often don’t respond to them, either. Silence is often a valid PR strategy in such cases.

With so few people speaking up, Solo is really getting a free pass on her unflattering portrayal of players who still have a lot of fans, no matter what Solo’s Twitter echo chamber may say. It’s all her side of the story — which, again, is the point of a memoir. If you lose respect for Lilly, Hamm, Scurry and company because of Solo’s book, that’s really your fault, not Solo’s.

So it’s difficult to make a case for a double standard in terms of the media coverage. What about elsewhere?

And here’s where it gets tricky. Would a men’s team ostracize a player the way the USWNT did to Solo?

I had a long private conversation with another journalist about this yesterday, and we couldn’t think of a case of another athlete being ostracized the way Solo was. But we didn’t know of someone saying the things Solo said in 2007. We also didn’t know of someone being benched the way Solo was — starting goalkeeper until the semifinals, then suddenly yanked from the lineup.

Maybe such a thing has happened to a hockey goaltender or football quarterback somewhere along the way. Men’s teams have their internal disputes as well, often protected by a code of silence and vague words in the media. Perhaps someone at this weekend’s Victory Tour game in Rochester will ask Abby Wambach why, as depicted in Solo’s words, she suddenly thought Briana Scurry was better-suited to the World Cup task than Solo was in 2007. I’d be surprised if the interviewer got a complete answer.

But it’s hard to come up with anything that matches every aspect of Solo’s case — the undisputed starter, with no injuries to consider, suddenly being benched.

Was Solo treated differently within the team because it was a team of women? We really don’t have enough evidence to say. We know men can be called out within the team for their practice habits — ask Allen Iverson. But even if someone were to claim flat-out that Solo was benched for her performance in practice, one of several possibilities floated and never nailed down, could we really compare Iverson’s case with Solo’s?

No. They’re just too different. And not just because they’re men and women.

Solo’s unique. That’s why she’s selling books. And that’s why people are going to discuss and debate what she says. No double standard there.

When Olympians deserve better from the rest of us

I don’t mean to pick on Mike Wise here, because this isn’t the first column to take a couple of stray mixed-zone comments and berate an Olympic athlete as if she let down her family, country, boyfriend and dog.

He does take it to new heights, though, in this column.

“Pretty much all my mistakes cost me the bout,” Zagunis said, adding that any bout she ever lost had less to do with the skill, smarts and perseverance of her opponents than it was “my lack of concentration.

“Congrats to them for winning, [but] in my opinion, if I was completely 100 percent on mentally, then I would have been able to win again. It’s happened to me before.”

First, I’d like to see the full context here. Second, she’s basically saying she choked. That doesn’t strike me as arrogant or petulant.

Ready for it to get worse?

That is, no one but fencers care about fencing after the Olympics are over. And nothing is as over as when the Olympics are over.

So while they’re going on, niche athletes need to savor the Games and smile more often for those two weeks, give opponents that beat them credit more often — because they really matter to most of us only every four years.

So take THAT, Miss Not As Composed As Journalist Would Like After Shocking Loss On World’s Biggest Stage. You’re utterly useless the rest of the four years between Olympics, when you’re just off getting an education and winning the occasional world championship.

I sometimes wonder why people would want to be Olympic athletes. You devote your adolescent and young adult years to developing a rarified skill, and then if you’re anything less than perfect when the international broadcast feed clicks on, you’re subject to ridicule from an increasingly snarky media feeding off the perpetual snark of Twitter.

NBA and NFL players usually have one more game to play, and their mistakes are quickly forgotten. A media firestorm passes with time, and the player goes back to being an athlete. But if you screw up on or off the field, piste or pommel horse in that one instant America notices you before preparing for a fantasy football draft, and that window is gone.

Fair? Definitely not, even when the journalists are less explicit in their harrumphing than Wise is here.

We won’t change the armchair-Olympian attitude, though in the new media age, people can fight back:

Yes, that’s fellow fencer Tim Morehouse, who has also responded in more detail:

Mr Wise: Maybe she didn’t respond to defeat to your liking, but she didn’t make excuses, throw her equipment, curse anyone out or do anything but respond as best she could to an emotionally challenging situation.     I have seen far worst displays from athletes and this one certainly didn’t warrant the zeal to which you attacked her in your article.

It is legitimate to criticize athletes for their behavior (yes, even fencers), but your article was a personal attack.

And to the “every four years” point, Morehouse says this:

Fencing is a great sport and Mariel Zagunis is a great champion.  Whether people are writing about it or not over the next 3 years, she’ll be working hard to achieve her goals while conducting herself as a role model and contributing to our society.   She pursues excellence not for the Bob Costas sit down or the Wheaties box, but because she is trying to be the best she can be.    And in the end, that IS the Olympic spirit.

PS Don’t mess with the fencing team.   We have swords.(and twitter)

One more point, possibly self-serving: I’ve always tried, at USA TODAY and elsewhere, to get people to care about Olympic sports in non-Olympic years. And these Games have inspired me to redouble my efforts. That’s why this little blog is going to stick with Olympic programming. (And soccer and MMA, don’t worry about that.) When Zagunis wins another world championship, you’ll read about it.

And if we’re looking for Olympic controversies, shouldn’t we be looking at the boxing judges?

UPDATE: Wise has really gotten into it with some people on Twitter, alternating between gracious smoothing-over …

… and upping the ante on the attacks …

Being a Dukie who interviewed this fencing team in Beijing and had a funny conversation with Becca Ward about skipping the closing ceremony in favor of Duke’s freshman orientation (I told her she wasn’t missing much at the latter, but she insisted), I’m moderately curious about this. Ward went on to a fantastic college fencing career at Duke, in any case.

“She and her mother bully people and have a sense of entitlement” is “something positive”?

This is why people hate journalists.

The effect of arguments

A message came in over Twitter from a private feed (I’ll identify him if he likes), asking a good question: “Why on earth do you engage with complete morons?”

This was in response to last night’s Twitter fight, in which I was arguing with two guys with a combined Twitter followership of less than 50 people about the incident at yesterday’s Masters in which Bergen Record columnist Tara Sullivan was denied entry into the locker room.

No one credible is jumping to say Sullivan shouldn’t have been in the locker room. Her male colleagues rallied to share quotes with her. Augusta National very quickly apologized and pinned the blame on a misinformed security guard.

Don’t confuse the Sullivan case with the question of whether the locker room should be open in the first place. That’s a legitimate question, raised recently by Toronto FC’s Aron Winter. The norm in other countries and many smaller-scale U.S. leagues (including Women’s Professional Soccer) is to keep the locker room closed but make athletes available for interviews in a timely fashion. Some sports handle it better than others, of course. But if the powers that be have decided that the most expedient way to handle interviews is to open the locker room, then barring women at the door is an impediment to their jobs.

As my buddy hoover_dam said: “Either you let everyone in or you do a mixed zone where you let nobody in. Get with it, ya jerks.”

Continue reading The effect of arguments

Swimming sex abuse scandal breaking

Corporate siblings ESPN and ABC are investigating cases of sexual misconduct among U.S. swimming coaches, with each network releasing some of its work tonight.

The ABC version, at least in the online form, looks a little sensationalized and allows a few unrealistic statements about USA Swimming to go unchecked. Bob Allard, a lawyer for families now suing USA Swimming, calls the organization’s background-check system “willfully incomplete.” That seems harsh given the realities of national sports federations’ budgets.

That said, the report raises a few questions of how some coaches were able to move from place to place just as parents and police were asking questions.

The ESPN piece, which won’t air in full until May 2 on Outside the Lines, seems more promising, delving into the questions of how this could happen without the assumption that it must all be USA Swimming’s fault.

Clearly, the organization isn’t set up to police 12,000 swim coaches. It never could be. But shedding some light on the problem should help to change the culture and make parents and swimmers feel more empowered to report abuses. The news reports will be just the start of that process.