Lance Armstrong saga brings out the vitriol

Yoda-speak: Hate leads to anger, anger leads … to writing about Lance Armstrong.

As with the opinion on Jon Jones v UFC, mainstream punditry seems to have shifted. Or maybe it just depends on what news organization you read. You’re read my take — either nuanced or wishy-washy, depending on how charitable you are. And I already mentioned George Vecsey’s take, in which the great columnist thinks Armstrong likely wasn’t doing anything others weren’t doing as well.

Let’s see what else is out there:

At USA TODAY, my excellent former colleague Christine Brennan bluntly labels Armstrong a cheater.

The Washington Post, on the other hand, aims both barrels of anger at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Tracee Hamilton: “Either a drug test is the standard, or it isn’t.” (To which Marion Jones could respond, “Wait, I didn’t have to go to jail?”)  Sally Jenkins, who duly gives the disclaimer that she has written with Armstrong, says curiously uses alleged World Anti-Doping Agency misdeeds and ties them to what she sees an overzealous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which is a bit like throwing Sepp Blatter’s problems at Sunil Gulati’s feet.

Jenkins also implores Congress to step in and do something about “the WADA-USADA system,” calling it “simply incompatible with the U.S. legal system.”

So … I guess we won’t be sending any more athletes to the Olympics?

That said — Jenkins raises and repeats valid concerns about WADA and international arbitration. But thinking Congress can sort it out sure feels like betting on the wrong horse.

(Update: The Post is far from unanimous — Mike Wise calls Armstrong’s move a vindication of his longtime critics. One point worth mentioning: Armstrong’s critics don’t gain anything financially. Far from it. They stand to lose a lot. It’s not like the old WADA days where Dick Pound used his position to keep his name out there and occasionally tweak Americans.)

How do Armstrong’s sponsors feel? Former USA TODAY colleague Mike McCarthy finds Michelob Ultra sticking with him, and Oakley basically says “Prove it.”

Slate offers two takes — Josh Levin says Armstrong has managed to keep a core of true believers (looking around the Web and my own Facebook feed, I’d argue it’s more than a small core) and his “righteous indignation.” Jeremy Stahl, who has covered cycling, echoes the points Vecsey and I have made — if you strip Lance, who of the other suspected or convicted dopers will take his titles?

The Economist’s Game Theory blog, a good quirky read for those of us who like quirky sports coverage, views the Armstrong saga as a tragedy.

Let’s leave it to Mike Lopresti, a pro’s pro among columnists, to add some gray to the black-and-white case:

What Lance Armstrong shows us is that human nature will never be as straightforward as a box score or a talk show. We are quick to build up and even quicker to tear down, because to do either draws attention. But sport, like life, is almost always somewhere in the middle. Too bad, Armstrong’s story is not neat. They seldom are, those epics cluttered by flesh-and-blood. No matter how much we yearn them to be.

Metric, one of my favorite bands, has this lyric on their new album: “They were right when they said we should never meet our heroes.”  Perhaps it’s not so much that we shouldn’t meet them. Perhaps we need to be careful not to see them in absolutes.

MMA and drug testing: The good without the bad?

Josh Gross tackles drug testing in his latest podcast (check right column here), bringing on U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart as a guest.

Tygart makes the pitch that the UFC and state commissions should go whole-hog with blood testing, saying athletes otherwise have no incentive to steer clear of human growth hormone and other substances only detectable by such tests. That depends — HGH use is still illegal unless you’re under a doctor’s care, and a good raid on a black-market dealer could put any customer at risk. That said, blood testing is indeed a better deterrent.

But Tygart smartly allows a little bit of leeway to suggest the powers that be don’t need to follow the World Anti-Doping Agency’s rules to the letter. That’s good, because some of those rules already cause a few problems in other sports.

The classic examples:

Torri Edwards. Trainer misread a label that was written in French. Arbitrators accepted her story and duly … cut her two-year suspension down to 15 months.

Zach Lund. Took Propecia for hair loss. A component of Propecia was added to the list of prohibited substances. He didn’t realize this, but he duly listed Propecia as something he took, anyway. No one raised a red flag. Until the eve of the Olympics, of course. No Olympics for you. Oh, and then they took the substance off the banned list.

Alain Baxter. Did you know that the U.S. version of Vicks Inhaler has a substance that isn’t in the U.K. version? Neither did Baxter. That’s why he doesn’t have a bronze medal in skiing.

Anti-doping movements exist for good reason. No one wants to go back to the days in which East Germany’s athletes were basically lab experiments. (And if you don’t believe these drugs have nasty side effects, read the East Germans’ stories.) But it should be about athlete health and safety first. Not hair-splitting and bureaucracy.

And that’s why the MMA community should be grateful to Tygart for sharing his insights without first insisting that the UFC and state commissions sign everything away to WADA, which is finally emerging from years under the controversial leadership of Canadian Dick Pound.

Floyd Landis confession lets no one off the hook

The news that former Tour de France champion Floyd Landis has admitted using several performance-enhancing drugs in his cycling career, reported in The Wall Street Journal, is disappointing on several levels.

First, it invalidates one of the great performances in sports, Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. Landis had lost his overall lead with a weak ride the day before, falling from first to 11th overall. He then stormed out to a solo breakaway that you never see from a contender in one of the great Tours. Riders who have fallen far back in the general classification may pull off a breakaway at times, but if someone of Landis’ caliber breaks free, the pack responds. The pack did indeed respond, but Landis was just that strong.

(Landis tells ESPN’s Bonnie Ford that the testosterone test that flagged him after that race is still inaccurate, but he admits he using human growth hormone.)

Second, it raises more doubt on cycling’s protracted clean-up efforts and, once again, on Lance Armstrong. Landis implicates much of American cycling’s pantheon — Armstrong, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer and David Zabriskie — though he concedes to Ford that he has no documentation.

Third, it makes us wonder if anti-doping efforts are helping at all. Any gloating from anti-doping activists — especially from Dick Pound, whose irresponsible comments about “violating virgins” in the early days of the Landis case showed a nasty tendency to talk first, gather facts later — would be misguided.

If there’s even a grain of truth in the e-mails Landis has sent to cycling and anti-doping authorities, then the tests are missing the mark. He tells Ford he is showing authorities how athletes are still cheating and beating the tests.

And yet, the test that flagged down Landis is still questionable. The site Trust But Verify meticulously cataloged problems with Landis’ case, and nothing Landis says here disputes any of that analysis. Arbitrator Chris Campbell ripped the French lab that handled the results in voting to dismiss Landis’ case, and the two arbitrators who overruled him conceded that mistakes had been made. Even if Landis were indeed using synthetic testosterone at that time, which he still denies, better handling of the case would’ve led to a much cleaner and quicker resolution.

Anti-doping science is difficult and ever-changing. Just ask Zach Lund, who missed the Torino Olympics over an anti-baldness drug that was later removed from the banned list. The tests are complicated, and athletes are finding ways to beat them.

And that’s why the anti-doping movement must always proceed out of humility rather than arrogance. Especially today.

Update: Christine Brennan sums up anti-doping challenges in reference to the case of Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who paid house calls to Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez, with some telling quotes from someone who understands those challenges better than anyone — Gary Wadler.