I saw a Tweet this morning from a not-obscure sportswriter I know by acquaintance, moments after the news broke that Nike was terminating its endorsement contract with Lance Armstrong:
It was a retweet, with that single word as his response.
And the media self-righteousness took off from there, with some wondering when Armstrong might “come clean,” because he obviously should, and if Sally Jenkins, a columnist for The Washington Post who collaborated with the cyclist on two books, would end her silence since the USADA issued its “reasoned decision” last week.
Nike explained that the “overwhelming evidence” contained in the USADA documents led to its decision, although the sporting goods behemoth will continue to work with Livestrong, the non-profit organization Armstrong founded to advocate for cancer survivors.
Armstrong, however, will be stepping down as chairman of the board.
Well, of course he’s guilty if all this is happening. This is the final proof. What else could it be?
It’s stunning that journalists I know who are more jaded than I am, and who have long groused about Nike’s reputation for provocative commercials and promotional shamelessness, aren’t seeing this as the inevitable fallout of a once-admired athlete being brought into such disrepute.
First came the thundering pronouncements of “guilt,” without the USADA actually having to prove it. The public relations nightmare was the next thing to address, and Nike has now done that.
A week ago, Nike was standing by the seven-time Tour de France champion, who still faces the possibility of being stripped of his titles. Armstrong, the company said in its official statement, “misled Nike for more than a decade.” Oh, and “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”
Emphasis on the illegal.
Because we are firmly in the midst of a rather fanatical War on Drugs in Sports, we have to make things illegal that ought not to be. I’m not advocating the use of anabolic steroids in disdaining the heavy hand of the U.S. government, which funds most USADA operations. Since it does not have to go before an actual court of law and does not have to meet the highest burden of proof, this agency can prosecute alleged dopers in the court of public opinion, and much more effectively.
And because most of our mainstream sports media is complicit in adhering to the USADA’s zero tolerance zealotry, we will continue to have such juvenile, black-and-white conversation about the topic, if you can say there is a conversation at all.
Cheater. Fraud. No, “the greatest fraud in American sports.” Nah nah nah nah nah.
The hectoring and moralizing have been so one-sided from mainstream media outlets that it’s easy to forget that we really don’t know much about the deep science of these substances, how harmful to the body they may be, and how much (or little) they actually enhance athletics performance.
We don’t have the time, or the patience, to plumb into the nuances of this, or to ask other glaring questions. Such as: “Why wasn’t Armstrong caught earlier?”
The media establishment will have you believe this was due to a lack of advanced testing technology and a code of “omerta” among cyclists.The most offended journalists in all of this have been the least interested in any kind of critical examination of how the anti-doping authorities go about their business, and especially why the USADA has investigated allegations about a retired cyclist that in some cases predate its own existence.
But one journalist found plenty of time to dig into where Livestrong’s money goes.
There also is zero tolerance of pondering any possibility that there may be little that can be done to rid from cycling a widespread pattern of doping that existed long before Armstrong came along and that has reached far beyond his influence.
After writing what I thought would be my last rant about the Armstrong case last week, I came across “A Pharmacy on Wheels,” an exhaustive compilation of that sport’s history with doping, going back more than a century. It was written in 1998, just as Armstrong was hitting his stride and three years before the USADA was created.
If you think the USADA’s crusade is going to lead to “clean riding,” read this and think again.
To suggest Nike is cutting ties with Armstrong because of his alleged “guilt” is to misunderstand Nike. Armstrong “got caught,” and this presented a public relations problem.
At least one sportswriter I know did have the temerity to point out on Twitter that Nike realized it couldn’t a lot of Armstrong T-shirts anymore. Among other regalia.
So today happened. It’s all about the brand.