The dubious deeds of the sports ‘justice’ system

Bravo — no, bravissimo — to Elliott Turner for his excoriation of the sports governing bodies involved in disciplinary proceedings against Lance Armstrong (doping) and Chelsea soccer star John Terry (racial taunting of another player).

Turner’s withering discourse on The Classical gets to the heart of the problem of the “kangaroo courts” of sports. Bodies like the English Football Association and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which are not bound by a high bar of legal proof, enjoy greater power against athletes, even those who have official charges against them dropped, as in the cases of Terry and Armstrong, or are otherwise exonerated.

Indeed, Turner argues, the worst part of this is the seeming inevitability that should the government fall short, sports entities will really bring down the hammer, heavier than a court of law ever could:

“Instead of creating a separate sphere of sport and law, this looks like a second bite at the apple. If the police mess up an investigation or a prosecutor blows a trial, then de facto double jeopardy awaits the accused athlete. He may not face a year in jail, but instead risks losing seven Tour de France titles, a lifetime of achievement, and his good name.”

This is a line of argument that, as I blogged about recently, rarely makes its way into the mainstream sports media. Especially sanctimonious is the cadre of American columnists who rail eternally against “cheating,” as if that were an offense worse than the suspension of due process for accused athletes.

Picture 1Earlier this month a blog post on the Columbia Journalism Review website was devoted to how journalists covering the Armstrong case are better-versed in the scientific details of doping, and how they’re informing readers as a result.

Declan Fahy pointed out the difficulties faced by reporters as well as drug-testers in detecting banned substances. But he completely ignored the monopoly status agencies like USADA and WADA enjoy, and that are even becoming quasi-legal in the current climate of fanatical punishment, actual guilt or innocence be damned.

Fahy made only passing references to media discussions about the ethics of doping, and whether taking steroids should be banned at all. Then he plugged cyclist and former Armstrong confidant Tyler Hamilton’s new tell-all book, “The Secret Race,” as “a first-hand account of how systematic doping is conducted.”

Perhaps in a future post Fahy can examine the need for reporters to exhibit not just “scientific muscle” but also equal discernment of the extra-legal process that “convicts” athletes where courts of law do not. And what are the ethics of that?

Turner’s piece would serve as a very good example of some badly needed journalistic scrutiny of the anti-doping zealots. Because they’re getting more of a free ride than the “cheaters” ever did.

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