Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lay Off Lance Already and Do Something Important

Frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn about the "performance enhancing" substances that Roger Clemens, Marion Jones and Barry Bonds may or may not have ingested, or lied to Congress about.

I do give a damn that Congress -- and agencies like the FDA and FBI -- are wasting their time and my tax dollars on investigations that should be entirely the province of the organizations that govern sport.

Now that the feds have Lance Armstrong in their crosshairs it becomes a personal issue for me.  I'm a cancer survivor and regular contributer to Lance's Livestrong Foundation, which has done more in less time for cancer education and research than any other entity.

And this is what's important about Lance Armstrong: he had testicular cancer, and beat it; it metastacized to his lungs, and he beat it; it metastacized to his brain, and he beat it.  Yes, he went on to set a record by winning seven Tour de France bicycling championships, but what's important is that he used the wealth and celebrity those championships created to fight the battle against a killer disease.

For me and many of my acquaintances who are also cancer survivors, Armstrong became a symbol not just of hope, but of belief that there is life worth the living after cancer. Last year alone, Livestrong gave $31 million to work that directly benefits cancer victims.  Dr. John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society, says: “Lance Armstrong has done more to destigmatize cancer than anyone.”

Soon, courtesy of Livestrong, a new "navigation center" will open in Armstrong's home town of Austin, TX.  Patterned after one in Harlem, it will help the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged to "navigate" through the health care system.  According to Dr. Harold P. Freeman, who founded the Harlem center, Armstrong  "came to see me at our center, which takes care of poor black and Hispanic people, many of whom have no health insurance. He showed a genuine interest in what I was trying to do and came back four different times. I see him as a compassionate person who cares about people who don’t have resources.”

I have questions about the genesis of the latest accusations: the dubious veracity of his principal accuser, Floyd Landis, who lied about his own doping long after it cost him his own Tour championship; the obsessive zeal of the investigator, Jeff Novitzky, an FDA agent who seems to have anointed himself to be Javert to every Jean Valjean in sport; the petty jealousies that seem to pervade professional cycling beyond the intensity of the competition itself.

Many cycling rivals, and others who know Armstrong, assert that he is a nasty man, a "control freak" and a super ego.  Others, including an ex-girl friend, say he's a really nice guy who "loves life." 

Some journalists who cover cycling, and other intense followers of the sport, insist that anyone who has had any success in the major races could only have done so with the help of some illegal substances or practices to give them an edge.

Others point out that Armstrong has been the most tested athlete in all of sport and never tested positive for anything illegal.

Isn't that sufficient?

Government has more important things to do than poke around into the locker rooms of sport.  Congress couldn't pass a health care bill to bring genuine reform  to the worst health care system in the civilized world; it couldn't come to grips with the drastic climate change wrought by our total dependency on harmful fossil fuels; it can't find a way out of the longest, most insane wars in our history; but it can bother about whether an overpaid and overweight thrower of baseballs was juiced up with steroids?

Let the big-wigs of baseball worry about the Barry Bondses and Roger Clemenses; let the track and field people police the Marion Joneses and the suspect hurdlers and sprinters; let the governing bodies of cycling investigate Floyd Landis's charges.  If Jeff Novitzky has the Bushian notion that he's on a mission for God, let him apply for a job with the international cycling organization.

Meanwhile, kick in a few bucks to the Livestrong Foundation, or at least buy one of those yellow bracelets.  Cancer victims the world over, and their families, will thank you.

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