Ken Johnson
CONNECTING THE DOTS
Grand Junction Free Press Opinion Columnist

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January 17, 2013
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JOHNSON: Is it cheating if you don't get caught?

I'm thinkin' about Lance Armstrong. I have been for quite a while. And you know what? I think I'll just keep wearing my yellow "Livestrong" bracelet.

And I'll keep admiring Lance for the amazing successes he has had. We all can recall that for years just about everyone reveled in those wins. The nation's best sports writers, editors, gushing TV mumblers and just about everyone following bike racing applauded his incredible seven Tour de France wins.

A few voices, sounding like sour grapes, said: "He's doping. Couldn't be just training. Or his basic physical body. Or team tactics. It MUST be doping!"

Not that getting caught cheating isn't serious. And one should expect to pay the piper. It's just that when a system is broken, like dope-testing, shouldn't we change the system?

Think about it. Through it all, our hero, Lance Armstrong, goes head to head with the world's best for eight or nine years. A guy who went to the edge of death with testicular cancer, came back to the sport and WON! Repeatedly.

Other racers, mere mortals, juiced up to beat him. A few did, only to be caught by the dope-testing teams. They were punished, pummeled, disgraced. Tossed out of the record books. Oh, the shame of it all! How terrible for a sport that lived by doping for 20 years and maybe more. Some who weren't caught went on to run their own teams with international success.

But not one time, in all those years, did Lance fail a drug test. The same tests that caught a bunch of other riders, those rotten cheats. He never got caught breaking the rules.

Frankly, I applaud the entertainment and inspiration Lance gave me, you and everyone in my tiny group of friends. He inspired millions to take up bike riding. He inspired a massive interest in professional cycling all over the world. He virtually created professional cycling as a big-dollar sport. He founded Livestrong and in six years raised nearly half a billion dollars to fight cancer. And now, a czar who might not even ride a bike has slain our hero, banned him for life.

The first "Tour de France" I ever bothered to watch was Lance's third. Frankly, I knew nothing of bike racing; I didn't know the difference between a peloton and an erection. (Some probably say I still don't.)

But I saw crowds along the route shouting at him, in French, of course, "Dopey, dopey." Announcers Bob Roll and Phil Sherwin mentioned it and then ignored it, since Lance had cleared every single drug test ever given him. Ever. And he won the races.

The rules said if we catch you cheating we will throw you out of the race or, if you win, we'll take your title. And they would have. Lord knows they did their best to nail him!

Lance continued to test clean. He had bagged seven Tour wins in a row. Some of his talented but extra-stupid teammates like Floyd Landis and some major foreign competitors started getting caught. Lance did not.

So if he played by the rules, including not getting caught, why did we decide to destroy him AFTER he retired?

In order to bring Lance down after he "got away with it for 10 years" the new U.S. drug czar cut deals with many of Lance's former teammates. To get off with no punishment they had to confess to being part of Lance's huge drug program. They had to say: "Lance made me do it." And they did. They uniformly said everyone in the sport was juicing.

With Lance crushed, the sport is magically "clean." Yeah, sure. Sport and politics are not about winning, they are about high moral ground and presenting an image of perfection to the unwashed public.

Not that I'm a cynic. Oh no, far from that. I just figure that this is America where we have a true national sport: Cheating. It is part of our culture. Cheat, get caught, go to jail. Cheat, don't get caught, become a hero.

Cut a few corners, win. Lie outright, win. After all, it's the winning we admire and emulate. We sort of hide our national character behind pious posturing, keeping private the little shortcuts we take in our lives.

So I like the "hero" best. It feels better than tut-tutting after the fact that maybe our "hero" somehow had an unfair advantage. Oh the shame that he might have "cheated."

Might be smarter if we don't make rules we can't enforce.

Ken is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.


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The Post Independent Updated Jan 17, 2013 01:40PM Published Jan 17, 2013 01:39PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.