Ken Johnson
Grand Junction Free Press Opinion Columnist

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January 23, 2013
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KEN JOHNSON: Celebrities and other cheaters

Last week I asked: Is it really cheating if you don't get caught? Here's some historic basis for that question.

Years ago I became acquainted, up close and personal, with a wonderful guy named Junior Johnson (no relation, darn it). He was a true American hero. Oh, he still is. There is even a movie that celebrates Junior's odyssey: "The Last American Hero."

Junior was jailed for being a great moonshiner, for successfully "gaming" the rules of the day. Making the booze was easy, getting it sold easier, but outrunning the feds with inspired driving was harder, and maybe even more fun. Down around Possum Hollow, N.C., he kept beating the feds. They became relentless in trying to catch him and finally did.

End of the story? No. After jail, he went into NASCAR racing. He won. Time after time. Then he used that experience to start his own teams, winning and winning with drivers named Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough.

He had some secrets. Super-cheat engine and chassis tricks. Not all by the "rules" when he tried them, but every team experimented out on the edge of those rules. They were looking for fractions of seconds, for a few more RPM. Junior found more tricks and found them more cleverly. So he won. It was The American Way.

Others got caught. They were penalized. Some didn't get caught, but everyone saw the rules change. You see, the actual progress was being pioneered by those "cheaters." NASCAR prospered. Drivers prospered. Owners prospered. Fans loved it and still do.

Junior said it best after years of winning. How did he pursue the American Dream so successfully?

"It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught."

Is this the real American way? Try to level the playing field and also, somehow, find some "extra" advantage?

You aren't going to find me wringing my hands about Lance Armstrong betraying me, or insisting that he deserves what he's getting. That feels small and mean-spirited. So does ignoring the cancer-research foundation he started.

My question is whether, in the grand scheme of things, it is OK for the enforcers to change the rules so THEY can be seen as the new heroes. Is that what happened to Lance? The doping czar takes samples gauged "clean" when the races happened, and with new technology finds them tainted? Like 12 years later?

And then cut deals with other cyclists, gun to the heads, either confess for yourself AND Lance, or YOU are banned for life, too.

Instead, they get a six-month time out and then it's back to action.

This zero-tolerance, change-the-rules mentality has, for a lot of folks, wounded cycling as something we can now do without.

You say the "doping" and cheating is confined to bicycles and NASCAR? Sorry. I again share with you it is part of our culture.

How about pro football? We have Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, standing up for his team. He IS a fabulous quarterback in a violent sport. (And a sport for certain full of chemical enhancements by many players.) But he doesn't like the penalties his team garnered by those "headhunters" (hurt, maim and injure the opposing quarterback and we pay you a cash bonus). His team got caught.

He says it wasn't true.

Oh, and then he says that, by the way, every team in the league is doing it.

My hope for 2013 is that the next time a politician or a pundit or some bureaucrat tries to use the high moral ground to stuff some other inane rule down our throats, we yell: "Pants on Fire, You Liar!"

Meanwhile, let's all continue to Livestrong.


An apology. Last week I misidentified one of the talented pro-cycling announcers.

A letter writer, Daphne, pointed out my error.

She is correct and has my thanks. There is no Phil Sherwin, as I wrote. There are, however, Bob Roll, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.

The humiliation of it all. My only (and very weak) excuse is that yes, as suspected, I must have more wine-addled brain cells than my friends have long suspected. I'm also reminded to check everything, particularly if it's from memory.

But, if Daphne hadn't sent her kind note, I would not have looked up Bob Roll and found that in 1998, as a discouraged Lance was slowly recovering from his cancer treatments, he had helped motivate Lance to continue with cycling!

It be, as always, a small world.


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 23, 2013 11:43PM Published Jan 23, 2013 11:41PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.