Lance Armstrong, Sandusky trial, and other sports news with Sally Jenkins

Jun 14, 2012

This week, Sally Jenkins fills in for Tracee Hamilton to discuss all the sports news.

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Hi all, I can just imagine how many questions there are today. I apologize in advance if I don't get to all of them.

Having collaborated on a book with Armstrong, how convinced are you that he is a "clean" athlete?

As I've said, Lance is my friend and when he tells me he is clean I accept what he says because that's what you do with friends. I deal with him as I suppose anyone would want to be dealt with: I judge him based on our personal interactions. He's a good man. Nothing can alter my opinion on that. I have my own reasons for believing he is clean: I think he's a freak of nature. I think his results over the years, from his career as a phenom triathlete when he was an adolescent to his Tour de France career to his recent triathlon career are pretty consistent. And personally I don't believe he would have jeopardized his health after surviving lung tumors and brain lesions that came with testicular cancer. I may be proved a naive idiot, but I like where I stand with him. He's a good guy who does nothing but good work as a public figure.

Do you think USADA has good reasons for pursuing the charges against Armstrong -- something like "set the tone for the future by cleaning up the past?" Or, as Armstrong indicates, do you think there is an element in this of irrationality and revenge?

Take Lance Armstrong out of the equation: I find USADA irrational. Across the board. WADA and USADA both in their public statements and their treatment of cases are irrational. Either your drug testing system works, or it doesn't. How can you test someone 500 times and then say, "That's irrelevent."? If your tests are ineffective, then what is your reason for being, why are you administering them, and why are taxpayers paying the enormous costs of them? USADA says "You need us to test athletes." And then they throw their tests out as any standard of evidence? What sense does THAT make? I wind up feeling like I'm living in a foreign country when I listen to the rationales of the drug testing agencies. Take the Alberto Contador case. Basically the decision there said, 'We don't know what happened, so you are guilty." Fabulous system.

Tracy has a nickname for another columnist and calls him Cheese Boy. While in Boston, I was in a food court where there was a fastfood place called CHEESEBOY. So I took a picture of the store front. May I send it to her?

Oh please. Please yes.

After three days of the Sandusky trial, it honestly amazes me that Jerry Sandusky hasn't decided to cut his losses and make a plea bargain of some kind. Even if (God forbid) he's found not guilty, he won't be able to show his face in public again--particularly after how graphic the testimony has been. His life, like those of his victims, will never be the same again. So why not plead guilty and make some kind of deal, rather than drag it out? And on another note, am I the only one who thinks that the Sandusky defense team is getting slaughtered in the courtroom each day? Seriously, how long can you fight a losing battle? Trying to turn the tables on the victims (i.e., casting them as the villains against Sandusky) is a song and dance that's older than the hills, and quite frankly, visibly fake in these circumstances.

I share your question. Who thought it was a good idea to take this to trial? My own suggestion for how to end this comes from one of those old British detective stories. You leave him in the study by himself with a revolver in the drawer. 

Where there is smoke, there typically is fire. How about if the smoke is so thick from years and years of fire that no one even knows what a clear day looks like? Is Lance really the only guy left in cycling who has never doped? I have always believed him but I am starting to feel like it is more realistic to believe in Santa.

That's certainly one viewpoint, shared by many. But I would also suggest that the doping agencies are as responsible as anyone for the fact that we don't know what clear day looks like. Both the athletes and the agencies are not having very honest conversations on this subject. The entire system is shot through with suspicion and hostility on both sides: the governing agencies don't believe in their own process, and the athletes don't believe in the integrity of the science or the judging process, and don't feel they can possibly geta  fair shake. Athletes leap at substances that aren't yet illegal or which are at best grey-zone substances, and claim to be innocent. While the drug testers are incoherent and their list of what's legal shifts from year to year, and answer every challenge with the edict: "Guilty until proven innocent." And refuse to address the fact that NO ONE has ever won an appeal. The entire system needs to be knocked down, and we have to have a new conversation about performance enhancement. A more honest one.

Of all the wrenching articles I've read on the Sandusky case, this was the most wrenching. To think he kept telling a youngster undergoing unimaginable atrocities to smile more and be happy tears me up, as I'm sure it does LaVar. There's no way I could serve on that jury as I think boiling in oil is too good for him. For shame!

The worst part of this story, if Sandusky is guilty, is how good people were seduced into enabling him.

Everone knows Bonds anhd Clemens used steroids. Of course the millions paid to Rielle Huhter was intended to influence a presidential election, and how could John Edwards not know about it? I think Armstrong probably did some doping. But none of these justify the millions that have been spent on prosecutions. I think they should give it a rest.

Well, there are separate questions here. One, whether Lance Armstrong used something he shouldn't have to win a bike race, and two, what is the government interest in this subject? Why are government resources devoted to trying to enfore somebody's personal idea of "clean" sport? 

If you have a doping test, just announce the results, either positive or negative. None of this "suspicious test" crap or "consistent with doping" crap. This should be like speeding, either I was above the limit or not, but you can't suspend someone for being suspicious.

Thank you. Either your test works or you should stop using my money to pay for the lab results.

Hi Sally, Did you see Bill Rhoden on last Sunday's Sports Reporters? In the "Parting Shots" segment of the show, Rhoden spoke about DeAngelo Hall's statement that RGIII was mentally far ahead of Micheal Vick at the same points of their careers. Rhoden pretty much thought Hall was nuts and pointed to Vick's great play thoughout his career. I am a fan of Rhoden, but as I was listening to him I thought he missed Hall's point. Vick has admitted he was the last one to arrive at practice and the first to leave in his Atlanta Falcon days. I think all Hall was trying to say was that RGIII is studying the playbook and film more than Vick did early in his career. Besides, who listens to DeAngelo Hall?

Didn't see Bill, who I like, but I agree with you interpretation. Don't see how D Hall said anything about Vick that Vick hasn't said about himself. As for RGIII, his habits are why he was so in demand in the draft. You can teach a guy how to decipher defensive looks. But it's hard to teach those kind of work habits to a post-adolescent. The trick with RGIII is to keep him from overworking.

I thought Lance's performance enhancing drug issues were behind him. Now this new case from the USADA. How many organizations are out there that will keep popping up to accuse him of of "doping". It would be nice if at some point someone could provide some actual scientific evidence. I'm thinking there just isn't anything credible. How much power does USADA have? Are things decided by a judge and jury trial or is it just a panel of people within the organization?

If you could find out who USADA answers to, that would be great. Far as I can tell, they have no supervisors....One of the questions even Congress couldn't get an answer to was how mch public money was spent on pursing Barry Bonds over a decade. 

Do you think the USADA is going on a witchunt with Lance or do you think they have honest intentions?

I don't think USADA has honest intentions, but that's my personal opinion. If it had honest intentions wouldn't it give weight to its own drug tests? USADA seems more interested in big game hunting than in fair adjudication, and in quashing any challenge to its budget and authority than in actually solving the very difficult philopshical and scientific questions of performance enhancement. I fail to see why  eye-sight enhancement surgery is not considered performance enhancing, and neither is sleeping in an altitude tent to build red blood cells, but using HGH to heal from an injury makes you the cheat of the century. Also, why is Barry Bonds a bigger menace to society than Lindsey Lohan or Sly Stallone?

So, something(s) needs to be done. What would it look like if we had the USADA that we - and the athletes - deserve?

I believe it would start with an attempt to talk to athletes honestly about what they are using and why, and it would look more like an anti-smoking campaign than a Chinese court. We have to change the soul of the athlete on this issue -- it's my believe that these athletes arem't "dirty" across the board, they use substances for widely divergent reasons, many of them having to do with recovery issues. And what they do for a living is push their bodies to extremes that the rest of us never know. I think there is a real understanding gap that we need to cross before we can start to answer these questions. What good is it to tell a downhill skier, "Don't take HGH, you might hurt yourself." That doesn't make sense to a high risk athlete and they don't respond to it, they think its patriarchal nonsense spoutted by wannabees sitting in the cheap seats who don't really understand what they do for a living.

So the USADA could strip Lance Armstrong of ALL his Tour de France titles? If that happens, is there any higher authority he could appeal to?

No. No one has ever won an appeal. He has no recourse. Welcome to north Korea.

Sorry since the East German Olympic team there are ways to defeat drug testing for performance enhancing drugs. Lance and his various teams devoted time to defeating the drug test program and profited from it. Other teams especially the French ones got caught. As a retired Navy SEAL I personally beat DOD drug test numerous times despite being performance enhancing drugs etc. It was part of the program to see if we could defeat the testing program. They just need to end drug testing all together and allow athletes to use or not use. You can drug free like you do in bodybuilding. Sorry Lance used and also devouted the money to beat the system.

Agreed -- there are ways to beat the system. But that doesn't mean the administrators of the system get to bend the system all out of shape at their convenience based on personal suspicion, does it? ...The East German cases were awful -- but the worst part of them wasn't that other swimmers were beat out of gold medals. The worst part was the human rights abuses that resulted from East German athletes being forcibly doped. That part gets lost. The definition of tragedy gets screwed up when we talk about the East German system, it seems to me. 

I really hope that this is not true for every relationship in your life: "I accept what he says because that's what you do with friends." A lot of people said the same thing about Jerry Sandusky. Obviously its nowhere near the same thing but that kind of thinking is what allows people to get away with horrible crimes for so long.

Sandusky, if guilty, didnt flourish because he had good friends who believed in him. He flourished because the systems in place that were supposed to protect children failed across the board: the local high schools, the charities, the authorities at Penn State, child services, etc. Any profiler of child molesters will tell you that the people closest to them are in the worst position to find them out. The stakes are too high: no one wants to believe that a close friend of many years could be a closet monster. That's where Penn State may have failed: it didn't follow the impersonal protocols that should have overriden flawed personal judgement.

I think you're overstating it a bit there. I too get tired of all the busybody "think of the children!" arguments, but you can't deny that the home run king (or, yes, the 7-time winner of the Tour de France) taking PEDs has a greater effect on the youth than silliness from movie stars. The former shows that if you want to be the best, you have to take drugs. The latter just shows that if you're rich and famous, you'll probably get away with it. I'm not saying that USADA is in the right, or even that they need to exist. I'm just saying that there is a difference.

It's not an overstatement at all. Study shows that the vast majority of teenagers who use performance enhancers like steroids or HGH don't use them for sport. Know why they use them? To look good. You want to "protect the children," start with Hollywood. 

Why even take questions about Lance Armstrong when you clearly can't be objective? You think he's innocent because he told you so and that he's a "lot cuter" (your words) off the bike.

Because there is a que on my screen of Armstrong questions about a mile long, and if I refuse to take any of them it would be ducking.

Over half the jurors have strong ties to Penn State. I dobn't know whether this hurts or helps Sandusky, but it just seems wrong.

See, I've been waiting for someone to talk about that. My instinct is, if Sandusky is convicted won't there be an instant appeal based on the makeup of the jury? Any legal experts out there want to chime in?

That's a Clown Question Bro! I really really hope either a politician, or someone outside the Nats uses this statement in a real response. You know some politician in DC is dying to say this.

It's the new Washington battle cry...Bryce Harper is the most fun since helium balloons.

Even if Clemens is declared innocent, is the common view among sportswriters that he is guilty? Will he have any chance at the Hall of Fame? How much do lawyers like his cost? Is he broke?

There is so much brown water around doping subjects that I don't know WHAt to think. Most of my colleagues tend to be cynical about "doping," and I'm an outlier. I think there are degrees of substances that are less harmful and culpable, that athletes use for a range of reasons not all of which are nefarious, and that we are losing any sense of subtlety and not getting anywhere in the fight. Athletes are just migrating to other substances. What good are we really doing? But most of my colleagues probably disagree with me.

As an artist I occasionally use some hemp or a couple of beers and it seems to enhance my creativity. Should I be banned from exhibiting my artwork?

HAHAHA! Well I would hate to admit to the things that enhance my performance at the keyboard. Incense is one. Sugar is another. Caffeine. You know who wouldn't survive scruitiny on performance enhancement? LAwyers and professors. Who dreamed up this silly system. Find me a lawyer who hasn't taken a sleep aid or a no-doz.

In your opinion, do you think all of the top professional bike riders use some type of PEDs? Are some just more disciplined and clever and use only enough to stay within the allowable levels detected by the drug tests? Are the "cheaters" ones who took a gamble or got desperate and and took larger doses of PEDs or took them in a way where they risked detection?

First, how do you define perforamance enhancer, and how do you differentiate it from medical aid to recover? I mean you could define ice and saline as performance enhancing, in the sense that both help you recover faster so that you can perform better. What do you do about people who use in the off-season to build a base of muscle, but don't do anything at all during the race itself?What do call people who live in altitude tents so that their red blood cells spike during a time trial at sea level? Unlike most people, mainly what I feel about people who ride in the Tour de France is enorous sympathy. It's an unnatural act to ride up an Alp and they need a lot of help to recover. To tell a cyclist they can't take a saline IV after riding up an Alp in July? How exactly does THAT protect the health of the athlete? Again, I don't find this system or any of its definitions of cheating rational.

Okay folks, I'm sorry I couldn't get to more of you. And obviously the doping topic dominated the news, at the expense of the Nats. Tracee will hopefully make up for that when she gets her charming self back .

In This Chat
Sally Jenkins
Sally Jenkins, a sports columnist for The Washington Post, rejoined the newspaper as a full-time columnist in summer 2000. She previously worked for the newspaper from 1983 to1989. Before rejoining The Post, Jenkins was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. Jenkins is the author of "The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation" and and co-author of "The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy" (co-written with historian John Stauffer), "It's Not About the Bike" (co-written with cyclist Lance Armstrong); "Reach for the Summit" and "Raise the Roof" (both co-written with women's basketball coach Pat Summit); and "A Coach's Life" (co-written with college basketball coach Dean Smith). Jenkins is a graduate of Stanford University. She is a native of Fort Worth, Texas and lives in New York City.
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