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BILL DWYRE

Drug accusations against Lance Armstrong should be taken more seriously

Making light of the drug accusations against athletes has become our default, and the yawning and rationalizing in the Armstrong case is troubling.

May 28, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Lance Armstrong, right, and Hein Verbruggen, president of the International Cycling Union, at the launch of the Cycling Pro Tour in Paris.
Lance Armstrong, right, and Hein Verbruggen, president of the International… (Christophe Ena / Associated…)

The most troubling thing about the current drug accusation against Lance Armstrong is that, at first blush, it doesn't seem to be all that troubling.

Famous cyclist, seven-time winner of the Tour de France, is accused of enhancing his performance. Yawn.

Yet another of his former teammates points a finger, and does so on national television, CBS' "60 Minutes," no less. The teammate, Tyler Hamilton, with little comprehensible reason to lie, fesses up to his own drug-enhancing use and goes into detail about wheres, whens and hows of Armstrong's use. In some cases, he does so as an eyewitness. If this were an episode of "Law & Order," they'd play the dramatic gotcha music.

But mostly, we yawn.

We have suffered so much already. We loved the home run derby of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and then learned it was a chemical concoction. We thought Alex Rodriguez might be the real deal and learned he wasn't. Manny Ramirez came to Los Angeles. We saw and were conquered. Also conned.

Marion Jones looked us in the eye, over and over again, and then went off to jail.

We have been through the court case of Barry Bonds and we now wait to see whether Roger Clemens continues to misremember. And what about the NFL and steroids? We pretty much know that men don't grow that large and run that fast on extra bowls of Wheaties. But we mostly shrug and seem content to let them do harm to themselves, for our entertainment value.

On the Armstrong case, the emails are already pouring in:

— Leave the guy alone. Everybody in pro cycling does it. The entire sport is dirty. Always has been, so why pick on one guy?

— We shouldn't care what he did 10 years ago, especially since he is a cancer survivor and has done so much, through his foundation, to help others.

— Why does the government keep spending our tax money on investigations of athletes when there are so many other needs?

— It's bike racing. Nobody cares anyway.

Certainly, the credibility of the sport, at rock bottom the last several years, has burrowed even deeper with this recent turn of events. No self-respecting sports editor will spend company money on staff coverage of the Fraud in France unless the mandate is to report as follows: "Peter Peddler of Paris won the first stage of the Tour de France on Thursday. His drug test results will be announced Friday."

Making light of all this drug stuff has become our default. It is human nature to think, even assume, that what we see is what we are getting in our athletes.

That makes all the yawning and rationalizing in the Armstrong case even more troubling. In essence, on the Richter scale of drug cheats, this could be the biggest shaker yet. Nor should we turn our backs and yawn, just because it is "only" bike racing and we are tired of all this.

Some of the very reasons so many are asking reporters and commentators to leave this alone are the reasons we shouldn't. That Armstrong is a seven-time champion, who put his sport and himself on higher pedestals than ever thought possible, similarly boosts the stakes. Punishment of sins should be in direct proportion to riches of success.

The cancer charity work only adds to this. Flaws in Mother Teresa are much more wrenching than flaws in Bernie Madoff. Saintliness brings saintly expectations.

Spending tax money on investigations of indiscretions of athletes is, indeed, problematic. But it takes on a slightly different light when the athlete, Armstrong, is reaching fame and fortune under a government-agency sponsorship. The U.S. Postal Service says it operates without use of tax dollars. It still carries a U.S. government banner and image, and cheating under that banner shouldn't sit well with any U.S. citizen.

In our society, you are innocent until proven guilty — though recent history of bike racing makes the opposite seem more workable.

To all this, Armstrong has responded similarly, as he did in his May 19 Twitter message: "20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of competition. Never failed a drug test. I rest my case."

Where there is smoke, there is fire, and the forest is smoldering around Armstrong right now.

As much as we may not want to, we need to splash some cold water on our faces and wake up to the reality that this one is big, important and potentially trendsetting. We are either going to clean up the integrity of the games we watch, or accept that much of what we watch is dirty.

All too sadly, one of our most exceptional wonder boys now has us wondering.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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