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Archive for July, 2007

I wanted it to be said from the start: Lance Armstrong is an American hero. The man beat cancer. He rode his bike like Barry Bonds hits fastballs, although other than that, he has nothing at all in common with Bonds. We should all continue snapping up those snazzy yellow wristbands and not think there’s anything suspicious about America’s Livestrong Athlete.

In fact, Lance is nothing at all like so many of those guys he beat in winning the Tour de France every year from 1999-2005. For instance:

  1. Ivan Basso: Finished 2nd in 2005, 3rd in 2004. Along with eleven other riders is banned from the 2006 Tour. Admits to “attempted doping” in May 2007 but denies ever successfully doping, not even in his dominant win in the 2006 Giro d’Italia, after which one competitor calls his performance “extra-terrestial”. More.
  2. Jan Ullrich: Finished 3rd in 2005, 4th in 2004, and 2nd in 2003, 2001, 2000, and 1998.  Just before the 2006 Tour Ullrich was banned (along with Basso) from the race on suspicion of blood doping  The 1997 champion of the event denies any involvement with Dr. Eufamiano Fuentes, allegedly a heavy player in the blood doping game, but then retires in 2007 just before DNA tests are released that link Ullrich to the doctor. See for more.
  3. Alexandre Vinokourov: 3rd in 2003. The pre-race favorite in 2007, Vinokourov is kicked out mid-Tour after evidence of blood doping surfaces following his demolition of the field in Stage 13. More.
  4. Raimondas Rumsas: 3rd in 2002. In January of last year both Rumsas and his wife were convicted by a French court of illegally smuggling illegal substances (growth hormone and EPO) in 2002. Rumsas had denied the accusations but had been suspended in 2003 when he failed a blood test. See for more.
  5. Alex Zulle: 2nd in 1999. Banned from the 1998 race when he was caught up in the huge Festina scandal that year. Zulle confessed to authorities he had used illegal performance-enhancing drugs (EPO). See for more.

Of course, this list just covers those riders who finished second or third to Armstrong during his run. It doesn’t cover people like Laurent Dufaux, the Swiss cyclist banned in 1998 and who finished fourth in 1999, Fransisco Mancebo, fourth in 2005 and caught up in the Operacion Puerto mess in 2006, fellow American Tyler Hamilton, fourth in 2003 and banned in 2005 for two years by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and that jackass 2006 champion Floyd Landis.

But by all means, we should all continue to unquestionably worship Lance Armstrong without a hint of irony, because he beat all these cheaters with vitamins, prayers, and hard work. (Just like Hulk Hogan! Er, maybe that’s a bad example…)

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Today he lit up Mike Lupica.

“ARod’s fault. 100%. Fuck that guy. All he did was single-handedly keep the Yankees from being in last place and hit like 14 walk-off HR and probably win the MVP and average an RBI per game and have the best offensive year of any major league baseball player. Dump his sorry ass and move on. Because the way to improve a baseball team is: obtain worse players.”

If you ever had any doubt about the general stupidity of those people who get paid professionally to talk about sports, the media’s “take” on Alex Rodriguez should clear it up for you. He may not be the most likable guy, but if you think he’s kept the Yankees from winning a World Series, you are an idiot. That is all.

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So I was checking the World Wide Leader’s web-page this morning and there was yet another reference to Bud Selig not showing up to watch Barry Bonds and his pursuit of the all-time HR record.

I hate when the media does this. This is a 100% media-created, media-driven issue that somehow all the writers and talking heads have decided is important. It isn’t. It’s hacky talk-show fodder. Granted, it’s not as bad when the New York Times tried to shove Martha Burk and her protest of Augusta National down everyone’s throats, but still.

Selig’s absence won’t change anything. Maybe the media will try to spin it that it is somehow a repudiation of Bonds, that Major League Baseball doesn’t endorse his pursuit of the best record in sports. Wrong–with years of inaction and active ignorance, MLB has spoken on this issue. Selig would probably be less of a fraud if he does show.

Either way, however, nobody frickin’ cares.

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I just finished reading “Friday Night Lights” by H.G. Bissinger. It’s been nearly twenty years since it was first published so you can’t say any of these thoughts are timely, but I pretty much don’t buy books unless they’re on the bargain rack at the local Books-a-Million or Barnes and Noble, so that’s just how it goes.  (I should probably also add that I’ve never seen the movie or the television show.)

With that out of the way…

What a hatchet-job.

I believe my edition of the book is from 2004, and it contains an afterword written by Bissinger in 2000. It’s remarkable in at least one respect: Bissinger writes that he “adored the players on the Permian Panthers”, that the book was written with “enormous affection”. Don’t believe it–there’s not one ounce of adoration or affection in the whole of the book. Pity, scorn, condecsion–these are the tools of the trade.

Of course, it should be stated that “Friday Night Lights” isn’t really a sports book. It’s a political one–in fact, it’s hyperpolitical. It’s the exact kind of book you’d expect a guy who was an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer to write about Texas high school football. Now I’m not going to be silly–I don’t doubt he saw evidence of racism and prejudice here and there (nor do I doubt that Odessa placed too much emphasis on high school football), but his attention to it is overwhelming.

Look, Bissinger, you’re from Philadelphia. You jackasses can’t even vote on a mayor without having to vow not to bring bigotry into it. You villainized Odessa in a most reckless fashion. A lot of sports books talk about how sports is the great equalizer, how it brings people of diverse races together. Reading between the lines, it was probably largely true in Odessa but you elected to ignore it at every turn.

Well, not every turn. On page 130 of my paperback edition, Bissinger wrote how students watched a documentary that included:

“an interview with the noted criminal theorist Charles Manson and heard relatives of crime victims make such intellectually stimulating comments as ‘I would like to see him die in an electric chair. He doesn’t deserve to live.”

Well! Reasonable minds may disagree on the morality and usefulness of the death penalty. That said,

Screw you, Bissinger. Have you ever talked to the relative of someone who’s been killed by a murderer? Ever hugged them, tried to comfort them as they cry? I have. It’s part of my job. Until you’ve walked a mile in those shoes, you shouldn’t be so mocking of those who feel like they want the ultimate penalty for those who’ve murdered one of their loved ones. Those kinds of thoughts may not be “intellectually stimulating” for a big city slicker like yourself, but they are damn real.

It doesn’t stop there–while barely talking about football, Bissinger makes out like you couldn’t find a Democrat amongst the Odessa hillbillies. Methinks he exaggerated somewhat–more than 9,000 Midlanders voted for Clinton-Gore in 1992. (I couldn’t find results on the Texas Elections Division site going back to 1988.) I don’t know why Bissinger finds it so strange that a Texas oil community would be more likely to vote for George H. W. Bush, a Texan and former oilman, than Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, but Bissinger sees it as pretty darn strange.

Still, what’s amazing is that Bissinger spent a year in Odessa, wrote a book “with affection”, and yet didn’t find a hero. Didn’t find anyone involved in the football program he particularly admired. Didn’t see anything noble in the way the players and coaches worked, fought, and bled.

Instead, he’s constantly depressing and even mocking. It’s a hateful book that never looks for a silver lining.

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