armchairquarterblog

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on May 27, 2011 at 7:12 am

As I watched the “60 Minutes” report on Lance Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs last Sunday, I couldn’t help but think back to a conversation on the subject of performing enhancing drugs I had many years ago with a lineman on the Washington Redskins teams I covered back in the 1970s.

Back then, the pharmaceutical of choice in pro football was amphetamines, black beauties some called them, even if they often were purloined from the medicine cabinets of wives and girlfriends using the diet pills to help them lose weight. There was no drug testing at the time, and plenty of players were looking for any advantage they could get.

In any case, when I asked the player why some guys would feel the need to use such stimulants, he looked at me and smiled. I don’t have the notes from that conversation, and will paraphrase here. He said something to the effect that when he looked across the line at the man he had to block and saw him wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth, clearly high on something beside adrenaline, he had little choice than to match him pill for pill, the better to stay in the starting lineup, the better to keep his job.

He didn’t like doing it, knew it was against the rules and probably hazardous to his health, but that was the price he was willing to pay to play at the highest level of the game, no pun intended.

I suspect that Armstrong, if given a healthy dose of truth serum, might also say the same, particularly in a sport where doping has been part of the Tour de France and long-distance culture seemingly forever. Think about it. Would you try to ride a bicycle over the Alps if you didn’t have a little extra help in a bottle or from a needle?

Armstrong has become a true American hero, if only because he conquered the cancer that very nearly killed him and then built himself into a human diesel engine capable of beating everyone in his sport in the world’s most famous bike race. Does the fact that he was probably fueled with substances just about everyone else he was racing against also was taking diminish his accomplishment?

You could argue the point either way. Of course it was wrong for any of them to be using drugs now obviously banned. Then again, wasn’t it also a level playing field? After all, as my friend and former Washington Post colleague Mike Wise wrote last week, “in the seven years Armstrong won the Tour de France, just one cyclist on the podium beside him from 1999 through 2005 was never connected to performance enhancers. That means every rider — save one, who placed second or third – was dirty.

So, in a cycling culture that employed synthetic chemists like masseuses, the only other rider who didn’t use was the guy who won all the time?”

The most troubling aspect of all of this is Armstrong’s repeated denials in the face of a wave of evidence, circumstantial as it might be, against him. I’m tired about hearing how he never failed a drug test as evidence that he was clean, when we all know how easy it became for the athletes to almost always stay a step or three ahead of the testers, in every sport.

His publicists keep insisting his accusers have ulterior motives, book and movie deals, publicity for themselves. But really, they’re now coming clean because they don’t want to lie under oath and risk perjury charges followed by jail time. It’s time Armstrong did some of the same.

Ebersol Out: I always used to joke that I had a program key on my laptop that automatically wrote in “the smartest man in sports television” whenever I typed in the name Dick Ebersol, the long-time and powerful major domo of NBC Sports

Now that needs to be amended, because Ebersol is no longer in sports television, at least for NBC. He resigned last week when he could not come to terms on a new contract with his new bosses at Comcast, the cable giant now large and in charge of an operation that includes The Golf Channel, Versus and a dozen regional sports networks¸ including a Washington division.

The timing of a move that sent shock waves throughout the industry seems a bit odd, considering that bidding on the television rights for the 2014 Winter and 2016 Summer Olympic Games is set to begin on June 6. Ebersol would have led the NBC team, as usual, and almost certainly would have been favored to secure the Games for his new employers, if only because of his longtime profitable relationship with the International Olympic Committee.

Now, clearly all bets are off, and don’t be surprised if the ESPN/ABC juggernaut comes out the winner in all of this, even if the revolting prospect of having Chris Berman fill the Jim McKay/Bob Costas host role will definitely come into play.

Ebersol did not look all that smart in overbidding for the last two games in Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012. The package cost $2.3 billion and Vancouver lost $223 million, with London likely to do the same. Still, over the years, Ebersol made his company many more millions than he lost, particularly with groundbreaking deals with the NFL, the U.S. Golf Association, the PGA of America, Notre Dame football and all those other Olympics that turned a tidy profit on his watch.

What’s next for Ebersol? Wouldn’t it be something if the IOC hired him as a consultant in the bidding process, or later put him in charge of producing the international feed for the Games? Stranger things have happened, don’t you know, for still the smartest man in sports television.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at badgerlen@aol.com or at badgerlen on Twitter. His new book, Golf List Mania, is now available at local bookstores and on Amazon and Kindle.

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