Shannon J. Owens
3:07 PM PDT, October 22, 2012
Maybe the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency should have handled our nation's "war on drugs," first launched more than 40 years ago.
It took 14 years worth of evidence, but the USADA knocked off a drug kingpin in Lance Armstrong.
We witnessed the final nail in the coffin of Armstrong's tainted career when the international governing body for cycling accepted the USADA's 200-page damning report and formally stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles Monday.
The report, in conjunction with investigative reporting from the New York Daily News, portrays Armstrong as more than a cheat. He was a manipulative bully who suppressed anyone from speaking out about his doping through what the paper called borderline "gangsterism."
But, perhaps, the most damning allegation — which Armstrong obliged by failing to contest the report — is that he was something far more sinister than another athlete doping under the pressure of performance. He was the drug pusher.
Forget about Alfredo Corleone, we're talking about the Mafia boss, Michael Corleone.
So spare me the sympathy argument for Armstrong. He was no mindless victim folding under the competitive pressure. He was outlining doping programs for his teammates.
Let's recount the USADA charges against Armstrong:
•Use and/or attempted use of prohibited substances including EPO (erythropoietin — a banned substance used to boost endurance by increasing the amount of red blood cells in the body), blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and/or masking agents
•Possession of prohibited substances
•Trafficking of EPO, testosterone and/or corticosteroids
•Administration and/or attempted administration to others of EPO, testosterone and/or corticosteroids
•Assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering up and other complicity involving one or more anti-doping rule violations
The greatest offense is the culture of lies and corruption several people created in the small world of cycling to protect its million-dollar man.
Emma O'Reilly, a former massage therapist for Armstrong's team, explained how Armstrong managed to beat a positive test for corticosteroids. She was in the room when team officials concoted a plan to have the team doctor backdate a prescription for cortisone cream. They claimed it was for saddle sores.
Betsy Andreu, the wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, turned over a 2008 voicemail detailing a violent message from an employee of one of Armstrong's sponsors. Her husband spoke to the USADA.
"I hope someone breaks a baseball bat over your head," Armstrong's handler told Andreu.
These are just a few of the many sordid accounts from the sworn testimony of 26 people, including 15 riders, many of them once longtime friends and teammates of Armstrong.
Maybe some of these folks are just bitter teammates as naysayers have suggested. That's possible.
But here's one fact we need to remember. Tour de France is a team sport. When Lance Armstrong loses, so do his teammates.
It would have benefited Armstrong's teammates more to keep their mouths shut and get paid for public-speaking engagements, maybe some on the behalf of Livestrong, rather than willingly ostracize themselves from a sport they loved.
The USADA had no legal authority to force anyone into speaking. As a matter of fact, I'm fairly certain they would have preferred a court trial in order to subpoena more witnesses.
I know it's difficult to separate the great good and great harm Armstrong has created with his career. The millions he helped raise for cancer research makes it easier to want to forget or mitigate the charges.
Everyone has the right to their own opinion about Armstrong, but no one has the right to their own facts.
And the fact remains Armstrong was no victim of his success. He enforced a culture of lies, intimidation and corruption to win at all costs.
There's a remarkable difference between being accused of digesting and distributing drugs.
Armstrong didn't invent doping in his sport, but he certainly perfected the system and that is why he must pay a steep price.
The truly sad thing about all of this, though, isn't Armstrong's downfall. It is the fact that the USADA had to be dogged because so many other men and women refused to be.
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