The Canary In The Coal Mine

Bonnie D. Ford of ESPN wrote an excellent piece on the Tour. In it, she talks about Sastre and Evans and the rest of the top-10 riders being escorted to doping control before doing any of the media events. Can you imagine that in baseball? Or football? Imagine the entire NY Giants team filing into a tent for blood samples before the accepted the Lombardi Trophy. Or Kevin Garnett being chaperoned off to a secret locale before donning his NBA Championship had. Unfortunately, I can’t.

Shawn Merion had a positive doping test a few years ago and received a four game suspension, that he protested (so he kept playing) until it was convenient to serve. Can you imagine if the Chargers decided to leave the NFL for a season instead (as Sanier-Duval did this year)?Until baseball changed its drug testing policy, you had to be caught for doping FIVE TIMES in ONE YEAR in order to be suspended for a year. Cycling is not the dirtiest sport in the world, but it still has that reputation. Somehow, the story with cycling is some version of, “this kid came from a small mining/farming/milling town and cycling was his ticket out, so he doped, which we can understand, but it’s still wrong.” In these other pro sports, the same story goes, “this kid came from a small mining/farming/milling town OR inner-city/projects/etc. and baseball/basketball/football was his ticket out, so he practiced ceaselessly, and he made it to the big show. Bravo!” It’s absurd.

My father has an adage for business, which he applies to things like the Enron case. It’s a common adage in the business world. You want to know the truth? Follow the money. In sports, lots of things follow the money. Drugs are one of them. The salaries in cycling pale in comparison with American pro sports. The equivalent of the “league minimum” for a TdF rider is probably about 10% of the league minimum for the NFL or NBA, which is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet somehow, the budget to keep these sports honest is probably 10% (just guessing, it may be only be 1%) of what cycling, and WADA, spend fighting doping in amateur sport. Is the motivation to cheat to win a TdF stage (or even just a spot in the peloton), really so much greater than the desire to make tens of millions of dollars a year. If you go by the evidence, it would certainly seem so.

But as Bonnie Ford, cycling is the canary in the coal mine. We look at it because we hear it, and we see that it’s dirty. But the rest of the coal mine is dirty too. Yet somehow, we just gloss over that. Piepoli violated the Sanier-Duval code of ethics and was fired. Barry Bonds head and feet grew a few sizes, and yet he was still fielding offers to play this season. Yes, cycling is the dirtiest sport in the world. But only because it has decided to stand there naked (or at least partially clothed) and admit that it needs a shower.

As for those other sports?

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