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Ryan Braun Versus the Other Cheaters: The Biogenesis PED Scandal

Milwaukee Brewers slugger and 2011 National League MVP copped a plea deal with Major League Baseball yesterday regarding the mountain of evidence that implicated him in yet another Performance Enhancing Drug scandal. The deal was that he would be suspended for 65 games without pay effectively ending his season.

The scandal involving the Miami Florida based Biogenesis corporation involves many more players than Braun. The biggest fish caught in the MLB dragnet is New York Yankees Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez who currently leads active MLB players in home runs. Rodriguez has not played a Major League game this season and after doing time in rehabilitation and minor league games is injured yet again. Since he is an admitted user of PEDs it stands to reason that he will endure a heavier punishment than Braun. Reports indicate that he is attempting the reach some sort of deal with MLB but most do not believe that a deal will be cut.

Somewhere close to 20 other MLB players may be caught up in the Biogenesis scandal. It is an indication that even though most of us would like to believe that the “Steroid Era” is over, that it is not. Far too many players are still evidently finding ways to use PEDs.

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Ryan Braun proclaiming his innocence of  testing positive of PEDs at Spring Training 2012

All that being said we have to come back to Ryan Braun, who before his initial positive tests for PEDs was considered to be one of baseball’s “good guys.” He is well liked. Many people stood up for him when he was accused the first time. When he tested positive for PEDs he lied or denied the allegations.

Unlike many previous players accused of the use of PEDs who couched their lies in more obscure and less definitive Braun’s comments were bold faced lies. In December 2011 in response to the initial tests he stated “This is all B.S. I am completely innocent” and in February 2012 stated “There are a lot of haters- a lot of people who doubted me and a lot of people who continue to doubt me.” When the allegations of his involvement with Anthony Bosch and Biogenesis came to light in 2013 he said “I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch.”  

So Braun lied. A lot of people do when under pressure. But Braun did something that nobody else in baseball did when confronted with the use of PEDs. Like Lance Armstrong he went on the attack. He, his allies and his lawyers went all out to destroy the reputation and livelihood of the man who took his test samples. They went after Dino Laurenzi, the attacked his integrity they attacked his honesty and his character. They did their best to destroy a man who was simply doing his job. That is the real crime here. Laurenzi lost his job and was treated as a pariah.

On the other hand Braun accepted the National League MVP award for the 2011 season, the one in which he tested positive. Braun was caught in 2011. He lied about it, He lied to his team mates, his fans, the media and even got other professional athletes to defend him, knowing all the time that it was all a lie. He got away with it for a time and in the process did all he could to destroy the life and reputation of another man who did nothing wrong, other than not get to a FEDEX drop box quickly enough because of the late hour. At the opening of Spring Training in 2012 he even had the nerve to attack the MLB anti-drug program. It was arrogant, filled with hubris and when I saw it I lost any modicum of respect I might have had for Braun.

The 65 game suspension is far too light in my mind, not because of his use of PEDs but because of his lies, his destruction of another man’s livelihood and his hubris in deciding to do it again. I hope that Laurenzi is able to take Braun to court and strip him of everything and In hope that MLB will strip Braun of his 2011 MVP title.

Mr Braun deserves no sympathy and his actions to admit his guilt were not heroic. They were just another means of a sociopath to attempt to manipulate public opinion to make himself look better and set the stage for a comeback where he can play on people’s inherent need for a redemption story. I would like to believe him but I cannot.

I know that others have done PEDs and that a host of record holders have been implicated including one of the game’s greatest pitcher’s Roger Clemens and Home Run king Barry Bonds. I also know that some other big name players besides Rodriguez are caught up in the Biogenesis scandal. I only hope that unlike Braun that these men behave as men and take responsibility for their actions without the self serving, narcissistic, and sociopathic machinations of Mr Braun who even when admitting guilt practically played the victim.

That would be good for them and for baseball. This era has to end. While I am not satisfied with the 65 game deal that Braun got I know that for once MLB seems to have the upper hand against offenders. I hope that this will lead to the game being cleaned up. That may be a forlorn hope, but judging from the reaction of many players to the current bunch of cheaters the tide just might be turning.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Bicycle Pants on Fire: The Banal Confession of Lance Armstrong

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“I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture.” Lance Armstrong

I watched the Lance Armstrong interview online today. I did not watch it last night as we were out with friends. I found the interview to be fascinating and at the same time chilling. Oprah Winfrey did it well and in the process laid Lance Armstrong and his lies bare.

Cheating blood doping, the use of EPO and Testosterone were commonplace in competitive cycling. The were the norm, not the exception. At the same time they were also illegal and banned in the sport. Lance Armstrong was part of that world, even before his battle with cancer.

The use of the blood doping and other means of cheating had become so commonplace  that that it was banal, which the Oxford dictionary of the English Language defines as “so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring.”

The chilling part for me was that I didn’t sense any remorse from Armstrong. He acknowledged the use of Testosterone, EPO and blood transfusions but his reasoning for them then, and his apology or confession now felt to me like I was watching someone with no remorse and someone who felt that since everyone else was doing it that there was really nothing wrong with doing it. Armstrong’s cheating was the norm for his era, but his subsequent campaign to intimidate and destroy those that would tell the truth took his actions in cheating to a different level than his competitors.

The most chilling segment of the interview with Armstrong for me was when Oprah asked Armstrong if the things that he did, the blood doping, EPO and Testosterone use “felt wrong.”

Oprah: “Was it a big deal to you? Did it feel wrong?” 

Armstrong: “No, scary.”

Oprah: “Did you feel bad about it?”

Armstrong: “No, even scarier.”

Oprah: “Did you feel any way that you were cheating?”

Armstrong: “No, scariest.”

Oprah: Did you feel in any way that you were cheating? You did not feel you were cheating taking banned drugs?

Armstrong: “At the time, no. I kept hearing I’m a drug cheat, I’m a cheat, I’m a cheater. I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat and the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

Armstrong’s answer to this and to how he used lawsuits and threats to attack those that told the truth were chilling. I wondered what someone like Armstrong would do in life and death situations or to advance himself where the stakes were more than simply an athletic career and I could not fathom that level of banality, that level of selling ones soul for that type of personal gain and the destruction of the lives and reputations of others.

Armstrong commented on what he called his ruthless will to win: “My ruthless desire to win at all costs served me well on the bike but the level it went to, for whatever reason, is a flaw. That desire, that attitude, that arrogance.”

To simply refer to this as a flaw to me is to minimize the issue. I really don’t think that Armstrong gets how deep this is. I know that all of us have feet of clay and that Armstrong is not the first athlete to cheat to win or to attempt to cover up his cheating. However his cover ups, denials and attacks on those that attempted to tell the truth went beyond the norm for a sports cheater.  He went out of his way to destroy others to protect his legacy. Had he not suffered the loss of his Tour de France titles, the loss of control of his Livestrong Foundation and been banned for life from the sport I doubt that he would have ever even come this close to coming clean.

The years of cheating, the years of cover up and the years of destroying those in his way have probably changed Armstrong. He admitted that he cheated before his fight with cancer but he noted that he didn’t become “ruthless” in that until after it. He did it for the myth, the myth that his cheating helped him create and he rationalized it in the same way that others have rationalized evil before him. Robert J Lifton wrote of the Nazi Doctors “In doing so – or in order to do so – the men themselves changed; and in carrying out their actions, they themselves were no longer banal.” Armstrong took cheating to a higher level and in doing so victimized others.

I know that Armstrong’s story and foundation have doing many good things. The fact is that the evil committed by Nazi doctors also benefitted science, but it was still evil. The cheating was the least of the issues here. His sport was corrupt to the core. Cheating was the norm. The greater issue his what Armstrong did for years to maintain the lie at the expense of others. His was not a victimless crime, and call it what it was, it is a crime to threaten, intimidate and use the courts to attack and punish those simply trying to tell the truth.

As it is there are people familiar with the case that believe that his statements to Oprah about not having cheated after 2005 are also a lie. Unfortunately, given his history of deceit and manipulation of the narrative I tend to believe them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Lancing” the Boil: The Ethical Conundrum Presented by Lance Armstrong

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“Listen, I’ve said it for seven years. I’ve said it for longer than seven years. I have never doped. I can say it again. But I’ve said it for seven years. It doesn’t help. But the fact of the matter is I haven’t. And if you consider my situation: A guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence, why would I then enter into a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That’s crazy. I would never do that. No. No way.” Lance Armstrong to Larry King and Bob Costas on Larry King Live August 25th 2005 

It appears that Lance Armstrong has confessed to cheating to win his historic 7 Tour de France cycling championships. Using a sophisticated means of blood doping he sometimes with the cooperation of his teams he, like the majority of the high level competition cyclists of his era used an illegal but often hard to detect means to bolster his ability to win.

Armstrong, like so many at the top level of his sport appears to have been a habitual cheater, liar and bully. The fact that he was a cancer survivor and had returned to the top of his sport made him a legend and gave him an almost mythic aura. Who could criticize such a heroic individual? Certainly his struggle to defeat cancer and return to the top of his sport was worth something and indeed it was. Armstrong became a legend and established a foundation that did and still is doing wonderful things for cancer victims.

If it was simply cheating and then getting caught the situation would be different. Armstrong was not different than many of his competitors and if it was like the cases of people in other sports who cheated and later either were caught or admitted their misdeeds it would be just another case of a sports cheater.

However in the Armstrong case the story is one that is not so simple. His also involves an aggressive cover up and willful destruction of the reputations of anyone who dared challenge him or accuse him of cheating. It involved attacks on the character of critics as well as threats made against them, even veiled physical threats. It involved legal actions to attempt to prevent the publication of articles or books that could damage him in multiple countries. It involved a campaign of lies that lasted over a decade. It also ensnared cancer victims as his charity foundation Livestrong was devoted to helping those battling the dread disease.

It is a case that will not simply interest sport writers, but one which will engage philosophers, ethicists and theologians for years to come. The reason is that it is so multifaceted and brings to the fore questions that most people care not to even think about, even though they fascinate us.

The questions are hard. Who would want to think that the cancer victims helped by Livestrong were not positive beneficiaries of Armstrong’s benevolence? It is certain that Armstrong’s foundation has done remarkable work. At the same time can Armstrong’s actions be justified simply because many people were benefited by them? What about the his victims? Those men and women who suffered professional, legal and financial reverses as well as had their reputations damaged for attempting to stand up to someone that looks by the actions committed against his critics and accusers to be a bully.

It is the classic question of whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few combined with the actions of one person to advance himself at the expense of others. Some would like to be able to fame Armstrong’s cheating and subsequent support of Livestrong and its tremendous work in helping people in a positive manner.

That can be done, but at what cost? We wrestle with such ethical questions all the time but seldom do we see the drama play out out in such a personal manner. Usually we are able to keep it theoretical and distant. But Armstrong, he had become a legend, a hero to many and

I think that most of us, me included were enamored with the myth of Armstrong the cancer survivor rising to unheard of heights in his sport. I think that this was especially the case in the United States where the thought of an American winning at the top levels of a sport that has few American long dominated by Europeans was particularly pleasurable, especially since most Americans couldn’t care less about competitive cycling. However, Armstrong got us to care about it, even if it was only when we saw Tour de France highlights on ESPN Sports Center.

Caught up in the myth we surrendered to it. It was attractive and it appeals to the underdog in all of us. However, it was a myth and the creation and sustainment of the myth created victims just as it helped others in need of live saving treatment as well as cancer research.

As for Armstrong, his confession and apology that will be aired on Oprah Winfrey’s show the next two nights I am of mixed feelings. Some like Mike Lupica have stated that it is another attempt of Armstrong to control the situation and the narrative. He could well be right and there is part of me, the cynical and realistic part that believes this. At the same time I would hope that Armstrong has had a real epiphany as to the consequences of his actions in the lives of the people who were his fans, his beneficiaries as well as his victims.

As for the very harsh remarks of Pat McQuaid the President of the International Cycling Union that “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling….” I have a negative opinion. He and his championships, though tainted and no stripped from him are a part of the history of cycling. He helped popularize the sport in the United States. He and his tainted accomplishments cannot be erased as if he did not exist. No cycling bodies took any substantive actions against Armstrong during his competitive career. No sport was as inundated by a culture of cheating as professional cycling. Armstrong cannot be forgotten as McQuaid says he deserves to be. It is okay to say “never again” and work to build an authentic and honest competitive sport. But to erase and forget is to ensure that another Armstrong will come along. It is a cautionary tale.

As long as Armstrong brought attention and income to the sport his actions were tolerated and despite numerous accusations he was celebrated and because of his story as a cancer survivor many looked the other way. I have to say that I am part of that latter group that saw a cancer survivor winning as inspirational. I did not want to believe the accusations and I did not look to see or even pay attention to the things that he and his associates were doing to those attempting to bring the story to the light of public scrutiny.

As for Livestrong I do hope that it will survive and continue to help cancer victims. As for Armstrong I hope that his confession and admission of wrong doing are genuine and that he will make restitution to those that he bullied or ruined in maintaining the cover up. I am less concerned about his competitors in the Tour de France as so many of them were doping that it makes the steroids scandals in other sports pale in comparison.

I encountered Armstrong once in Iraq when he was on a tour with a number of celebrities. I had come back to my base of operations the day that he and his tour led by the now retired Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen came through. Since the number of people who could attend the show was limited and I wanted to make sure that junior personnel had a chance to see Armstrong, Robin Williams, Kid Rock and Lewis Black I did not attempt to go. The next morning I was walking to the dinning facility and passed Armstrong as he was walking back to is quarters. I said “good morning” and he returned the greeting and we both continued on our way. I figured that he didn’t need another person coming up to him to get an autograph and though he was a public figure on a USO morale tour I still attempt to honor some modicum of privacy. The tour left later that morning and my friend, Father Jose Bautista-Rojas a Catholic Chaplain who had escorted Mrs Mullen during the visit brought me a ball cap signed by both Armstrong and Robin Williams. I will keep it and remember the fact that Armstrong and those with him came to Iraq at the height of an unpopular war, but also to remind me that all of us have feet of clay.

I do hope that he is able to make his peace and reconcile with those that he has hurt or disappointed and that some good will come out of this for him, his family, those that benefit from Livestrong and the sport.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Tom Watson: Gentleman, Champion and Supporter of the Troops

Tom Watson and Me

Shaking the Hand of Legendary Golfer and True Champion Tom Watson at Al Taqaddum Iraq 24 Nov 2007

My dad was a golfer.  He began golfing as he was in his last few years in the Navy.  Before he started golfing he was constantly watching it on TV when no baseball was on.  When he retired he began golfing in earnest.  It remained a lifelong passion of his even after he contracted Alzheimer’s disease.  He developed as a golfer and by his early 50’s had developed a decent handicap.  He also would help out as a volunteer at major tournaments at Pebble Beach.   Dad loved golf, but as with everything in his life he took it very seriously.  Sometimes when I visited home on leave dad would take me golfing and let me use his old clubs.  Well, since I would golf once every three to five years I would not do very well.  Before long he would be preaching at me and berating me because he said I had natural talent to hit the ball well and was wasting it.  Those were always interesting outings, as my brother Jeff can testify to himself.

Anyway, back in the 1970s when I was still living at home dad would frequently watch golf on TV.  One of his favorite players was Tom Watson.  Back in those days because of dad I was familiar with almost every major figure in the sport.  However they were not the same to me as like baseball players.  Baseball was more of my sport, though I did and still do appreciate golf and now that my shoulder is getting healed up from the beating it took in Iraq I am going to be getting out on the course on a much more frequent basis once the Minor League Baseball season is over.  The last time I was out in California my brother told me the same thing that my dad did about my ability to hit them ball.  I trust Jeff as he is a very good golfer and had coached golf at the high school level.  I think I am even more attuned to what I’m doing on the golf course because of Iraq and my PTSD.  I am much more in tune with what my body is doing at any given point of time.  I can now feel when a shoulder dips or I pull up on a shot as well as a number of other things that I never noticed before when I would go out on the course.

Because of dad I have retained a latent interest in golf.  So when I heard that Tom Watson was in the lead at the British Open while listening to my local ESPN Sports Radio 1310 on the way home from having the Undead Tooth of Terror extracted my ears perked up.  I had met Tom as well as a number of other golf legends in between missions at Al Taqaddum Air Base which was my home away from home while deployed to Iraq.  Tom and several others came through on a tour.  Now celebrities would make the rounds of Iraq and Afghanistan and I am grateful for them coming to visit, especially when things were not going well and a lot of guys were still getting killed and wounded.  Many times I was out in the far reaches when people would come through so I didn’t see many of them.  My friend Father Jose Bautista-Rojas was an escort for some dignitaries who accompanied the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen on his tour which included Lance Armstrong and Robin Williams.  Jose got to spend some time with them and got me baseball hat signed by both.  He said that Robin said that “I had better be praying for him.”  I thought that was both funny and kind.  I did meet Chuck Norris when he made his 2007 trip through Al Anbar visiting Marines.  He shook about every person’s hand and had pictures taken with them and he didn’t just go to the big bases, but some of the little remote places that I went. I would have liked to meet Robin. I have heard from a number of folks that he is great to military folks.  One thing that I noticed about the celebrities that came out, no matter who they were or what their politics, they were generally very friendly and seemed to care.  Celebrities take a lot of knocks for many reasons, some justified and others not, but when they come out to a combat zone it is appreciated.  I remember my dad talking about the Bob Hope tour that came to his ship off of Vietnam which included Sammy Davis Junior and Charro.

Anyway, I met Tom at Al Taqaddum in between mission’s right after Thanksgiving on November 24th 2007.  He and his group comprised of him David Feherty, Butch Harmon, Joe Inman, Tom Lehman and Howard Twitty were some of the finest and kindest men I have ever met while deployed.  These men took time with every Marine, Soldier and Sailor who came to see them.  They not only signed items but they gave away more things to our folks than I have seen given anywhere.  I received a hat signed by Tom and the others from the Rider Cup Team, and a picture signed by all, personalized to me.  That was really cool.  While talking with Tom I told him about my dad and his condition as well as my brother.  I asked if it would be possible to get something signed for them.  Tom got with the other guys and had a hat signed for my brother and each of the golfers inscribed a person message to my dad on the pictures.  They all expressed their well wishes to him and prayers for his health.  I was really touched by what gentlemen all of these men were.

I watched the last part of the British Open today pulling for Tom, but unfortunately he lost in the playoff to Stewart Cink after making bogey on 18. The golf miracle story ended with Tom finishing in second place, but even still he was not expected to do what he did even a week ago.  I really felt bad for him as he stood with tears in his eyes.  Despite the fact that he finished second Tom Watson to me is a gentleman, sportsman, a supporter of us who serve in unpopular wars, a man of compassion and a true Champion.  God bless you Tom and thank you for what you did for my dad while I was in Iraq.

Peace, Steve+

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