Little attention paid to Landis, Gatlin is too much

Updated: July 31, 2006, 11:30 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

So now we wait for something called Sample B to confirm or exonerate someone named Floyd Landis. At stake is Landis' Tour de France championship, his reputation, and his cycling legacy. These are no small things, but why should we care now when most of us didn't care four weeks ago?

Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe possibility exists for Tour de France champion Floyd Landis going from victory stand to unemployment in less than a week.

Be honest. All those who knew this guy's name before, during or immediately after the July 1 start, raise your hands. All sportswriters -- spokeheads not allowed -- who could have picked Landis out of a pre-race lineup of men in yellow jerseys, raise your hands. That's what I thought.

Floyd Landis? Floyd Landis does your taxes. He works Pit No. 2 at Jiffy Lube. He asks you if you want paper or plastic. I'd never heard of him until July 19, when cycling experts breathlessly reported that Landis' chances of winning the Tour ended during Stage 16 of the 20-stage race, when he suffered a meltdown in the Alps and dropped from first overall to 11th. I'm pretty sure I yawned.

Meanwhile, nobody in the United States seemed too interested in the Tour de Whatever, either. TV viewership here was down 54 percent from a year ago. The daily audience averaged just 259,000 viewers. You can get 259,000 viewers just by showing the sausage races at Miller Park.

Sorry, but I'm having a hard time working up the appropriate indignation over a cyclist I don't know and a sport I don't care about. The same goes for sprinter Justin Gatlin, the co-world record holder in the 100 meters who decided Saturday to come clean, so to speak, on his latest failed drug test. Of course, he waited three months to mention this one, but who's counting?

I'm guessing 95 percent of America couldn't tell you Gatlin's record time in the 100, or who will be named the Tour de France winner if Landis is disqualified. That's because we're not invested in those sports. We kinda, sorta care about track and field every four years at the Olympics. We pay attention to the Tour de France when Lance Armstrong is the one sipping champagne in Paris, or if there's footage of a really gnarly crash where some French guy goes barreling over a guardrail. But that's about it.

Bryn Lennon/Getty ImagesGatlin is only 24 years old, but his career might be finished.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not ripping cycling or track and field, though cycling is sprocket deep in doping scandals and the like, and track and field can't go 9.77 seconds without somebody getting sanctioned for testing positive in something. The athletes themselves, at least the ones we're pretty sure don't cheat, are stunningly athletic.

But I can't put a salad fork in Landis or Gatlin just yet because I've never truly cared if they won or lost. To pretend otherwise would be hypocritical.

There should be some Law of Sports Proportionality, under which you can only rip as much as you cheered. If you only were introduced to Landis on July 20, when he became a cycling legend by overpowering the field and the 200.5-kilometer 17th stage to retake the overall lead, then you can't act crestfallen a week later when tests revealed his testosterone/epitestosterone ratios were higher than allowed.

Baseball is another story. We're invested in baseball. And football. And hoops. And maybe golf, hockey and the World Series of Poker. But that's about it.

We don't order throwback T-Mobile jerseys from Mitchell & Ness. Most of us don't know a peloton from an electron. Those who do, such as the gifted Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated, have a right to rip. After all, it was Murphy who wrote that Landis' Stage 17 performance was "a gleaming counterweight to the doping scandal that had overshadowed this Tour since the day before it began." He added, "... Landis ensured that this Tour will be remembered as much for the heroics of a rider who was there as it will be for the suspicion hanging over those who weren't."

Instead, Sample A said Landis was a cheater, not a counterweight. Sample B is expected to say the same thing, much like it did when Gatlin was found to have tested positive for higher-than-allowed testosterone levels. Gatlin faces a lifetime ban from his sport. Landis, if he can't prove otherwise, would be stripped of his Tour victory and fired by his Phonak team sponsors.

If it happens, Landis could go from victory stand to unemployment in less than a week. And if he cheated, that's what he deserves. Likewise for Gatlin.

But I'm not going to use cell minutes calling friends and family about the news. Landis and Gatlin might be internationally known, but I'd bet Reggie Bush's signing bonus (thanks, Reg) that until a few days ago the cyclist and sprinter could have spent the day at Disney World and not have been recognized by anyone, including Dopey.

Barry Bonds is another story. His sport matters to us, as does the integrity of the men who play it. We have history with Bonds, thanks to those 73 home runs he hit in 2001 and those 722 dingers he's hit during the course of his 20-year career. We've known him and the game he plays for a long, long time. He matters.

So I'll wait for the results of Landis' confirmation test, but won't build my day around it. I'm saving that for baseball's Sample A, as in Anderson, Greg, and Sample B, as in Bonds, Barry. That, I care about.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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