Commentary

Floyd Landis and the want of truth

Floyd blew the whistle at Lance, but maybe we should be the uncomfortable ones

Originally Published: May 24, 2010
By Jeff MacGregor | ESPN.com

I'm not nearly crazy enough to write this.

And you're not nearly crazy enough to read it.

[+] Enlargerat signs
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillFloyd Landis might not have been the most popular person at the Tour of California.

Still. Here we go.

Poor Floyd Landis.

In summary, this: A person nobody trusts has told us a thing nobody believes regarding a sport nobody cares about.

Thus, uncorrupted by rage and uninhibited by fact, we keep things very short, sweet and to the point this week as we turn to the cautionary tale of poor Floyd Landis.

Even the dullest among us know by now that poor Floyd Landis, disgraced winner of the 2006 Tour de France, confessed last week to blood doping and performance enhancement. In doing so, he named the names of several other famous cyclists he contends were dopers and cheaters, as well. Including The Only Professional Bicyclist Known By Name To The American Public (Except For Maybe That One Other Guy), Lance Armstrong.

It has been interesting illuminating sickening chilling revealing utterly unsurprising in the days since then to watch the machinery of the Sporting Establishment grind out its predictable responses to the accusation.

Benedict Arnold
AP Photo/Library of CongressDid Benedict Arnold face this much vitriol?

In no particular order, these responses included the circling of the rhetorical wagons by the bureaucrats and sanctioning bodies of the sport itself; then the emphatic, if somewhat generic, non-denial denials on the part of riders, mechanics, manufacturers, advertisers, soigneurs, television announcers, sponsors and cycling apparatchiks -- anyone with access to a microphone or e-mail account; then the rollout of the counter-narrative, in which Mr. Armstrong's bona fides as a Pure-D Certified American Hero® are restated con brio by a compliant, complicit press, and poor Floyd Landis is labeled at last not only a liar but perhaps a drunk and a sociopath and a lunatic, as well. Poor Floyd Landis.

To hear my colleagues tell it, only Benedict Arnold and Marcus Brutus have committed greater acts of betrayal and malevolence; and had it been possible to Photoshop a Renaissance Judas Iscariot plausibly onto the seat of a hand-laid carbon-fiber TT bike, you'd have seen it by now.

The trouble with this sort of inert thinking and low-voltage moralizing is that it misses an important point: Most whistle-blowers are complicit in the bad behaviors they expose. This is as true of junkies on the street as it is of "reformers" at the Department of Defense as it is of "insiders" within the tobacco business as it is of Jose Canseco.

Informants -- however impure their motives, up to and including blackmail -- are almost always bound up in the very thing they reveal to us.

This does not mean they're wrong.

Nor does it mean they're right -- or righteous.

[+] EnlargeArmstrong
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesDo we really even want the truth?

It may just mean that we have to set aside our prejudices and appetites and biases and preconceptions long enough to explore the truth of things. Which presumes we all actually want the truth of things. Which is itself a double-down, triple-ricochet long shot when it comes to folks and folk heroes.

We're all suckers for uplift. So much so that P.T. Barnum likely understated things in that line by a factor of magnitude. Which explains in large part our passionate devotion and defense of Lance Armstrong and all he represents.

For most citizens, that's fine. We need heroes and we need role models and we need men and women willing to be looked up to and willing to bear the burdens of our common needs and expectations.

What is not fine, however, is a zombie media unwilling to confront a truth, any truth, for fear of angering a sponsor or losing access to a celebrity or damming the revenue stream of a broadcast contract.

Don't get me wrong. As a lover of cycling and American stories and heroic mythologies, I like and admire Lance Armstrong very much. It would please me to continue to do so.

But not at the expense of the truth, or at the cost of my sense of decency or fair play. Sports journalism has done itself -- and you -- no favors over the past several decades in its coverage of drugs and cheating and the real costs of our big-ticket entertainments.

[+] EnlargeFloyd Landis
AP Photo/NZPA/Dianne MansonLandis has spoken. Are we mad enough to listen?

Even as the chemistry of human improvement pushes us all into the 21st century, our moral imperatives in the sports/business world seem to remain those of a much darker, simpler age.

And we knowingly ignore all warnings to the contrary.

Thus, even in the face of all the profiteering and corporate cynicism, the ethical squalor and moral temporizing of postmodern sports, nobody down in the stands or up in the press box ever gets angry enough to do anything about it.

Remember how laughably, contemptibly wrong crazy old Jose Canseco was? Right up until the very instant he was absolutely right?

Poor Floyd Landis.

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Please continue to submit your answers to his question "What are sports for?" You can e-mail him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com.

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