Imagine your reputation, your career and the prize to which you devoted half your life are on trial. You present your side of the story and the prosecution presents theirs. When you've both finished, the judge nods and says he'll get back to you sometime in the future; he won't say when. A week passes. A month passes. Another month passes. Another two months pass. Finally, four agonizing months after your trial, the judge announces his decision.
AP Photo/Reed Saxon
Floyd Landis waited four months before receiving the bad news.
And then he delivers the verdict. You're still guilty.
That's pretty much how it worked for Floyd Landis, who just lost his arbitration case over his positive testosterone result in the 2006 Tour de France. After four months of deliberation, the arbitration panel ruled 2-1 against the cyclist. It did so even though it acknowledged that the French lab workers didn't follow proper testing procedures, called them "sloppy" and essentially warned that they were being placed on double-secret probation until they clean up their act.
In other words, the panel admitted that the lab tests weren't completely reliable or properly conducted, but it accepted the results anyway.
(Where were these guys during the O.J. trial?)
Or at least two of the arbitrators accepted the test results. The dissenting arbitrator, however, blasted the lab. "In many instances," Christopher Campbell wrote, "Mr. Landis sustained his burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The documents supplied by [the lab] are so filled with errors that they do not support an Adverse Analytical Finding. Mr. Landis should be found innocent." He also said that if the lab was so sloppy running the relatively simple T-E test, its results for the more complicated carbon test could not be trusted either.
Landis got hosed. The arbitration verdict was unfair and harsh. Despite the questionable evidence, Landis lost his case, his title and possibly his career (not to mention the $2 million he invested in his defense). But even so, the drug testing system came out looking worse. The Landis verdict ran the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's record to 35-0. Which isn't surprising given how the appeal system is stacked against athletes.
I think most athletes who test positive are in fact guilty despite their loud protests and excuses. But I'm also suspicious of a system in which no athlete ever wins an appeal. It smacks of a dictator claiming 99 percent of the vote.
I remember what Landis told me this summer when I asked him how he responds to people who say, "I want to believe you but I just can't."
"I'd say, 'OK, fine. Don't believe me,'" he replied. "But take a look at this stuff in the lab and tell me you'd like to be subjected to that type of testing. It's fine if you don't believe me, but just admit that they didn't prove that I doped. Nobody should be subjected to crappy work like that. If I did my job like those guys did theirs in the anti-doping agencies, no one would have ever heard of me. If I write down in my training diary that I rode for six hours yesterday to make it look good when I only rode for one, I wouldn't win any [bleeping] races.
"I'll never convince every single person that I didn't do it, but I will convince them all that the system doesn't work and it needs to be changed."
The thing is, after reading two books on the subject as well as coverage of the arbitration case, I still can't say for sure whether Landis took steroids or not. But the arbitration case certainly didn't prove he did. The test results are questionable enough to be disregarded and he should be allowed to keep his yellow jersey.
What I know for sure is I never want to be an athlete trying to prove my innocence in a doping case. And after this, I'm a whole lot more willing to believe an athlete and a little less willing to trust the testers.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.