After years of facing accusations for supposed steroid use, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking to block the United States Anti-Doping Agency from punishing him for the violations they have charged him with. The suit, however, was quickly dismissed by a district court, and the judge in the case even took the time to chastise Armstrong. Although unsuccessful in his attempt to get the feds off his back, Armstrong's case helps highlight the "anti-doping" hypocrisy and why the U.S. government has no business policing professional sports.
In winning an unprecedented, and no doubt unrepeatable, seven grueling Tour de Frances in a row after beating cancer, Armstrong soon began to be the recipient of massive media attention, praise, and eventually suspicion over such a feat. After fellow American bicyclist Floyd Landis admitted to using steroids, his teammate Armstrong was soon the most high-profile target in a crusade against doping and "performance enhancing drugs."
The U.S. was exceptionally relentless in pursuing Armstrong, committing multiple felonies in the process (including leaking classified grand jury material) in order to damage Armstrong's reputation and garner public support for their case against him.
Did Lance Armstrong use steroids in order to achieve his success? Maybe, maybe not. There is no doubt that if he didn't take them, he would've been the exception. But whatever the answer to that question, which is more dangerous: An athlete who takes "performance-enhancing drugs" or a government that breaks its own laws and lies in order to smear and punish someone who possibly ingested a politically unapproved substance?
I can sincerely sympathize with both sides of the issues concerning steroids and other drugs in sports.
On one hand, they can have very damaging effects on a body, it can set bad examples towards younger athletes, and what to do with hallowed records, like Armstrong's and many others.
On the other hand, the American obsession and paranoia over "drugs" can be incredibly irrational. Many activities and substances "enhance performance." Before we had the knowledge of today, athletes didn't lift weights, many of them drank and partied heavily, and cigarettes were commonplace at the Tour de France. If they understood modern diet and nutrition, then there is no doubt they would adopt these habits and ingest these "performance enhancing" substances. Even Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter while on LSD.
Whatever side one falls on on this issue, the harassment received by Armstrong and the criminality of the federal agents entrusted with enforcing "anti-doping activities" is evidence that the policing of sports should be a private, not a political, one. Codes of conduct, rules, and regulations — like what athletes can or can't put into their bodies — should be between their employers or the private sports associations involved, subject to a market tests of profitability, fan interest, and public opinion (or ostracism).
For example, although I believe gambling should be legal, the MLB has strict rules against gambling, which they have the right to do. Pete Rose, who gambled as a manager, has been banned from baseball for life and is not allowed into the Hall of Fame. "Spit balls" were banned and racial integration was achieved by basic market forces.
The MLB has done a decent job at clamping down on steroids, and although there have been many ways around it, the cartoon-like numbers (and bodies) are gone. Fan attendance and interest has even risen as of late.
The NFL is constantly tinkering with rules and increased player safety measures, while the NBA is a completely different league than it was decades ago. Yes, professional sports tend to be highly corporatist enterprises, but this should only strengthen the case against government involvement.
It's not perfect, and there are undoubtedly many problems that still exist in sports that have not been properly addressed. But the U.S. government has no authority — constitutionally or morally — to stand on. At the same time Armstrong, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens are being prosecuted and chastised for supposedly breaking federal law, the Justice Department goes to great lengths to exonerate federal agents who knowingly broke federal law when they tortured detainees, and aggressively prosecute those who blow the whistle on them.
In other words, the people in charge of regulating the content of blood in professional athletes commit actual crimes on a massive scale. Why any athlete takes a congressman badgering them seriously is just baffling.
Good for Lance Armstrong for sticking up for himself against the feds. With the way they have been targeting for the last few years, it seems they are looking to make an example out of him. Armstrong is someone who, unlike them, created value and provided entertainment in the private sector and whose pushbacks are a reminder that the real criminals are not athletes ingesting substances but federal agents who don't mind their own business.