The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Hubris

It is hubris that usually does us in. That was certainly the case with Lance Armstrong, who believed he was so gifted he was invulnerable, that no one could touch him. How different things would have been for Lance if he had simply given his down-on-his-luck ex partner, Floyd Landis, a job or money when he asked for it. Landis would not have sent the email that began the process of slowly unraveling Armstrong’s empire. Naturally, no one likes to be blackmailed, but in the case of Landis, a little bit of sympathy would have gone a long way. Of course, the qualities that make us strong are the very ones that make us weak. Lance put everything together—a dominating will, a wonderfully strong and efficient body, and the intelligence to create the best doping protocol on the planet—to win seven Tour de France titles. He was amazing rider, but it was his hubris—the need to crush or discredit rivals and critics—that brought him down. It’s ironic. Those who worshiped him have now become his critics and are pretending to be outraged. Let them. Let them take his titles, too. Let them pick over his bones if they want. It will never change the fact that he was magnificent.

October 15, 2012   Comments Off on Hubris

Death of a Superhero

It seems odd to attack and destroy a national hero, but, then, this is part of American culture, or any culture, when the wrong people are in charge. Naturally, I’m talking about Lance Armstrong—perhaps the greatest cyclist who ever lived—and the USADA—an agency of the U.S. government, unassociated with cycling or Olympic sports—who will almost certainly manage what a grand jury or international cycling itself could not achieve, namely, ban Lance for life and strip him of his Tour de France titles. The question, of course, is why. Why spend the time and money? The answer lies, in part, on the war on drugs and its importance in American culture and, also, I suspect, on Lance’s obdurate personality. But, when you think about it, how could he have achieved his seven Tour de France victories without being a hard man? How could he have won without using every means at his disposal? Why would anyone be naive enough to imagine otherwise?

One can only assume that when a grand jury failed to indict Armstrong, all of its evidence was turned over to the USADA. This was done in extremis. The USADA is not a legal forum, but an agency of the U.S. government whose decisions are made by a panel of experts. There is no due process, no ability to present a case or question witnesses, no legal recourse after the decision is made. Essentially, the USADA can and will do anything it pleases. Lance’s only option is to challenge the panel’s legal standing to make a judgment in this matter. Sadly, it is highly unlikely that he will succeed.

How quintessentially American this is. When we discover our superhero is flawed and human, we relish seeing him flayed, bowed, and bleeding, so we can pretend we are patricians sitting in judgment on a wounded gladiator in the Colosseum. The thing I love about Lance is that he will never give us this pleasure.

July 10, 2012   Comments Off on Death of a Superhero

Lance Prevailed

The Grand Jury closed the case against Lance Armstrong. Would you have expected anything less from Lance? His last victory against his worst foe.

February 3, 2012   Comments Off on Lance Prevailed

Justice?

In discussing the Roger Clemons case, Buzz Bissinger in The Daily Beast pinpoints the reason why Clemons, Barry Bonds, and Lance Armstrong have been targeted by prosecutors: “They [the prosecutors] represent themselves, craving high-profile cases with high-profile names that with a guilty verdict can lead to a corner office at some white-shoe law firm and a great deal more money. They are like grandiose taxidermists mounting animals on the wall…” These investigations, grand juries, and subsequent prosecutions are not about justice, but are, rather, vendettas tailor-made for an American public that craves to witness the destruction of sports heroes who are deemed too overweaning and aggressive. Clemons, Bonds, and Armstrong all fit this profile—athletes who were uncompromising in their approach to the game, aggressive to the very edge of what was deemed acceptable, arrogant and unrepentent in their victories. One hopes that Lance and his lawyers will outsmart Novitsky and those who are trying to bring him down. Although Lance’s reputation has been ruined (in the minds of some), he will not be stripped of his titles until he has been prosecuted in a court of law for an actual crime. Given Armstrong’s competitive character, everyone involved should expect a fight.

July 17, 2011   Comments Off on Justice?

Tyler Hamilton

Justice is selective in the United States, especially at the national level. No one is prosecuted for a crime these days except for political reasons. Why, then, is Lance Armstrong being publicly excoriated? Certainly, not because he is guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs. That’s an open secret. All the major riders of the last two decades used drugs.

The lastest rider to testify against Armstrong is Tyler Hamilton, a teammate, who recently went public on 60 Minutes. I’m sure Hamiliton is telling the truth. There is no doubt Armstrong cheated. He could not have been competitive otherwise. Naturally, Hamilton has been granted immunity for his testimony. It was that or jail time.

Unfortunately, Jeff Novitzky—who heads the grand jury investigating Armstrong—will have his way in the end, and Lance will be stripped of his Tour de France titles. But why? What important person or persons did Lance piss off so badly they needed to destroy him? Who does it benefit?

May 23, 2011   Comments Off on Tyler Hamilton

End Game

Why is our friend Jeff Novitzky in France talking with French cycling officials? Because he’s desperate and needs more information? I doubt it.

One must not assume that Novitzky’s case is weak at this point and that he’s thrashing around for something that will stick, but, rather, he is looking for facts that will underpin the eyewitness testimony he has already obtained. The man has an ulterior motive as well.

Novitzky will never create a case that will convince an American jury of Armstrong’s guilt, especially if it revolves around knowingly defrauding his employers by taking performance enhancing drugs. What Novitzky will succeed in doing, however, is knocking down the house of cards on which Armstrong’s reputation is based. He will do this by convincing the French—who really need no convincing, only facts—that they should nullify Lance’s Tour de France victories.

Wait, just wait, for the guillotine to fall.

November 18, 2010   Comments Off on End Game

The Perjury Factor

Roger Clemons, the famous baseball pitcher, is now on the verge of being prosecuted for making false statements under oath (perjury) regarding the use of drugs in baseball. The penalty for this ranges from house arrest to a few years in prison (unless you’re Dick Cheney, of course, and then it’s considered normal behavior). This is how Jeff Novitzky can compel former and present cyclists to testify against Lance Armstrong. The persons under subpoena must decide whether the truth will out (as Shakepeare said) and what story to tell. If the truth does come out and it’s proven that you lied under oath, you’ll wind up like Clemons. I would suggest that most of Armstrong’s associates will give fairly honest testimonies in exchange for immunity. Novitzky wants Armstrong and no one else, and will stop at nothing to see him ruined.

Why we are pursuing drug use in baseball and cycling rather than the high crimes and misdeamors committed by Cheney, Bush, and company, or going after those who tortured and abetted torture is anyone’s guess. Naturally, this is the United States and our priorities are upside down. Most of us have no idea what is important to life on this planet, and those who do don’t care. The remainder are powerless. So we make a show of “cleaning up” our national sport and going after the world’s most famous cyclist as a way of distracting ourselves from seeing who and what we really are.

August 19, 2010   1 Comment

Eyes Wide Shut

Floyd Landis recently went on national television to repeat his allegations against Lance Armstrong. As he spoke, his eyes shifted, his voice quavered, he twisted in his chair, and, in general, he expressed himself in the most circuitious way possible as if he were incapable of making a direct statement. This is not the kind of man you would buy a used car or anything else from. Most jurors, I think, would not believe him. But, of course, this does not mean he’s lying.

The purpose of his television appearance was to convict Armstrong in the court of public opinion. Many famous cases–of which this is likely to be one–are argued in front of cameras, as well as in the courtroom. It is now all too obvious that Lance Armstrong has powerful enemies, and despite how “dishonest” Landis appears, they are succeeding in destroying Lance piece by piece. It is not a pretty sight.

July 25, 2010   Comments Off on Eyes Wide Shut

L’affaire Lance

In the United States a grand jury is convened in some jurisdictions to determine whether enough evidence exists to proceed with a normal jury trial. It issues subpoenas, examines evidence, and issues indictments. In the case of Lance Armstrong, Jeff Novitzky must convince a group of ordinary citizens there is a strong possibility that Armstrong committed a crime. A grand jury’s proceedings are secret, but because so many individuals are involved, there are often leaks (some of them intentional) of a damaging nature. Greg LeMond, for example, seems to relish talking to the press.

At this point it’s already clear that Armstrong (or those around him) miscalculated in the Floyd Landis affair. It would have been a lot less damaging to have simply given in to Landis’s extortion and paid him off. Lance is not as popular as he once was, and although he can still marshall an impressive amount of support, the public loves watching a hero die as much as they relished his earlier triumphs. It’s human nature, I suppose, but a sad spectacle, nonetheless.

July 20, 2010   Comments Off on L’affaire Lance

Who Is Jeff Novitzky?

Jeff Novitzky, now a special agent of the Food and Drug Administration, was responsible for exposing the use of steroids in baseball, bringing down several famous players in the process. He is now trying to do the same to Lance Armstrong. Judging by his performances in the cases of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons, where he literally dug through garbage to find evidence, he will stop at nothing to do so. He doesn’t tape interviews, it is said, but takes written notes, and sometimes has a different memory of an accused’s statements than the accused himself. He’s an interesting character to say the least.

From the news accounts in the press, it seems that Novitzky is trying to prove that Armstrong took drugs with the intention of defrauding his sponsor, U. S. Postal. That is, Lance Armstrong boosted his performance to create larger profits for Tailwind Sports, the group that managed the team, of which Novitzky alleges Armstrong was an owner. Of course, Novitzky has Floyd Landis’s testimony in the bag and reputedly, that of two other former U. S. Postal riders. His problem is that he can’t bust Armstrong for drug use, as he did with Bonds and Clemons, so he has to prove fraud.

There is no doubt that Lance is worried. Before Stage 10, he denied being an owner of Tailwind Sports (though he seems to have taken an ownership stake after the U. S. Postal sponsorship ended in 2004). Novitzky’s case will be difficult to prove. The logic is strained: Lance took drugs to create larger profits for himself as a principal of Tailwind Sports with the specific intent of defrauding his sponsor, U. S. Postal.

But the investigator has an ulterior motive. If he can force Lance Armstrong into a court of law, Novitzky will provide enough damning evidence and witnesses to ruin Armstrong forever. Of course, this would compel Christian Prudhomme, the general director of the Tour de France, to strip Lance of his seven titles. Not a happy ending for such a great champion.

I would not bet against Jeff Novitzky. He seems to be a man obsessed with becoming the answer to the trivia question, Who brought down Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, and Lance Armstrong?

July 15, 2010   Comments Off on Who Is Jeff Novitzky?