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Saturday, June 30, 2012

A major blow to the "Livestrong" cause

Lance Armstrong was officially hit with charges by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, claiming that there was sufficient evidence proving the seven-time Tour de France champion was involved with blood doping and using performance-enhancing drugs during the majority of his cycling career.

If Armstrong is found guilty to be a cheater, then he will be stripped of his seven titles and will be clumped with the rest of the cheaters, like Floyd Landis, who have been disgraced for being proven cheaters.

The latest relevation about Armstrong states that there is proof of Armstrong possessing, using and even trafficking banned substances like EPO, which is a blood booster, as well as illegal blood stransfusions and steroids. The charges go all the way back to 1998.

Apparently, there are as many as 10 of Armstrong's former colleagues and racing teammates that will testify against him in this case.

Now, this news is not shocking whatsoever to me. There were strong rumors long ago that Armstrong was involved with blood doping _ the system where they take out your tired blood, circulate it with healthy, stronger blood, then put it back into your body to help strength and endurance. The rumors about Armstrong and blood doping go back to when he was trying to qualify for the 1994 Olympics in Atlanta.

I happened to work at the old Goodwill Games at the cycling event at Wagner College in 1998 and all the competitive cyclists there were insistent upon the fact that Armstrong was indeed doping. A year later, Armstrong wins his first Tour de France and becomes a national hero, largely in part because of his courageous battle recovering from testicular cancer.

Soon after, Armstrong's doing the circuit. He's on Oprah. He's the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year. He's the AP Athlete of the Year. He's seen on national television on practically every venue. He's a celebrity of the truest sense, even with that cloud of controversy hanging over him.

It's almost as if everyone overlooked the speculation about Armstrong because of his personal health issues, one that led to the formation of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Livestrong cause. It's an organization that millions of cancer survivors and their families wholeheartely support and raise money to endorse. You see the millions of yellow wristbands all across the country, engraved with the Livestrong message.

Other than the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer organization, has there been another fund-raising organization that drew more attention to cancer victims and survivors and their families than Livestrong? Probably not. The entire world has embraced Livestrong.

Armstrong has been the face of that organization. He's the main spokesperson, the shining light to the entire cause.

What in the world does news like this do to those who have adored Armstrong for so long? Does it diminish his work with Livestrong? What about those who he gave so much hope to?

Armstrong has always insisted from the outset that he was not guilty of all of the accusations and rumors. He's faced the charges in the past and vehemently denied them, even when people like fellow cyclists like Greg LeMond and the disgraced Landis said that Armstrong was as guilty as sin.

Now, these latest charges are the most damning, especially the ones that state that Armstrong was the drug supplier for the other cyclists. He's being charged as a drug dealer, just as common as the crack pusher you might find on an inner-city street corner.

There have been other cheaters in sports that have survived the public scrutiny. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have dodged jail time, even though it looks like they were certainly involved with illegal steroid use. Most people have almost totally forgotten that Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte admitted to using illegal steroids.

But none of those baseball players had such a tremendous following outside of sports. None represented an entire cause, one with millions of people supporting and hundreds of millions in donations.

These latest charges don't take away from what the Lance Armstrong Livestrong cause has done for cancer victims and survivors. But it certainly throws a gigantic wet rag over the cause from here on out.

How can you be totally sympathetic and supportive of a man who broke the laws, who is now accused of being a drug dealer and who cheated to reach the heights that he achieved?

In all honesty, it's a huge blow to Livestrong. No matter what takes place and how many times he denies it from now on, Lance Armstrong is disgraced. Even before what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency decides by its final hearing July 9 _ the deadline for whether Armstrong will appeal the charges _ he's guilty in the eyes of public opinion.

And what does that do to the millions who have adored him and admired him for so long? Bonds and Clemens were hated individuals before their day in court. Armstrong is revered by millions. Just take a look at the wrists of Americans all over. If they're wearing yellow rubber bands, it's a sign of support for Armstrong and other cancer victims and survivors.

I remember a cancer survivor telling me back in 1998 that there was no way Armstrong could have recovered as quickly as he did from the near-fatal battle he had with cancer to return to such a high competitive level if there wasn't something else going on. That man told me that either he wasn't as sick as he led on to be or he was receiving artificial assistance.

Well, now, maybe it was a case of both. We'll never know. We know now Armstrong can't be trusted.

One thing is for sure: Livestrong has to become distant of Armstrong in a hurry if it wants to continue to do the extraordinary work it has done to give cancer patients hope for survival.

Here's another sidelight to this whole mess: How can anyone take the Tour de France seriously anymore? With the rampant cheating and titles being stripped left and right, why bother? It's certainly not a mainstream sport anymore, not with so many cheaters.

Now, to a brighter sports story. There has not been a better sports story in New York _ or perhaps the nation _ this year than the incredible rise of Mets knuckleball master R.A. Dickey.

Dickey threw eight more scoreless innings last night against the Dodgers. He struck out 10. He allowed three singles. Ho, hum. He seems to do that every time out. He's now 12-1 on the season, the best pitching numbers in all of baseball.

But consider where he came from. Dickey was once a top-pitching prospect in the Texas Rangers chain, but then had all the nerves in his elbow removed. In fact, doctors said that it was amazing he was able to throw at all. He floundered around, went back and forth to the minors, then discovered he could throw the knuckleball.

So he worked hard on mastering it. He was able to hook on with the Mets, only on a non-guaranteed minor league deal in 2009, more than likely kept as a stop-gap pitcher to churn out innings in the minors.

Now, at age 37, he's headed to the All-Star Game and if they can find someone to catch the knuckleball, he might be the National League starter. He's earned that right.

Twenty years ago, Robert Redford starred in "The Natural," about Roy Hobbs capturing a baseball career decades after it originally started. Well, R.A. Dickey right now is the pitching version of "The Natural." He's having a dream season, one almost too unbelievable to even dream.

Considering everything Dickey has been through in his life _ even surviving sexual abuse as a child _ he deserves all the accolades and attention he is receiving as, yes, the very best pitcher in baseball. The numbers certainly don't lie.

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