Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Support Lance Armstrong

Good for Lance Armstrong.
Whether or not he doped, he ended the USADA's version of the Red Scare on his own terms. And so, if you're a Lance Armstrong hater, you've had your day. Congratulations. I hope you're very happy.
But I have a few questions:
Why Was It So Important to Take Away Armstrong's Tour Titles?
We sports fans hate cheaters. We've seen this in the dogged pursuits of baseball players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez. But Rodriguez and Andy Pettite are just two athletes who have admitted steroid use and are still playing. In his statement, Armstrong writes "USADA has allegedly made deals with other riders that circumvent their own rules as long as they said I cheated. Many of those riders continue to race today."
Armstrong has never admitted steroid use nor tested positive, and yet he is likely to be stripped of all of his Tour titles and banned for life from the sport. This because he finally decided he didn't feel like dealing with the USADA.
So, when you take away Armstrong's titles because of doping, does it bother you at all that the heirs to the Tour throne probably doped too? Remember that Armstrong has never failed a drug test despite being tested more than anyone else and that cyclists have alleged that everyone was doping at those times. If Armstrong doped despite years of testing to suggest otherwise, who's to say that the runners-up didn't either? Are you going to investigate them as thoroughly as you did Armstrong?
Isn't it problematic that the USADA is publicly breaking its own rules because there's a chance a retiree broke them 17 years ago?
I feel like I should let Lance take it away on this one:
I am a retired cyclist, yet USADA has lodged charges over 17 years old despite its own 8-year limitation.  As respected organizations such as UCI and USA Cycling have made clear, USADA lacks jurisdiction even to bring these charges.  The international bodies governing cycling have ordered USADA to stop, have given notice that no one should participate in USADA's improper proceedings, and have made it clear the pronouncements by USADA that it has banned people for life or stripped them of their accomplishments are made without authority.  And as many others, including USADA's own arbitrators, have found, there is nothing even remotely fair about its process.  USADA has broken the law, turned its back on its own rules, and stiff-armed those who have tried to persuade USADA to honor its obligations.  At every turn, USADA has played the role of a bully, threatening everyone in its way and challenging the good faith of anyone who questions its motives or its methods, all at U.S. taxpayers' expense.  For the last two months, USADA has endlessly repeated the mantra that there should be a single set of rules, applicable to all, but they have arrogantly refused to practice what they preach.
Do you really think people won't still revere Armstrong?
Armstrong writes that the people he rode with saw who won those Tours. So did everyone who watched them.
But more importantly, when you take away Armstrong's titles, you're left with a cancer survivor whose Foundation has raised nearly $500 million dollars. These achievements stand on their own. Do you think anyone who received that aid cares whether or not Lance Armstrong was doping? When it comes down to it, Armstrong has done far more good in this world than bad. Now, I know that there are "complicated" figures, whose charity work and personal life seem to be at odds. I have seen athletic heroes fall many times, and I've seen people rush to vilify or defend them. I would be the latter in this particular case. But Armstrong's alleged crime pales in comparison to the good work he has done. And he isn't falling from grace. He is voluntarily removing himself from the drama. He is letting it go. He is being the bigger man.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If Han Solo and Princess Leia had a daughter, she'd probably be a lot like Hope Solo.

As the title of this post clearly indicates, I've probably watched Star Wars more than is socially acceptable (the old ones, of course).
Moving on...
Hope Solo seems exactly like the kind of person who would be raised by Han Solo and Princess Leia. (Would that make Leia Mrs. Solo? Leia Skywalker? I don't really see her taking her husband's name, but she might given that Han had thought she had a thing for her own twin brother Luke...)
Well, first of all, there's her name: Hope. As in the original movie.
More to the point, she's confident, independent, outspoken, and fierce. If either Han or Leia played soccer, who's to say they wouldn't play goal? It's a position for fearless people perfectly happy to handle pressure and their enemies alone (alone as in solo).
She hasn't been afraid to challenge coaching decisions to the media (namely, being benched in favor of Brianna Scurry in 2007) or push back on comments by women's soccer legend Brandi Chastain. That's the same kind of fiery spirit Han and Leia show when defying Jabba the Hutt and Darth Vader, respectively. Sure it got them in hot water temporarily (Solo's media persona was well established by the time she challenged Chastain, but 2007 was a tense time), but ultimately they all stuck to their guns (literally, in Han and Leia's case), and it paid off in the end either with an Olympic Gold Medal or with the downfall of the Empire.
If you find Luke Skywalker's heir apparent, let me know.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What We Can Learn From Augusta National

In this day and age, you can be a boys club or you can be a club of excellence. You can't be both. I have no objection to single sex organizations. None whatsoever. I see no problem with people wanting to associate with members of their own genders. To this day, many single sex organizations are allowed to continue that way without scrutiny, including college fraternities and sororities as well sports teams. As someone who benefited greatly from my participation in a single sex college sports team, I can certainly see why men would want to socialize, through golf, with other men. For this reason, I had never been able to bring myself to vilify Augusta National Golf Club in the way that others did.
But it was Augusta's prestige that made its all male policy so contentious, and it's that same prestige that has made its inclusion of women so momentous. Because of what Augusta represented in the public eye--tradition, excellence, prestige, its exclusion of women seemed to suggest that in this day and age, women still weren't welcome in the upper echelon of male society. Augusta, of course, was just one club with its own unique traditions and quirks. But because its golf course was so elite, because it hosted the Masters, because it was so firmly entrenched in the public imagination, and because membership was such a status symbol, it became seen as unfair that women weren't allowed admittance. Restricting membership to Augusta became, in the eyes of the public, another glass ceiling that women had to break.
What we can learn from Augusta, therefore, is something that all women would take heart to hear: men can have their all-boys clubs in the same way that women can have all-girl clubs. But in this day and age, when something transcends the single sex social-role to which it has been confined, its self-projected image of excellence will eventually require it to either go coed or to lose its prominent place in American imaginations.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Track, Field, and Cheering for Excellence

2008 belonged to Michael Phelps. 2012 belonged to Usain Bolt.
In the Beijing Olympics, it was hard to argue against Phelps or Bolt. Both were in their own class.  It's hard to compare a sport such as swimming to an event such as track. While I am neither a track nor a swimming expert, I would give the edge in Beijing to Phelps for winning the numbers game.
That's not to say I don't see the counterargument: though both sports have multiple events, it's easier (relatively) for a swimmer to amass lots of medals than it is for a track star. Runners have very few shots of glory, while swimmers, comparatively, have more. But Phelps' eight gold medals meant that he was on TV a lot more. His victories took longer and there were more of them. Quite simply, you spent more time watching Phelps than you did watching Bolt. So in the sense of infiltrating the collective mind of the fan, Phelps had to be the winner.
While Phelps was still fantastic in London, the tables had turned. While he still boasted an incredibly impressive Olympic resume (besting rival Ryan Lochte), he wasn't the picture of perfection in the way that Bolt was. What I love about Bolt is that as someone who is not a track expert, I can assume he's all I need to know about track, then track analysts will try to convince me otherwise, and then Bolt will go out and prove me right. He may have a big ego, but why shouldn't he? He's the fastest man of all time! Every day we read about bigheaded people who are far less impressive. I actually find Bolt extremely likeable. He's fun, he involves the crowd, he seems to be invested in the success of training partner Yohan Blake, and he's committed to his country and his community.
Women's Track Made One of My Friends Cry.
For sheer raw emotion, women's track is pretty hard to beat. Watching Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce win her second straight gold in the 100m, then promptly lie on the ground crying was enough to cause my friend to well up. I enjoyed watching women's track because, from what I could tell, all of these women were incredibly hard working, well spoken, thoughtful individuals. What's not to admire about someone like Allyson Felix, who took gold in the 200 after taking silver in both Athens and Beijing? From what I could see, the female stars were much less accustomed toward playing to the crowd (though their articulate, thoughtful interviews suggested otherwise), so their reactions showed much more raw emotion and gratitude and much less camera-mugging.
Jamaican Sprinters (and the World): Talent is For All of Us to Admire
I bleed Red, White, and Blue, but I can't get myself to root against Jamaican sprinters. I have so much admiration for them. It is nothing short of amazing for a country that small to be so consistently dominant in a sport as worldwide as running. Only in national team sports are we told to root for our countrymen above all else. While I overwhelmingly root for my country, I will occasionally break from that, whether it's to root for alumni of my school (especially ones I have met), to witness inspiring personal stories, or simply to see great athletics. Bolt is one athlete who has transcended national boundaries: In an interview after his 200 victory, he specifically thanked his many fans in the US.
Why do we Americans root for Bolt? Partly because he seems like a great guy. Mostly because we want to witness the unbelievable.
British Olympic Gold Medalist Version of Neil Patrick Harris: Greg Rutherford
Isn't that the dream?
(Barney Stinson's take on it.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thoughts on London: Celebrate the Accomplishments of Harper, Wells, and Jones

When Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells, and Lolo Jones went 2-3-4 in the hurdles, it marked a great accomplishment for USA Track. Sadly, what happened was that a media debate erupted over the relative fame of Harper and Wells vs. Jones and whether Jones is or is not deserving of the attention she has received. Instead, why don't we celebrate the accomplishments of all three of these athletes. They all have worked hard and persevered. Rather than pitting them against each other, why not appreciate the efforts they have made? If they do dislike each other, that's their business. It's not an elementary school playground where we all have to choose sides. Neutrality is a perfectly acceptable option. Track is an individual sport, so their alleged dislike of one another would not affect their ability to compete. Moreover, they'd hardly be the first set of successful teammates to dislike each other.
Secondly, I feel like debating whether or not Jones is attention seeking misses the point. When you judge someone on their desire for attention, you critique them in the same way you would criticize a potential friend. These athletes, much as you might wish them to be, are not your friends. They are not even your work colleagues. If they are working hard, treating others with respect, and staying out of trouble, they are deserving of respect and admiration. All of these athletes fit all three qualities.
And finally, to those of you complaining that Jones is receiving more attention than Harper and Wells because of her looks: Yes, I completely agree that objectification of women is an issue. But don't we, as  media consumers, objectify people in general? Female athletes are hardly the only ones who can receive disproportionate attention for their looks. Are David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo great soccer players? Absolutely. Is their fame aided by their looks? No doubt. And actors? How many Ryan Gosling websites exist now? Those are totally for his acting talent alone, right? For better or for worse, looks are a factor in how people are judged in all arenas. Instead of vilifying an admirable athlete because she takes advantage of a system instead of falling victim to it, how about refusing to fall into the system's traps and celebrating accomplishments where you see fit?