Live Long, Livestrong!

Let's not be naive. I'm sure there were Greek long-distance runners who chewed the leaves of some performance-enhancing substance and a few Roman chariot drivers who had an illicit trick or two up their skirts that either gave them an undue advantage or caused an opponent's axle to snap on a sharp curve.

But the story the Wall Street Journal ran about American bike racers this weekend -- "For Cycling's Big Backers, Joy Ride Ends in Grief" -- still left me with an urge to shake my head and wag my finger, on the one hand, and shake my head and wash my hands of the whole idea of devoting hours of time to watching and/or listening to spectator sports on the other. No one comes out of this story looking good and if things are this unseemly in the relatively low-stakes sport of cycling, it makes you wonder what's going on where the big money sits.

"Seldom do I have the opportunity to chuckle and, dare I say it, laugh openly, at such a large and varied collection of fools, poseurs, cheaters, liars and reprobates," writes one commenter. "And a couple of good guys caught up in the mess."



The piece, by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell, chronicles the relationships among a group of wealthy enthusiasts, including several from the world of marketing and advertising, who seemingly backed professional cycling in the U.S. for love of the sport and the thrill of rubbing elbows with, and riding in the wake of, the sport's top athletes. But along the way came the doping scandals, as well as a mix of duplicity and overreaching.

"Why do we pay to watch people ride bikes, play golf, play football, play anything? Get off the couch, get on a bike and go riding for FUN," writes another commentator. "That is what sport is about. Without exception, the so-called legitimate pro and college sports are about as authentic as professional wrestling."

To be sure, sports have been embroiled in scandals aplenty, but they've always managed to pour it on in the home stretch and come back stronger than ever. All it takes is a little PR.

The Black Sox scandal of 1919 had its day in the headlines but The Sultan of Swat brought fans back to baseball. College basketball had its betting scandal in the early '50s, but March Madness seems to get just a little bit crazier every year. College football seems to have perennial recruiting malfeasances -- inevitably accompanied by stories that point out that the whole system is just a minor league for the NFL -- but few people give a whit when recovering from their New Year's Eve hangovers by watching sponsored bowl game after bowl game. And did you ever wonder what it would take to knock out professional boxing? It has got as many lives as Mike Tyson.

Look, spectator sports are in my blood. My father was a sportswriter in the '30s. Watching men play boys games together was definitely a major way of bonding in our family.

I also understand the feel-good, tribal aspects of a collective sis-boom-bah when your team wins. I had to check myself several times yesterday to stay away from the Giants-Eagles game to split wood (and good thing for my blood pressure that I did, it appears). And although I haven't been to a Knicks game in years, I found myself getting caught up with the rest of the city in the team's recent, if vanquished, winning streak.

Finally, a lot good comes out of all that money sports generates, from Derek's Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation to the NFL Networks "Keep Gym in School" campaign. One of the very best, in fact, is that of cycling's premier name, even today, Lance Armstrong.

Chuck Salter had a piece in Fast Company a couple of months ago headlined, "Can Livestrong Survive Lance Armstrong and a Doping Scandal?" I certainly hope so. There was a time, not too long ago, when cancer had a stigma attached to it on a level with the one that people with chemical dependencies still bear today. To be sure, efforts like the Pink Ribbon campaign for breast cancer have played a huge role in bringing cancer out of the shadows.

But is the very model of the good that can be done with fame and a little bit of fortune. It would be a shame if its reputation were tainted because of the alleged misdeeds of its founder.

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