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What do Jim Thorpe, Muhammad Ali, Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong have in common? Each was stripped of a title, some for their own hubris, others by something far different.

Exactly 100 years ago, in 1912, Jim Thorpe stood, literally and figuratively, on an Olympic pedestal. Winner of both the pentathlon and decathlon in the Summer games of that year, he was the greatest athlete of his era. But in those long ago times, amateur participation was a rigid and harsh mandate. For the sin of having played 2 seasons of semi-professional baseball prior to the 1912 games, Thorpe's medals were taken from him, not to be returned until 1983, 30 years after his death.

In 1967, with the Vietnam War raging, the heavyweight champion of the world, stated that he "ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong." For refusing to be inducted into the service of the United States, he was initially deemed a criminal, his title was lost outside the ring, and 3 years of his career vanished before he could return to the sport and to those epic battles with Joe Frazier.

In 1988 and 2000, the world of track and field witnessed greatness in the Olympics from Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, who vied for the titles of fastest man and woman on the planet. Only the ugly world of performing enhancing drugs entered, and Johnson and Jones later were denounced and disgraced, without their Olympic crowns and ultimately, for Jones, with time to ponder her mistakes while in jail.

Each of the stories of these athletes is sad and brutal in its own right. There are tales of Thorpe's struggles financial, and with the bottle, that plagued him until the end of his days. Ali, with all that could have been during his prime years, of greatness not on display. Johnson and Jones, their denials and finger pointing making their ultimate truths so much the worse.

And now Lance Armstrong. Heroic in ways that only story books could imagine. A tribute to man's unbreakable spirit. An athlete who was not just better, but beyond human. Today he is stripped of far more than his titles. In the elaborate nature of his doping ruse, in his willingness and even demand that others play not by the rules of the game but by the rules of Armstrong, in all that he meant and in how little he now means, there is a tragedy epic in its proportion.

These athletes form the pantheon of the great who were once acclaimed as the best, and then deemed unworthy. A strange team, bound together by a common thread. Yet of them all, the latest entry seems to have, at least in the harsh light of today's media spotlight, captured the gold medal in a category no one wants to win: The most deserving of being deemed the worst of the best, and of having his crown removed unceremoniously.

Cross-posted from Too Early To Call.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Muhammad Ali (10+ / 0-)

    should not be in this line-up. He was stripped of his title for political reasons not for doping.

    El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. The people united will never be defeated

    by mint julep on Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 09:22:01 PM PDT

  •  The one lance story for me (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Olympia, G2geek, Carol in San Antonio

    comes from a former professional female cyclist.  You may not realize that cycling was (and still is?) a pretty misogynist sport,  with limits on the distances that women were 'allowed" to race, except by maverick race organizers.   In one of these events, the women raced before the men in a loop course, but the men, led by Lance Armstrong, clustered on the finish line  getting ready for their start before the women were done, obstructing their finish.  Would have served him right if one of the steamed women riders took him out at full speed.  From the few stories I've heard from thsoe inside, Mr. Armstrong has been a first class asshole.

    Good riddance, if so.

    This has been a golden age for confirmation bias. - David Brooks http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/opinion/books-poll-addict-confesses.html

    by Mindful Nature on Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 09:28:11 PM PDT

    •  a first class asshole (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek

      i hear the same from someone in the commercial real estate industry here in Austin,
      a jerk when he doesn't have to be.
      Austin supported him, cause this is a town of recovering...everything's
      He cheated
      that said,
       i was wondering if his 'regiment' has any cancer curing applications. (i wonder if this had much to do w/ his separation w/ sheryl crow)
      I know the HIV community effectively developed testosterone therapy pre 'cocktail' when 'wasting' syndrome was taking large #s

      Our president has his failings, but compared to Mitt Romney he is a paradigm of considered and compassionate thought.

      by OMwordTHRUdaFOG on Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 09:49:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  the spirit of the time: get away with what you can (0+ / 0-)

      Athletics are a focused and concentrated microcosm of society at-large: its values, its real values, its goals, its rules, and so on.

      During the time Armstrong was doping and cheating his way to undeserved victories, we were living in a culture where rules are for fools, and it doesn't matter how you cheat at the game as long as you win.  

      So it's not surprising to see professional and "amateur" athletes alike, doping it up, and doing other things to cheat.  How many home runs in baseball were rocket-propelled by steroids?  How many this, how many that?   How many legendary competitions have been tainted by the spreading stains and the nagging questions?  

      The worst thing about the doping and other cheating is that they destroy the intrinsic values of athletics: idealism, aspiration, fair play, hard work, excellence, the team spirit, the belief in one's sport as a cultural institution, and the belief in athletes as role models who set an example for others.

      All of this has been swept aside on a rising tide of money and all the ills that uncountably huge sums of money bring.  

      And I never remember, from when I was a kid, so much drunkenness among fans as there is today.  It's as if going to the ball park or the stadium has become yet another excuse to "party," and what was once good clean family fun has become more like "adult entertainment."

      Enough of all that.

      It's time to take back sports for all their intrinsic good, take them back from the hustlers and cheaters and big-money guys.  I don't know how to go about this, but somehow we need a clean-sweep and a reboot.  

      "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

      by G2geek on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 02:54:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was really torn about how I felt about (7+ / 0-)

    Armstrong until I spoke with my son who competed in the Olympics.  He was furious with Armstrong because he had cast a long shadow over not only his own sport of cycling, but all athletes.  It is hard enough to get athlete funding but when this happens, sponsors pull back.  The one point that was really hard for my son to accept was, how many people had given up so much to train and compete honestly and Armstrong robbed them of their chance to fulfil their own dreams.  That can never be restored to those athletes.  Armstrong owes those athletes, their families, coaches and sponsors an apology.

    •  Anyone who knows professional cycling knows (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Olympia

      that the sport has been engulfed in various forms of doping for decades.  All the other competitors in the Tours knew Armstrong and his team were doping because they were all doing it too, just not as well as he was. Which is why they all hated him. Armstrong was never a popular guy.

      Armstrong paid the team doctor, Michele Ferrari, over $1,000,000 for the best doping advice money could buy. It worked, for a while, until new tests were developed later that turned up positive in retested samples.

      Armstrong, and his team, were doping the entire time.  Even during the races, when they would transfuse blood on the team bus and in the hotel. They used EPO and testosterone in doses low enough to fool doping controls.

      The French actually caught him in the first Tour using cortisone.  Only a forged prescription got him off the hook.

      And all the while he lied.  To the public, cycling officials, and to the sponsors.  It was all a fraud. Yet we wanted so to believe him.  His story was so powerful and engaging. Nobody wanted to believe he would do such a thing. Well, he did, and it's all in the USADA report. Read it and weep.

  •  Pete Rose is another. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mortifyd

    I am progressive. I am liberal. I make no apologies. - Kos

    My political compass: - 8.38,-6.97

    by pucklady on Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 09:43:22 PM PDT

  •  I'm bothered (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, G2geek

    not only by his behavior,  but the fact that for all of those years that he cheated,  there will be no Tour de France winner.  It's not just about Lance or his fellow teammates.

    "In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."- Albert Camus

    by valadon on Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 10:08:21 PM PDT

    •  That's Assinine (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek

      If Armstrong cheated, then #2 was the champ.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 10:18:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  but (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SLKRR, G2geek, kaliope, zekeaz, valadon

        In most case #2, and #3 are proven dopers as well.  Probably #4-20 as well, just no body bothered to investigate them.  Maybe I'm being cynical, but I'm not convinced there was a single clean racer entered in some of those tour de frances which is why I think Armstrong has been unfairly persecuted.

        Jan Ullrich at least was a frequent second and convicted doper.  
        Andreas Kloden, another podium finisher, has been accused of doping.
        Alexander Vinokourov is a convicted doper.  Which along with Ullrich is #2, and #3 in 2003.  Not sure how to easily find out who was 4th.  Bear in mind once you get down much lower because of how the tour works you get to people who weren't really trying to win.

      •  well, as Shaso said, (0+ / 0-)

        There were just to many riders doping...maybe not all those years, but you'd have to expect that they cheated a good number of those. It just might be impossible to tell who was clean.

        "In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."- Albert Camus

        by valadon on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 03:34:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I never understood the Armstrong hype (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek

    To win that many races in such a sport...I'm surprised anyone believed his lies that he wasn't cheating.

    I'm probably too cynical, but I pretty much automatically distrust celebrity; especially the self-promoting kinds like Armstrong's "livestrong" or, perhaps as it should be renamed: "liestrong."

  •  My only question is... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek

    Has anyone apologized to Floyd Landis yet?

    It ain't free speech if it takes cash money.

    by Uncle Igor on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 01:15:20 AM PDT

  •  Thorpe took a summer job, that is all. (5+ / 0-)

    Ali protested the war in Vietnam, that is all.

    Armstrong and Jones took performance-enhancing drugs. They decided to win by giving themselves an advantage that others were denied.

    Thorpe's summer job did not give him an advantage in the pentathlon or the decathlon. Ali's political protest did not give him an advantage in the ring.

    College football players bring in huge sums for their schools, and in return they are asked to risk brain injuries and other injuries, and they are given scholarships. The scales are out of balance, because the colleges get huge sums. For example the University of Texas received 300 million dollars for its television contract and the coach receives millions in salary each year for a record that barely has more wins than losses.

    So Thorpe and Ali did nothing wrong. The others did. The others cheated their fellow competitors. And they did it repeatedly, knowingly, deliberately, and with malice.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 03:16:48 AM PDT

  •  I'm scratching my head (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zekeaz

    Armstrong passed about 500 drug screening tests.  Does this mean that the high tech multi-million dollar drug tests are useless?  Why continue them?

    •  No he didn't....they got him using cortisone (0+ / 0-)

      on the the first stage of the 1999 Tour.  A doctor forged prescription to cover it up.  The rest of the time he was using drugs and blood doping for which there were no tests at the time. That's why the team doctor got paid a million bucks. It's all in the USADA report.

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