Season of Scandals
2. We'll Always Have the Pyrenees
"The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart." --Iris Murdoch
Suddenly, it looks like a good thing that the cheese-eaters and their Euro-trash allies didn't ride with us on the Tour d'Iraq. How can you trust surrender monkeys who can't even pedal up a hill without pumping themselves with steroids, spare blood, and Dieu knows what else? Wouldn't those junkies have been a big help going house to house in Falluja, stopping every so often for an injection?
Truth is, Americans hardly care about bike racing in years when Lance Armstrong wins, so the disintegration of the Tour de France last summer wasn't exactly giant news here. For the past two years, the Tour's early favorites were mostly disqualified for failing drug tests and the winner's yellow jersey was passed to the back of the pack, most notably to Floyd Landis, who won in 2006 with an engaging smile, a bad hip, and--according to the drug-testers--some help from synthetic testosterone.
Earlier this month, an arbitration panel convened by the United States Anti-Doping Agency upheld the charges against Landis and the subsequent stripping of his championship. While he may appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the damage is done. Teams, including one sponsored by the Discovery Channel and partly owned by Armstrong, are disbanding.
My first reaction was to wonder whether Karl Rove had pumped up this scandal--since the bicycle is such a subversive instrument: inexpensive, healthful to the rider and the environment, sort of a MoveOn.org with wheels. If more people rode, we would be in better physical and mental shape to fight the greedheads. We wouldn't be so dependent on oil. If we were riding as a nation, maybe we wouldn't be in Iraq.
My second reaction, of course: Rove was a genius--having already convinced us, after all, that the most competitive bike rider in the country was George W. Bush.
I want the drug that Karl was taking.
3. Stealing the Game
"The only thing our refs shave is the ice." --a Billboard ad by the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League referring to the basketball scandal
Years ago, as a cub covering pro basketball, I couldn't understand the waves of seemingly inappropriate cheering and booing that swept through Madison Square Garden at less than crucial moments in the game. It was a while before I was schooled in "the spread" and "the over-and-under" (gamblers' terms for betting on a game's score differential rather than who won or lost). In retrospect, was I stupid or in denial--or was I just less interested in basketball than I should have been?
I've never been as enthralled by hoops as other smallish white boys of my caste so often are, which is not a boast. I grew up in New York during the City College scandal of 1951. (My father, a City grad, was almost as wounded by the betrayal as C.L.R. James.) I also started to lose interest in rap (post-Chuck D) when it seemed less political expression than music for the hard-court stampedes--two sets of black artists moving units for smallish white businessmen... such as National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern, who has brilliantly globalized his game, but now faces a challenge to its integrity.
A referee, Tim Donaghy, has pleaded guilty to federal felony-conspiracy charges, alleging that he passed inside information on games to gamblers. He also bet on games he was officiating and made wrongful calls to support those bets. How could the NBA's vaunted security apparatus not have picked this up earlier?
And, of course, there are those nagging questions: How widespread is this? Are other refs involved? When Donaghy's trial begins in November, is it possible that he'll snitch on colleagues?
Commissioner Stern has, of course, framed the Donaghy affair as an aberration, a localized cancer to be cut out. The equivalent of a rogue guard at Abu Ghraib.
Then again, hoops fans have always complained about incompetent officiating. At least, now we know that Donaghy wasn't merely stupid. And, as an off-season scandal, it's certainly been distracting enough.