Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #325 Armstrong

Lance foto by David Zalubowski/AP
This appears in the Monday, August 27, edition of the Business Mirror.
by rick olivares

Over the past several days, two men both surnamed Armstrong but not related to each other made the news.

Both men skirted the road to tragedy, came back to win a most incredible race with dogged determination, were named American heroes and yet will be remembered quite differently.

Athlete Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France winner, gave up his years-long fight with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that has sought to nail him for the use of performance enhancing drugs in winning an unprecedented seven consecutive Tour de Frances. Lance says that it has come to a point where he has grown weary of having to defend himself when he has passed literally hundreds of tests.

Does Lance’s giving up the fight against USADA constitute an admission of guilt?

I don’t believe so. I do agree that one does get weary of fighting because not only does it cost money while the opponent makes use of taxpayers’ money, but the accusations whether fairly or unfairly are an albatross that has been hung on him.

Let me cite some examples of giving up the fight.

There was the US deciding to pack it up in Vietnam. There was Roberto Duran and his famous ‘no mas’ match against Sugar Ray Leonard. There was Michael Jordan quitting the game of basketball in 1993 because his father passed away and he was tired of all the media allegations about his  gambling, mob involvement in his father’s slaying, and the intense media scrutiny of his life. And there was Patrick Ewing who after 15 years in New York decided that he had enough of Gotham’s columnists saying that the Knicks are better off without him so he forced a trade.

To backtrack a bit, the United States did not lose in the battlefield to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong but because of the way they conducted a protracted war, they lost the stomach for it when popular opinion back in America soured. Did they lose? Technically, yes.

As for Roberto Duran. It will go down as a loss in his record but more people will say that he quit because of his frustration in fighting a slippery Leonard. Yes, this one looks bad on him to this day.

Jordan. I don’t agree that he lost out by quitting and trying baseball for a season and a half. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Most people won’t but he did give it a try. He eventually performed better on the baseball field and when the minor leaguers were being asked to take the place of the striking major leaguers, he decided that he didn’t want to be called up that way so he went back to basketball. Did he lose? Not at all.

Ewing. It really is tough playing in New York and the sad thing is his two chances to win a ring came after each year that Michael Jordan retired. But Ewing wasn’t the only one who didn’t win at the height of Jordan’s powers. There were the Portland Trailblazers, former UNC teammate Sam Perkins who both lost in the Finals to the Bulls while he was in Los Angeles (1991) and Seattle (1996), there was Charles Barkley, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Indiana Pacers, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Utah Jazz duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone. And yes, the media were uncommonly harsh on Ewing. Look at them since they brought in all those players who were supposed to save the Knicks. Nothing. All they have to show since Ewing skipped town is a blip on the radar with Jeremy Lin, that’s all.

Neil foto by Getty Images
And just yesterday, there was the news of the passing of American astronaut Neil Armstrong. I was just a toddler when he and three other men beat the Russians in a race to land on the moon. This race spanned three administrations from John F. Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson and ultimately to Richard Nixon. My grandfather gifted years later with a huge model of the Apollo 11, the spacecraft, Neil and company used to fly into space. It was more than a scale model of a spacecraft but also a lesson in uncommon courage and human achievement.

Neil’s first attempt to land on the moon was on the aborted Gemini 8 that nearly ended in disaster like the Space Shuttle Challenger years later. Armstrong coolly piloted the spacecraft back to safety.

On his second try, aboard the Apollo 11, Neil accomplished the feat alongside Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Both Armstrong and Aldrin both spent over two hours on the moon to set up a variety of experiments before leaving on their lunar module.

Neil (as did the others) returned to a hero’s welcome and he never flew back into space. He eventually resigned from NASA, shunned the spotlight and went into teaching.

While Neil preferred to live a quiet life; Lance, left cycling and got into triathlon. Even as he has ventured in another sport, the doping allegations hounded him.

This one should have ended some time ago and it is a shame that it has dragged on for quite some time. The fact that USADA is alone in this and the International Cycling Union is challenging the former’s decision and proof means that we shouldn’t take everything at face value. The way USADA has gone after him is like the FBI trying to nail these mobsters and terrorists – it’s over a long period of time.

If there’s smoke must there be a fire? Of course, but if he has passed every doping test since doesn’t this count as a “witch hunt” as he contends? Is this double jeopardy or gazillion-jeopardy since he has never shaken off these hounds of USADA? I still believe in a person being innocent until proven guilty.

I guess living the public life, as Lance has done, attracts positive and negative reactions. Neil shunned it and his being close to a recluse doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with his choice. Neil lived the life of a pilot beginning with the navy all the way to the space explorations. Consider this – every time Neil flew in whether as a military or civilian pilot, he delivered a payload (he flew over 70 combat missions during the Korean War and those scientific experiments on the moon years later) that was telling. And it will be remembered for all time.

As for Lance, cycling and triathlon traverse long distances. Much like life, they are fraught with bumps along the road and other challenges. Isn’t that one of the messages of the “Livestrong” bracelet (it isn’t just to raise money for cancer research but also to encourage people to live life to the fullest)?

Sometimes you don’t choose the road you travel but ultimately, it is you who decides if you want to stay the course. Both Lance and Neil Armstrong chose different paths. For the latter, I am happy he changed his course. As for the former, he should have. After all, that is for his legacy.

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