Monday, January 28, 2008

But What If They're Wrong?

It's not unreasonable for consumers to know what it is they are buying. In the case of most products, you have every opportunity to know the quality of you're getting. Food has nutrition labels. Warning labels and package inserts are readily available. And if that's not enough, you can buy a consumer magazine, pull up information on the internets, or even go berserk with a FOIA request for all the information the government might have stored at the FTC.

But try any of the above when you buy sporting entertainment. Oh sure, there's surely lots of information about ticket prices, statistics on the teams and past contests. If you get really good at collecting that information, there's a good chance you can make money in vegas. But if you're like me, you like the actual competition - you like to see achievements that touch on the human drive to compete and excel. I've seen good football games that were completely lopsided in score, but were very entertaining to watch, as the losing team, tried, and then tried again to play above their ability, above their level. And I've seen games close in score that were frustrating to watch; neither team was doing anything right, and I turned away from watching. Does this touch on the quality of what we have purchased? Indeed, it might be the uncertainty of the final outcome that makes the contest interesting. We don't know what we will see, and that's the experience we seek, what we are willing to buy.

At the final tick of the clock, at the finish line, when the last out is recorded, don't we have a right to know what the outcome was? Isn't it important to have closure - to know in fact what we consumed? We want to know how that team stepped it up; how they improvised in the face of great adversity. How the athlete dug deeper down to actually win at the line with a final lunge.

But when we are told after the stadium is empty, after the medals awarded, the anthem played, and sponsor prize money awarded that the winner cheated? S/he is a doper.

We have a right to a statute of limitations. At some point, the game is over, the winner won, and that's the end of it. This means that we have to know if there's a doper among us before they (or their team mates) get to the finish line. Presumably, this is what the anti-doping establishment is trying to put in place at the Amgen Tour of California. Teams will submit roster names in advance to the organizers, who will in turn send those lists to the USA Cycling and then to USADA and UCI. USADA and UCI will confirm that there are no "open investigations" against any of the athletes. Teams have also warranted that no coaches, trainers or support staff have open doping investigations. There will be extensive testing, before after and during the race. The UCI will be implementing their blood passport program.

I'm thinking maybe we should also subject all the participants to the float test: we all know dopers float, but true athletes will sink to the bottom. Then we can rename the race the "Tour of Salem" and wonder what if they're wrong?

To the extent this screening achieves the objective of finding and properly dealing with cheaters, I can't find much to worry about. The trouble is what remains unsaid. I'm rather curious what an "open investigation" is. Does anyone with a "B" sample in a freezer somewhere have an "open investigation?" And who decides what constitutes an "open investigation?" What criteria do they use? And what if they're wrong?

Move on to some other interesting things. Just exactly who are these "other support staff?" Does this mean the mechanic that has an open DUI pending in Mississippi (C2H5OH is a banned substance) can't adjust the brakes on Mr. Sprinter's bike? And what if they're wrong?

We will be assured then that the winner is the winner. The cheaters will be excluded long before the finish line, and we'll know exactly who won, how, and by how much when they award the colorful shirts, kiss the pretty girls, flash the sponsors' logos, and spray the crowd with champagne sparkling wine. We will have a record of the performance, and will have a freezer full of biological samples to make sure anyone who floats in the future isn't doing so by loading their shorts with those illegal "very small rocks" we can't detect. We'll have a blood passport that anyone can examine, even when that athlete has long since left racing and their employer would like to know if they are at risk for getting cancer or Parkinson's disease that will cost them higher insurance costs in the future.

But what if they're wrong?

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