TOUR DE LANCE
Cycling's scandals leave Lance Armstrong in a no-win situation
For a feel-good story, this ought to have it all over the
Women's World Cup. Lance Armstrong is not only an American in
international play (which we love), he's also a cancer survivor
(love more). Does it get any better? Three years ago surgeons
were peeling the top of his skull to remove tumors. Now he can
dominate foreigners in the Tour de France. One imagines him
ripping off his yellow jersey at the finish this Sunday, his
arms raised to the heavens. One imagines breathless headlines:
But the feeling we're getting is more like: MAYBE? Armstrong's
heroics are receiving tentative play, as cycling is no longer
considered as wholesome as women's soccer. The Tour de France in
particular has been marked by more chemistry than a junior high
science fair, and no matter how thoroughly the riders have been
tested this time around, there is lingering suspicion that
they're using compounds more sophisticated than starch to get up
For Armstrong, whose testicular cancer in 1996 seemed to doom
more than a cycling career, the cynicism has been doubly tragic.
Headlines throughout Europe have not so much applauded his
comeback as hinted about his mysterious go-power. HALLUCINATING
ARMSTRONG, one read. ARMSTRONG PUTS A BOMB UNDER THE TOUR, read
another. Armstrong says he understands the suspicion, seeing as
how chemotherapy is not thought to be performance-enhancing in
the same way as EPO. But what if, as he insists, he's taken
nothing more exotic than multivitamins? What if he's winning
fair and square?
July 25, 1999
Won't matter. The sad truth is that he won't transcend the
drug-soaked perception of his sport. Pedal all he wants, he
can't outrace innuendo, whispers and haunting suspicion. What
Armstrong is doing right now is so remarkable that everything we
thought we knew about human athletic achievement needs to be
reconsidered. If he wins the Tour de France, coming off his
deathbed, restraint must be forever employed in the cliched use
And yet...the only glare Armstrong is likely to bask in will be
the glare of suspicion. Sports, it seems, are more fragile than
the people in them. Doctors can sweep Armstrong free of cancer
in three years, but it may take longer to cure a game once those
first malignant tumors--greed, corruption, cheating--are
discovered. Confidence has a higher mortality rate than
It's a shame that Armstrong's story won't get the proper
telling, that the sport so badly failed him, or that we, in our
cynicism, let him down. To our everlasting shame, this might be
the one winner who turns up clean. --Richard Hoffer
THROW THE BOOK AT THEM
Some of the finest minds in the NBA took a meeting last month,
hoping to spare us another year of atrocities like Mark
Jackson's bop-bopping his butt into Charlie Ward's midsection as
Jackson bangs his way to the basket, and for that we are
grateful--though maybe not as grateful as Ward is. The league
commissioned a 17-member panel, the Special Committee, featuring
coaches Rick Pitino, Pat Riley and Lenny Wilkens, general
managers Dan Issel and Kevin McHale, broadcasters Doug Collins
and Isiah Thomas, and players Antonio Davis and Steve Smith. The
panel's mission: Suggest ways to liven up the stagnant,
low-scoring sleeping-pill substitute the average game has become.
Before we rewrite the rule book, the committee reasoned, let's
get referees to enforce current rules. So the word went down to
the refs: Call tighter games! It's already going on in summer
leagues across the country, and fans will see the results next
First, referees must crack down on the misdemeanor assaults NBA
defenses commit. When Reggie Miller driving the lane absorbs
more punishment than Reggie White rushing the quarterback, it's
time to blow the whistle. The bumping, shoving and grabbing that
defenses often depend on, especially away from the ball, will
disappear if officials stop letting it go uncalled.
Next, refs should try to stop hand checking on the perimeter,
including the ubiquitous forearm in the back. Some players and
coaches contend that restricting such contact could make the
league's top scorers virtually unguardable, but that won't
happen if officials stop allowing scorers to take liberties with
the ball. Defenders might be able to keep up with Allen
Iverson's crossover move if he weren't allowed to cradle the
ball like a newborn when he dribbles. Calling more palming and
traveling violations will help compensate for tying defenders'
hands a bit. As for players who can't defend by moving their
feet instead of their hands, they'll lose their jobs to quicker
guys--and the quicker the league gets, the better it gets.
We'll see a few ugly, whistle-filled games at first, but NBA
players are some of the best athletes on earth. They'll adapt.
When they do, some relatively minor tinkering with the rules
will be all that's needed. Riley has suggested eliminating the
three-point line to keep players from standing like statues
around the arc, and Larry Brown wants the line moved closer if
zone defenses are allowed, but both coaches are making things
more complex than they need to be. Only one change is needed:
Switch the shot clock from 24 seconds to 20. If offensive
players are allowed to move without getting manhandled, 20
seconds is plenty. Quicker shots would lead to more possessions
and higher scores. Teams might even dust off that relic of the
'70s and '80s, the fast break.
The issue isn't points, it's pace. In a faster, more fluid game,
low scores will disappear faster than a Popsicle in July. --Phil
Sanders vs. Detroit
THE LION SULKS TONIGHT
There'll be holiday cheers at the Silverdome on Christmas Day
when the Broncos come calling on the Lions in Game 15 of the NFL
season. That's when Detroit's Barry Sanders could well break
Walter Payton's alltime rushing record. If he's smart.
Sanders is as widely admired as any NFL player. He's a
hard-working, principled, humble man, and the league holds him
up as an example of all that's right with pro football. But even
his most ardent fans think Sanders is screwing up by screwing
around with the Lions. He has cut off communication with the
team, refusing to take calls from coach Bobby Ross. He skipped a
mandatory spring minicamp, and there are strong indications that
he wants out of Detroit. In May his father, William, ripped the
Lions, saying, "Barry's sick of them, and he's sick of losing."
Sanders's agent, Lamont Smith, says his client's returning to
Detroit "won't be easy."
That's precisely what it should be. In 1997 Sanders agreed to a
six-year, $36 million contract with an $11 million signing
bonus, his third renegotiation in eight years and the richest
deal ever for a running back. He should have known that such a
giant bonus essentially married him to the Lions, since they
can't trade or release their superstar without taking a salary
cap hit equal to the pro-rated portion of his bonus. Dealing
Sanders now would cost Detroit $7.33 million against the '99 cap
of $57.29 million.
It's true that the Lions aren't going to the Super Bowl anytime
soon, and it must pain Sanders to excel amid such mediocrity.
But Ted Williams never won a World Series in Boston, and Dick
Butkus never won an NFL title in Chicago. Neither of those guys
faded into obscurity. So Barry, here's some friendly advice:
Don't tarnish your Hall of Fame career or your sparkling image
by doing something so bush as holding out on Detroit or
demanding a trade. Smash Payton's record by breaking a John
Mobley tackle, stiff-arming Dale Carter and outrunning three
Broncos to the end zone at Pontiac, then bask in roars of
appreciation from the fans who've been cheering you for 10
years. And have a very merry Christmas. --Peter King
Curing the All-Star Blahs
HRS AND BBQ
Last week's All-Star affair in Boston left some indelible
images: Mark McGwire attacking the Green Monster in the Home Run
Derby and today's stars crowding around Ted Williams as he made
his way onto the field. As for the game itself, who will
remember anything but Pedro Martinez's five-strikeout Carl
The game reached about 11.9 million households on Fox for a
rating of 12, the second lowest in All-Star history. Yet the
night before, ESPN had drawn 5.7 million viewers for the home
run contest, the network's third-largest non-NFL audience ever.
More than 10 million people watched Williams throw out the first
ball during Fox's pregame show--the biggest pregame numbers
since 1994 and 36% more than the 7.65 million who stuck around
for the ninth inning.
There's a lesson here. Fans are up for midseason festivities but
don't care much for the All-Star Game itself, which in Boston was
the usual three-hour letdown after days of Hub-bub. So why play
the game at all? Why not make the All-Star break a two-day
cookout at the old ballyard and invite fans to meet, greet and
eat with their heroes? Keep the Home Run Derby, but combine it
with crowd-pleasing skills competitions. Can Larry Walker throw a
strike from rightfield? Can Shannon Stewart outrun Roger Cedeno?
Or bag everything except the longball show and go straight to the
picnic, a Funfest complete with a tug-of-war and three-legged
races. (Juan Gonzalez: "I hop better than Kenny Lofton!") Maybe
Sid Fernandez and John Kruk could return, Williams-like, for a
Legends of the Postgame Spread Hot-Dog Eating Contest. Now that
would be a show to relish.
Sacramento Monarchs forward Yolanda Griffith was pulling down a
WNBA-leading 12.4 rebounds per game through Sunday and averaging
19.7 points, third best in the league. Utah Starzz forward
Natalie Williams was second in the league in both scoring (19.9)
and rebounding (9.9). Griffith and Williams are refugees from
the now defunct ABL, and their stats lend credence to the
widespread belief that their old league offered a superior brand
of basketball. Halfway through the WNBA season, however, the
numbers fail to support that idea. So far, former ABLers as a
group have not outperformed their new leaguemates. Through the
All-Star break the 42 ABL players who joined the WNBA were
averaging 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 22 minutes per game.
The 69 WNBA veterans were averaging eight points, 3.5 rebounds
and 21.8 minutes.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
No big league team has been counting on a new home more than the
Brewers, whose $400 million retractable-roof stadium was
scheduled to open next April. Milwaukee expects Miller Park to
boost annual club revenue from $45 million a year to as much as
$100 million, giving the team the cash to retire some of its
estimated $60 million debt and boost its player payroll from $37
million toward the $50 million mark.
All that is now on hold. On July 14 a 567-foot crane called Big
Blue, the largest in North America, collapsed while lifting a
400-ton section of roof onto the first base side of the stadium.
The accident killed three construction workers and left part of
the park in ruins. While investigators probe the wreckage for
clues, the Brewers' hopes of playing in their new home on
Opening Day 2000 lie buried under 2.2 million pounds of twisted
Insurance will cover up to $20 million in lost income caused by
construction delays, but that might not make up the team's
losses if Miller Park isn't ready until next summer--the
likeliest scenario. "It'll be some time before we can lay out a
timetable," says Laurel Prieb, Milwaukee's vice president of
corporate affairs. "The construction team hasn't ruled out the
original time line."
As the Brewers' president, baseball commissioner Bud Selig had
championed the new park. Since groundbreaking ceremonies in
November 1996 he had driven to the construction site from his
office in downtown Milwaukee twice a day, often eating lunch in
his car and watching the park go up. His devotion to the project
made it doubly hard for the commissioner to attend the opening
of Seattle's Safeco Field the day after Big Blue collapsed. "I
wanted to be here because this is so critical to baseball in
general and the future of Seattle," a weary Selig told
reporters, his eyes brimming with tears. "I hope all of you will
understand that my heart is back in Milwaukee."
Chastain's Missing Medal
Last week a woman wearing a gold medal around her neck
introduced herself as U.S. soccer hero Kristine Lilly and signed
autographs during a U.S men's exhibition game at Denver's Mile
High Stadium. Several days later Deanna Felde, a volunteer who
had worked in the U.S. team's locker room during the Women's
World Cup final in Pasadena, went to the police in Fort Collins,
Colo., saying she was being harassed by a Denver TV station.
Felde also admitted that the medal she had worn that day in
Denver belonged to Brandi Chastain.
"A big misunderstanding," Felde called it. She claimed not to
know how the medal got in her bag. Felde told police she mailed
the medal to Santa Clara University, where Chastain is an
assistant coach. On that count her story makes sense. The medal
arrived on Monday and will be waiting for Chastain when she
returns from this week's visits with a couple of soccer fans
named Clinton and Letterman.
--That David Cone had torn off his Yankees jersey to reveal an
Adidas sports bra.
--That French golfer Jean Van de Velde had tried to hit that
ball out of the creek.
--That Richie Phillips gets a job as Slobodan Milosevic's career
Home runs by Mark McGwire in the All-Star Home Run Derby after
he cracked his bat.
Tons of sand and clay meant for Davis Cup tennis courts in
Moscow that Russian officials sent back to Sweden because it was
Final score of an exhibition game between Kentucky's 1996 and
1998 NCAA champion basketball teams.
Amount pro golfer Dudley Hart's wife, Suzanne, paid to FedEx an
eight-iron from their house in Weston, Fla., to Carnoustie,
Scotland, for the British Open.
Amount raised by high schooler Rashad Williams, 15, in San
Francisco's Bay-to-Breakers race and donated to Columbine High
shooting victim Lance Kirklin.
Amount Germany will pay to renovate Berlin's Olympic Stadium,
built by Hitler's government for the 1936 Games, as part of a
bid for the 2006 World Cup.
Times former Red Sox star Mike Greenwell, now a Fort Myers,
Fla., Little League coach, has been ejected for arguing with umps.
Goodbye to a Good Sport
America knew him as a toddler laughing on his father's knee, in
the days when Secret Service agents taught him to box. We wept
for him on the day he turned three, as he saluted his slain
father. Between that day and last Friday night, when he died in
a plane crash with his wife, Carolyn, and sister-in-law Lauren
Bessette, John F. Kennedy Jr. spent 3 1/2 decades as a
sportsman. A lifelong baseball fan (above, with Willie Mays at
Shea Stadium in 1972), he spent last Thursday night at Yankee
Stadium watching the Braves beat Roger Clemens. The founder and
editor of George magazine was an outdoorsman who skied, hiked,
biked, sailed, rafted, snorkeled and skin-dived. He played
tennis and of course touch football and was often spotted in New
York throwing Frisbees in Central Park or rollerblading on
Madison Avenue. Death devoted far too much attention to him and
his family, but still he ran, swam and bladed hundreds of miles,
broke countless honest sweats and never seemed less than fully
Se Habla Beisbol
To help Spanish-speaking ballplayers adapt to life in the U.S.,
a dozen major league organizations have bought Speaking of
Baseball, a 140-page primer featuring chapters on shopping and
paying bills as well as such practical translations as attaboy
(asi se hace), jockstrap (suspensorio) and I live at the Holiday
Inn (Yo vivo en el Hotel Holiday Inn). "Thirty-nine percent of
the 2,600 professional baseball players are foreign, and
ninety-six percent of them are from Latin countries," says Sal
Artiaga, director of Latin American player development for the
Phillies. "Baseball should have a standard program for them."
The game could do worse than to follow the program in Speaking
of Baseball. Here are some phrases from the booklet, plus a few
that might pop up in a future edition.
Speaking of Baseball, 1999
Urine sample.......la muestra de orina
Warning track.......zona de seguridad
When is the party?.......? ¬øCuando es la fiesta?
I would like a beer.......Quisiera una cerveza
Can you bring an order of ¬øNos puede traer una orden des
french fries? Also, I would papas fritas? Y tambien
like baked trout .......? quisiera una trucha horneada
My stomach hurts.......Me duele el estomago
Speaking of Baseball, 2000?
I would like to deposit.......Quisiera hacer un deposito de
$10 million $10 millones
Where is the nearest.......¬øAdonde me puedo comprar un
Porsche dealership? Porsche por aqui?
I don't want to face Randy Johnson.......No quiero enfrentar
el Gran Unit
I want to meet Jennifer Lopez.......Quisiera conocer a Jennifer
This guy Nomo, you can't ¬øNomo? No entiendo ni una
understand a word he says.......palabra de lo que dice
I am taking it one game at a time,
trying to do my best for the team.......Blah, blah blah blah,
blah, blah blah
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
On Astros manager Larry Dierker's first day back from brain
surgery, outfielder Derek Bell bitched about Dierker's dropping
him to sixth in the batting order.
As millions flock to beaches to frolic in the midsummer heat,
boarddom's faithful seek primo spots for surfing across sand and
through surf. Skim these sites to follow your favorite summer
This site for boat-towed sports provides competition results and
news from the waterskiing, wakeboarding and knee-boarding tours.
Browse for tips and tricks--including video clips and
step-by-step instructional photos--before you try to execute a
heelside 180 or a frontside backroll. There are boating basics,
as well, including how to align an inboard motor to minimize
vibration or install a four-blade propeller for a shallower,
If you can't cruise the Coast yourself, catch the Gotcha Pro
California surfing championship live on Gotcha's official site
from July 28 through Aug. 1. Read about the world's top male and
female surfers, including six-time world champion Kelly Slater,
and watch them go tubular through the Huntington Beach surf via
live video streaming. Watch interviews with the leading
competitors between heats and keep track of the scoring with
updates every 30 seconds.
This surfer site is packed with terrific photographs and video
clips, including a daunting reel of big-wave wipeouts, and
provides links to various surfing magazines.
Sandboard magazine's site features video clips and action photos
of spins and flips, as well as an extensive directory of the
world's hottest sand rides, from Pismo Beach in California to
the Makran Coast, Pakistan, to Pasamayo, Peru.
sites we'd like to see
Light-saber duels between the men in blue and the men in black
in Major League Baseball's front office.
Chat room where male soccer players can commiserate about the
media attention paid to their female counterparts.
They Said It
Hall of Famer, asked what numbers he would put up today: "About
.240 with about 18 home runs. I'm 53 years old, brother."