Starkey: The real heroes in Armstrong saga
TribLIVE Sports Videos
There is a man so intent on defending honest athletes that he ignored the bullying — even the anonymous threat of a “bullet in my head” — and kept chasing Lance Armstrong up hills so daunting they made the U.S. Department of Justice quit.
That is why you should care about this sordid Armstrong affair.
It's why I care, anyway: Somebody out there still is fighting for clean athletes and the integrity of sport in a sports world gone mad.
I know. You're shaking your head at the naiveté. Like any sport is clean anymore. What am I going to tell you next, that this guy cares about the children?
But first let me say I was with the majority, vaguely skimming the multitude of Armstrong denial stories over the past decade, shrugging my shoulders as he stubbornly shot down one doping accusation after another.
That was before Travis Tygart slapped me into reality. Tygart is CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). He is fighting the uphill battle for clean athletes everywhere. He is the one who brought Lyin' Lance to his knees.
Tygart's recent appearance on Showtime's “60 Minutes Sports” blew me away. Not because it revealed the extent of Armstrong's doping but because Tygart used eyewitness accounts to tell of Armstrong and his associates bullying, bribing and cheating people in the name of protecting Armstrong's pristine image and bulging bank account. The same information fortified the USADA report that had prompted Armstrong's surrender. The Justice Department had access to much of it, too, before mysteriously dropping a criminal case against Armstrong early last year.
I'm guessing the television audience for “60 Minutes Sports” was smaller than it will be for the Lance-Oprah interview Thursday night on Oprah Winfrey's self-titled network (Lyin' Lance, apparently, is going to admit he doped — right after Oprah's first guest, a blade of grass, admits that it's green; next week's guest: Manti Te'o).
Here's hoping that when the first tear wells up as you watch Armstrong's “confession,” you think of people such as former U.S Postal Service cycling team masseuse Emma O'Reilly, who has claimed she was turned into a drug mule for the Armstrong-led team. She was among the first to blow the whistle, and for that, she says our hero Lance publicly demonized her as a prostitute and a drunk.
Maybe think of Scott Mercier, who faced a decision I hope my 4-year-old daughter never does: Take these drugs or kiss your dream goodbye.
Mercier joined the Postal Service team in 1997. That was a year before Lyin' Lance arrived, so you can't pin this one on him, but it's the current and future Merciers of the world that Tygart is trying to protect.
I reached Mercier by phone Wednesday in Grand Junction, Colo., where he is a financial advisor. He'd raced with Armstrong in the 1992 Olympics and was on top of the world five years later, having just joined the Postal Service team. Mercier says that is when a Postal Service team doctor slipped him a training chart and a plastic Ziploc bag filled with pills and vials of liquid. Steroids. Each dot on the chart represented a pill, each star a vial of liquid.
Then 29 and training in South Africa, Mercier said he recalls the doctor telling him the steroids would make him “strong like a bull.”
How many athletes, at how many levels of sport, are forced into decision like this these days?
Mercier chose integrity. He left the team. The decision cost him a chance to race in another Olympics and killed his dream of competing in the Tour de France.
But what are those compared to these recent words from his wife?
“Aren't you glad that when you come home, you aren't telling your son (10) and daughter (13) that you lied and cheated for all those years?”
Fifteen years later, Mercier was stunned to receive a recent text from Tygart. They met, and Tygart told him, “Your name came up again and again during the investigation of the Postal Service team. It was unanimous that you were the guy that didn't do the drugs. I'm calling far too late, calling to thank you for the decision you made. You represented the guy we're trying to protect.”
I thanked Mercier, too, for sharing his story. I thanked him on behalf of my daughter and all other children (insert cynical laugh track here). And I wondered if he'd be watching Oprah on Thursday night.
“I'll watch,” Mercier said. “I'm curious just like the rest of the world.”
Thoughts on Armstrong?
“The cover-up is where he really did the damage, at least that's what it appears,” Mercier said. “I know it'd be challenging to be in that situation. I don't have a $100 million balance sheet.
“But I sleep pretty well.”
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates sickened by pic of ‘Jihadi John’ wearing Bucs ball cap
- At Pitt, a chance to make early impression under Narduzzi
- Podiatrist, 6 others charged in prescription painkiller scheme
- Man sentenced in meth smuggling scheme
- Spring Hill woman sentenced to jail for stealing, euthanizing neighbor’s dog
- Earl Lloyd, 1st black player in NBA, dies at 86
- Charleroi man accused of improper sexual contact with teen
- Leonard Nimoy, world famous as Mr. Spock on ‘Star Trek’, dies
- Rossi: Pirates better with Maz on scene
- Lincoln tries to rejuvenate career in second stint with Pirates
- Trade for Winnik gives Penguins competition among bottom six