Jeff Pearlman

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The right to not believe

In 2013, all sports fans are right not to believe.

It sucks. It’s not good. It’s disappointing.

But it’s logical.

I haven’t believed Lance Armstrong in years. Literally, I’ve been telling people (fans of his), “You really buy this? You really think this is possible?”

“Yes,” they’d say. “Yes, yes, yes.”

No.

Forget the drop tests, forget the doping, and consider this: To believe Lance Armstrong, you had to believe that a man who nearly died of cancer was able to win the world’s toughest cycling race SEVEN times clean. Not only that, you’d have to believe that, while winning the world’s toughest cycling race SEVEN times clean, he was beating hundreds of other top-flight, all-world cyclists who were cheating. Not only that, you’d have to believe that, while winning the world’s toughest cycling race SEVEN times clean while beating hundreds of other top-flight, all-world cyclists who were cheating, everything that was said about Armstrong was false. You had to believe every “He’s not clean” comment from rivals was false. That people were putting their names and reputations on the line because of pure jealousy.

Not. Believable.

When Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, I said, “No way. Do you guys really believe this?”

Giant fans killed me. Attacked me. Threatened me. What the fuck do you know? Who the hell are you? Go to hell.

To believe Barry Bonds was clean, you had to believe that a 39-year-old man was capable of hitting 45 home runs in a season. Not only that, you had to believe that a 39-year-old man capable of hitting 45 home runs in a season could have his skull increase in diameter by some odd natural fluke. Not only that, you had to believe that a 39-year-old man capable of hitting 45 home runs in a season whose skull increased in diameter by some odd natural fluke wasn’t getting anything unnatural from Victor Conte, a known PED peddler. On and on and on.

As Armstrong and Bonds and hundreds of others have shown us, testing is—with some exception—a joke. So when athletes say, “Hey, I’ve never failed a test,” it means nothing. Nothing at all. There’s a long and sordid history of athletes fighting against invasive tasting, insisting it’s (a) unnecessary; (b) violates privacy; (c) violates some union code. That’s fine. But by taking such a stance, players allow us—hell, command us—to not believe. If proof is almost impossible to attain, and that lack of attainment ability is a cause of the athlete himself, well, what other tools do we have?

We must reply on common sense.

On judgment.

  • Sean

    Jeff,

    I always find the testing argument to be hilarious. For example, this year is the first year that MLB is testing for HGH in season. Those guys may have never failed a test, but the league wasn’t testing for what they were taking. Unfortunately, we are left to wonder and remain very skeptical of all players of that era. Except Mike Piazza :)~

    Sean

Showtime Book
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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life