The War over Lance Armstrong

Howard Bryant of The Washington Post, whose reporting on steroids in baseball led to the book Juicing the Game, talks with Scott Simon about sworn allegations made by two witnesses that in 1996 Lance Armstrong acknowledged using peformance-enhancing drugs. The alleged conversation happened while Armstrong was being treated for cancer, three years before his first Tour de France victory. They also discuss steroids in baseball and the adventures of the Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

We called sportswriter Howard Bryant of the Washington Post this week to talk about baseball, but in light of allegation elsewhere on this program - a report from NPR that Lance Armstrong may have at some point in his career taken performance-enhancing drugs - we want to turn to Howard. He's author of the book, Juicing the Game. That game is baseball.

He joins us in our studios. Thanks very much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning.

SIMON: You have heard the NPR report.

BRYANT: I have.

SIMON: And read other reports. What's your immediate impression?

BRYANT: Well, the immediate impression was that, just like Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong is in the - he's in the crosshairs on this story. And I think what's interesting about it is the distance between how he's been portrayed in the American press and in the European press. This is a war going on between Armstrong and the press in Europe, especially because of their interest in cycling and their viewpoint in terms of performance-enhancing drugs

I think the United States press is very much ambivalent about just what to do with this story, where I think you see that the French press is very much crusading it. Armstrong would say they're out to get him, but I think that they're very much interested in getting to the bottom of this story, much more so than the American press.

SIMON: We should explain that these allegations date to 1996. The first Tour de France that Lance Armstrong won was 1999. Has testing gotten a whole lot different?

BRYANT: Well, the testing has gotten different, and more than the testing, the scrutiny has gotten much, much stronger, much more - I think that the athletes themselves need to recognize - and especially someone like Lance Armstrong - because even if you make the argument that, well, in 1996 he wasn't a champion, therefore no one has the motive to lie for him, the fact remains that he is a mega-icon now.

And these athletes seem to be bothered by the whole notion of performance-enhancing drug testing, or performance-enhancing drugs in general. But your legacy is at stake, and if Lance Armstrong wants to live in peace somewhere along the line, this story has got to reach its conclusion. And it's not going to go away for him.

SIMON: I want to ask you a couple of quick baseball questions. Although this gets back to this issue, because former Boston Red Sox pitcher Paxton Crawford this week said he used steroids, everybody uses steroids. What do you think?

BRYANT: Well, the first thing that struck me was how quickly his former teammates shot him down on this and how quickly it was so easy once more to discredit what he was saying, because he's no longer in the game. But if you also look at the Jason Grimsley affidavit with Arizona just a few weeks ago...

SIMON: Mr. Grimsley's a former player for half a dozen teams.

BRYANT: There's clearly an undercurrent of drug use, drug culture, that you can't just wash away by saying, okay, this guy was an isolated incident. It seems like we have hundreds of isolated incidents in the game.

And the other thing about Crawford that I thought was really amazing was how easily he talked about the culture of drugs. They were everywhere. How can they be everywhere and then everyone else in the game right now says that he doesn't know what he's talking about?

SIMON: Ozzie Guillen, manager of the White Sox, has apologized for using a defamatory slur. Says he'll go to sensitivity training workshops but he needs English lessons first. Would you like to be the fly on the wall of those sensitivity sessions with Ozzie Guillen?

BRYANT: Well, I think the beauty of Ozzie Guillen is that you don't have to be a fly on the wall. He more than likely...

SIMON: You'll hear it. It comes through the wall if you're anywhere next door.

BRYANT: Exactly. It's a really difficult story for baseball because Guillen is so - they win, so he gets away with it. But one day it's going to hurt the game. It's hurting it now.

SIMON: Andre Agassi says this is going to be his last Wimbledon, and then he's going to retire after his last U.S. Open.

BRYANT: Why am I not surprised by this? But I think all the athletes, they're like boxers. He'll be back. Although Pet Sampras didn't come back.

SIMON: Not yet.

BRYANT: Not yet.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of the Washington Post, thank you.

BRYANT: Thank you.

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