Cut off anti-doping funds

There were plenty of people willing to attack Lance Armstrong after he decided not to bother defending himself any longer against the “U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.”

Armstrong has, for some reason, become a lightning rod and most people who take an interest in his problems are no longer in the undecided column, so it’s unlikely that any defense will change minds. Our only thought is that his reluctance to continue playing games with the Agency should not be taken as evidence of anything but reluctance to continue playing games with the Agency.

What does concern us is the process Armstrong has had to endure, and the Agency itself. Though a private organization, it has a name that suggests it is a government body, and the fact that taxpayers pick up most of the tab for its operation furthers that impression.

Before the Agency got involved, Armstrong was investigated for two years by the U.S. Justice Department (a real public agency) which eventually dropped the case. Unwilling to accept that conclusion, the Agency got its own probe going, never coming to resolution.

In other words, Armstrong has been dealing with various investigators and investigations for four years without ever being charged with anything, all while being negatively portrayed by sloppy journalism, such as a Sports Illustrated story that was denounced by one of its sources and a Wall Street Journal piece that had no more substantiation than a Harry Reid attack on Mitt Romney.

After Armstrong announced that he would no longer deal with the Agency, it claimed it had stripped him of his Tour de France wins. That came as news in Europe. It’s a little like saying the Reno City Council reached a decision about the Golan Heights. The Tour de France is run by the Amaury Sport Organization, not by the Agency. But more troubling is that the Agency acted without producing any evidence. And as Allen Barra wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, “in the nearly 500 drug tests Armstrong has taken through his career, there is no proof that any have been positive. Many other prominent cyclists—most notably Spain’s Alberto Contrador—have been caught juicing. But with so many accusations against Armstrong, why is there no hard proof?”

The Agency says it has proof, but has never presented it, instead rendering a sentence against Armstrong without doing so. “No, no!” said the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. “Sentence first …”

When a judge threw out an Armstrong lawsuit against the Agency, he still wrote in his ruling that the Agency’s “conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.”

Why is there a federally funded private anti-doping organization to regulate sports? What is the taxpayer interest in policing entertainment? How about a federally funded czar to get Simon and Garfunkel back together or a commission to make board games more exciting?

People like Spiro Agnew used to complain about what they called the “drug culture.” The real problem is the drug war culture. We tolerate intolerable activities in the name of cracking down. How many of us would want to spend four years under a microscope, years of scrutiny that never seem to end?

Investigations should not become a way of life for their targets. Life is too short and investigators too often zealots. Congress should cut off the money.