The downfall of cycling hero Lance Armstrong and the United States Postal Service Team has baffled and outraged fans and professionals alike. A clandestine culture of doping that was exposed in August signified the end for Armstrong, who went from survivor-hero to cheater-bully after the United States Anti-Doping Agency charged him with using, administering, and pushing performance-enhancing drugs on his team. Back then, Armstrong denied it vehemently but forgoed public arbitration and managed to retain some fans, some bravado and some vestige of the athlete-hero archetype. This week, though, everything came crashing down when affadavits materialized about the team's use of blood booster erythropoietin, among other substances:
“The U.S.P.S. Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices,” the agency said. “A program organized by individuals who thought they were above the rules and who still play a major and active role in sport today.”
The image painted Wednesday was of a secret society of elite athletes breaking laws and redefining competitive fairness and the doctors, managers, and dealers who made it happen. Armstrong, painted as a ringleader, has led former supporters to remove their LIVESTRONG bracelets in betrayed disgust. What’s happening now is more than an industry-specific embarrassment; it's a distortion of justice and a contamination of the virtue of hard work. But perhaps these things, like Armstrong's seven stripped Tour de France titles, are myths themselves.
Check out these gripping stories, taking readers through sports history's more significant conspiracies, crimes, and scandals and the individuals who orchestrated them.
"The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs" by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
Former Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton and bestselling author Daniel Coyle have collaborated on an absolutely unflinching account of the "win at any cost" culture of professional cycling and its rampant doping practices. Hamilton, once an elite cyclist and right hand to Lance Armstrong, gives an authentic, self-indicting and totally shocking account of the practices of the industry's top riders and their enablers. This isn't a personal campaign to annihilate Armstrong -- it’s merely a pulling back of the curtain. There's intimidation and blood, along with cheating, lying, and other indefensible acts by physicians and teammates. Hamilton may become a pariah from such a tome. But it's a brave, compelling and necessary exposé of the flip-side of superhuman expectations.
"The 30 Greatest Sports Conspiracy Theories of All-Time: Ranking Sports' Most Notorious Fixes, Cover-ups, and Scandals" by Elliott Kalb with Mark Weinstein
TV broadcaster, Emmy winner and Editorial Director of MLB Network Kalb takes a microscope and a skeptical eye to some of history's most notable, bizarre, and controversial theories. His realism and research take the reader through decades of basketball, football, baseball, boxing and tennis, lending credence to some suspicions and deflating others. Sports fans will love the nostalgia, clues and drama, including the fixing of Super Bowl III, secrets behind Michael Jordan’s first retirement, and thrown games -- from Sonny Liston vs. Muhammed Ali to Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King. Always been suspicious of the goings-on behind the scenes at the 1921 Kentucky Derby? Then this book is definitely for you.
"Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen" by Sean Patrick Griffin
The dark cloud of fixing has hung over sports since ancient times, and it's been especially rampant in professional basketball in recent decades. When the FBI charged and convicted disgraced former ref Tim Donaghy of conspiracy to commit fraud during his tenure with the NBA, it confirmed what many fans already seem to know. Griffin curates FBI files, interviews, statistics and court documents, providing a narrative so vigorous and complex that readers are practically courtside. The cast of characters -- bookies, refs, cops, and the infamous Donaghy -- come to life like players in a true-crime novel. Some might read this chronicle with a cynical shake of the head at the extent of corruption in the NBA; others will be genuinely disillusioned by the league's loss of integrity. Either way, you'll never watch a Celtics game again without questioning just what went into that ref's call.
"Paterno" by Joe Posnanski
The Sandusky case reverberates -- for those directly involved, for Penn State, for college football as a whole. Joe Paterno, the polarizing and epic figure at the heart of the unsettling scandal, was a leader to many, his humble beginnings giving way to a spectacular reign over the game he so loved. To others, he harbored a criminal to preserve the legacies of Penn State and, well, Joe Paterno. To Joe Posnanski, venerated sports writer, he’s neither. Thus, "Paterno" becomes a portrait that's both humanizing and truthful. It’s a vivid account of the rise of Penn State's football juggernaut, rendered with focus and admiration. However, a good biography has no guarantee of a happy ending; the last portion of the book, and the final months Posnanski spent with Paterno, are mostly about Jerry Sandusky, the figure behind Penn State’s fall from grace and Paterno’s termination. The author never defends or vilifies the legendary coach, and the book serves as a level-headed reminder of the risk of a tragic fall following a lofty ascent.