Joe Santoro: Some cheaters pay the price, some don’t | NevadaAppeal.com
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Joe Santoro: Some cheaters pay the price, some don’t

OK, I admit it. I watched every second of ESPN’s two-part, four-hour Lance Armstrong documentary the past two Sundays. I found it highly interesting, evocative, thought-provoking and revealing. The Tour de France is the single most grueling, challenging and interesting sports event of the year. The competitors, every last one of them that even dares to enter the race, let alone finds the courage and determination to actually finish it, should get a medal and a parade in his hometown. I also know that this opinion, as usual, puts me in the minority. Just 900,000 viewers turned in for the first two-hour Armstrong showing and just 8,00,000 watched the second one. That pales in comparison to the 5-6 million that watched all 10 Michael Jordan “Last Dance” episodes. More viewers (about 1.5 million) watched the replay of the Last Dance than watched the Armstrong debut. I, too, watched all 10 episodes of Michael sitting in his chair and swearing and making fun of opponents and teammates. I’m a lifelong Bulls fan, since the days of Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Bob Love and Chet Walker. Yes, I’m old. It did my heart good to re-live the days when my Bulls were actually relevant and on top of the sports world, let alone the NBA world. But I enjoyed the Armstrong documentary much more. It made me sad. It made me angry. It made me marvel once again at the amount of devotion, determination and drive it takes to succeed in a sport at its highest level. And, yes, even the price amazing once-a-generation athletes will pay to succeed.

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Armstrong, because of his performance-enhancing drug use, has had his seven Tour de France championships wiped out of the record book by the UCI (Union Cycliste International or International Cycling Union). It’s as if the race was not conducted in those years (1999-2005). Give cycling credit for doing what is right. It’s something that Major League Baseball will never find the courage and guts to do. I firmly believe that it still took a tremendous amount of courage, determination, toughness and grit for Armstrong to win those seven races, no matter how many illegal substances were flowing through his body at the time. He, after all, certainly wasn’t the only competitor in those races taking PEDs. But he cheated. He compromised the integrity of arguably the greatest single sports event in the world every year. He needed to pay a price.

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Baseball is a different story. Barry Bonds’ records still count. If you want to be the all-time home run champion you have to hit more than Bonds’ 762 homers. If you want the single-season record you need to hit more than the 73 Bonds hit in 2001. Sammy Sosa’s 50 and 60-homer seasons are still in the record books as are Roger Clemens’ 354 victories and 4,672 strikeouts. Nobody is taking away Mark McGwire’s 70 homers in 1998 or his 65 in 1999. Nobody is also taking away a single cent that all of the cheating players in Major League Baseball earned during the steroid era. Armstrong had to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars. They took away his championships. The Livestrong Foundation, the charity he set up and worked tirelessly for to benefit cancer victims, even fired him. Bonds, McGwire and Clemens can walk into a baseball stadium to this day and get a standing ovation. Some proven PED users have gotten into baseball’s Hall of Fame. You can bet Bonds and Clemens will get to Cooperstown someday. Armstrong is treated like a pariah.

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As long as baseball recognizes the achievements of PED users like Bonds and Clemens (and countless others) then they should be in the Hall of Fame if their performance warrants it. It is silly to put in a player like Harold Baines, a good but not great player, into the Hall when players like Bonds and Clemens can’t get in. If the statistics count, the player who accomplished them should count. It’s just sports. When it all comes right down to it, it’s just entertainment. The PED users in baseball were only doing what practically of their brethren were doing. The same with the cyclists and all of the football offensive and defensive linemen who now weigh 350-plus pounds. It’s not really cheating if everyone is doing it. And if you don’t think almost everyone was doing it, well, wake up. It’s time to give all of these athletes who felt the pressure to “cheat” a break. And Armstrong needs to be at the top of that list.

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The American Century Championship, the annual celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe, announced it will take place July 8-12 without fans in attendance. While that is awful news for the fans, it is like winning the lottery for the celebrities. Celebrities love playing golf against other celebrities. They have their friendly, competitive side bets during the tournament and afterward, at the Tahoe hotels, they get together for dinner, play cards and do what celebrities do when they are in hotels for three or four days. What they don’t like is having to squeeze through hundreds (thousands?) of fans from the clubhouse to the first green in the morning and then from the 18th green to the clubhouse at the end of the day. And don’t forget the baseballs, footballs, golf balls, hockey pucks, photos and the like being waved in their face with the accompanying pens and markers with which to sign those balls, pucks and photos. No fans on the course July 8-12 is the ultimate tournament for a celebrity. Golf is what they do for fun. They have enough fans to deal with in their day job. Golf, after all, doesn’t need fans tearing up its beautiful courses and bothering the players. All golf needs is a few sponsors and a television network.

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The national sports media needs to stop picking on Major League Baseball. I get it. Picking on baseball has become a national sport in and of itself. The media now basically just covers football and basketball (actually just quarterbacks and LeBron James) so picking on baseball has become fashionable and accepted. It’s happening again right now as MLB is moving slowly in coming up with a plan on how to return its sport to the field. The NBA and NHL, on the other hand, is about a month to six weeks away from starting a 22 (NBA) and 24-team (NHL) playoff. And then there’s football, which has basically treated the coronavirus pandemic as if it was a media creation. Baseball can’t even get spring training started back up. What the national media fails to tell you is that there is a fundamental difference between baseball and the NHL and NBA right now. The NHL and NBA have both already played their regular seasons, or most of it anyway. Those players have already gotten paid this year. There really was very little negotiating to do in the NBA and NHL, other than figuring out a site and a schedule. Baseball, on the other hand, hasn’t played a single regular-season game yet. Players have not been paid yet (at least not enough to pay the bills). Baseball and its players has more to figure out right now than simply picking out a hotel and a couple arenas to inhabit for a two-month playoff. Give baseball and its players and owners a break and let them figure it out.

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The eight teams left out of the 24-team NBA playoff are the Hawks, Cavaliers, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls, Hornets, Warriors and Timberwolves. Seems like the Warriors picked a good year to mail in a season. Six of the other seven teams are either from the south or midwest, the two regions the NBA could not care less about. The only team missing from the 24-team NBA party that the league likely will miss is the Knicks. But the league will still have the New York market involved with Brooklyn. Also, not having the Knicks involved means the NBA won’t have to figure out a way to keep Spike Lee quarantined.

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The seven teams left out of the NHL playoff are the Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Devils, Red Wings, Senators and Sabres. Three teams from California is no big loss for the NHL The Kings were 21st, the Sharks were 24th and the Ducks were 25th in attendance this year. Ottawa was last (31st) in attendance this year while New Jersey was 27th and Buffalo was No. 20. The only team not involved in the playoff that might be missed is the Red Wings, who were No. 7 in attendance. But the Red Wings haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015-16 and haven’t won a first-round series since 2012-13 so Red Wings fans have grown accustomed to stop paying attention by May anyway, let alone July and August.