November 2012 Archives

Lance Armstrong did more good than evil

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           Today, there are a great many things that have disappointed me these days. Like most Americans, I have been disappointed by the length and the disparaging remarks that permeated our recently concluded                       Presidential Election.

I am disappointed with the interaction of many of today's professional athletes with the fans. I am appalled that many families fear going to the Arena, Stadium, or Ball Park to enjoy an event.

I do not approve of cheating in order to win... either by intentional bad calls, or the use of performance enhancing drugs. But most of all I am disappointed in the media who many times elevate an athlete to hero status, only to viciously tear him down .

I have studied the landscape and I see how there is a prevalent move to keep Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame even though he is more worthy than 90 percent of the members already enshrined.  Roger, it is insinuated, took PED. I do not know whether he did, or didn't.  However, there are two things I do know.

First, those standing in judgment probably never pitched, or for that matter, even threw a baseball professionally. Or the lack of Hall of Fame support for Mark McGwire. Is he guilty of taking Steroids?  His guilt has never been proven. Second, are we going to see another "Witch Hunt" as with Lance Armstrong?

 It reminds me of the great 19th Century book by Victor Hugo, "Les Miserables". Jean Valjean was convicted of trumped up charges and by testimony attributed to his peers. Valjean was sent to the infamous prison Bagne of Toulon on an island in the Mediterranean.

Valjean escaped and became a pillar of society, doing much good. Later, it was found that he had had been wrongly sentenced and was pardoned. However, Inspector Javert who had originally been instrumental in Valjean's  capture would not hear of his innocence and continued to pursue him.

Now in the 21st Century, Travis Tygart, the CEO of the USADA could easily be mistaken for Inspector Javert. Even though after two years the United States Justice Department found no evidence of Lance Armstrong's misdeeds. Yet, through persistence and peer pressure, he was able to bring down Lance, (in this case Valjean). In the world of sport and in the eyes of millions of people.

What a miscarriage of justice and shabby treatment of a man who has given so much. Let's assume he did what he was accused of.  Accepting that fact, we cannot and must not overlook the good he did with the celebrity he was given.

In preparation for this article, I read many reports mostly from Oncologists connected with some of America's great Cancer Hospitals, among them, MD Anderson, Houston; Sloan-Kettering, New York; Johns Hopkins, Maryland and Mayo Clinic, Minnesota.

While doing my research, my cousin Martha Birnbaum from Boston sent me an article that mirrors what other Oncologists told me. Writing for the Boston Globe Magazine, Dr. Lawrence Shulman, chief of staff of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute wrote:

" In the light of recent events surrounding Lance Armstrong's cycling career, some people may be questioning whether they can still see him as a hero. They can! Lance- and the Lance Armstrong Foundation- have an unrivalled commitment to improving the lives of Cancer Patients in the United States and around the world."

The Foundation has raised over half a billion dollars for Cancer Research".

No other athlete in the history of the world, or for that many men have had a greater impact for good than Lance Armstrong.

Now, here's the rub! The Foundation he founded has walked away from him feeling he has been tainted. Sponsors have left him and most appalling of all, some well-known contributors have asked for their donations back.

So, who is the real villain... Valjean, or Javert?

Mud slinging can be family fun

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In today's political atmosphere where both the parties and both the Presidential Candidates apparently bent on saying disparaging things about each other, it was refreshing to hear a mother say with a smile to her child, "Go play in the mud".

I'm not kidding.  I really could not believe my ears. I know my mother would never tell us to do that.  I know we never told our children to do it. And when I asked my daughter in relation to my two grand daughters, she answered, "why not". This left me dumbfounded, so I investigated further.

What I found was the 3rd Annual Mud Crazy event. I found out that it was taking place in Newbury Park, CA.  This is a city about 5 miles from where I live. Looking into it further, I learned it was the creation of one of my Co-Owners who sits on the on the Board of the Amgen Tour of California with me... Jim Passantino.

As you all know, the ATOC is America's foremost road cycling race (the closest thing we have to the Tour de France). When I arrived at the destination, Los Dos Vientos Park on Borchard, what I found, both amazed and delighted me.

There were approximately 3000 spectators, lots of colorful booths, plenty of vendors and over 1200 people who had entered to compete in this unusual event entitled "Mud Crazy". Wow!

Much to my surprise, it turned out to be an exciting event, run in an extremely professional way. There were a variety of heats and distances in varying categories.

The runners were in all categories as well.  There were the super-fit in mixed age groups, the serious runners who competed in the 10K. The 10K actually took runners into, up and over the Santa Monica Mountains.

The running masses were mostly in the 5K event.  In all case, there were over 38 obstacles.  How can I best describe the event?  Well, it is a combination of the Grand de Paris, the international horse race for 3-year olds which first took place in 1863 and is run annually each June at the famed Longchamps Track in Paris.  Couple it with Mud Wrestling and you get a pretty good idea.

The competitors came in all sizes and shapes: male, female, adults, boys and girls, single and in teams. They start out in flights, all running against the digital clock.

200 feet out of the starting blocks they are immediately immersed in the first mud obstacle. It was 20' long and like a military infiltration course, for those of you who were in the service, it was covered with netting so runner  couldn't stand up.

From there, they ran through tunnels, negotiated a maze of ropes (the spider web), over fences, navigated a 200' long Mud Pit, called the Crawl and scurried through water-filled tunnels on the way to the finish line.

Every contestant finished! As in every outdoor race, many were gasping for air.  However, all though dirty and tired, each  finished the Mud Rinwith a smile. In fact,  many signed up for next year.

If only, a Mud Crazy Run could settle our electoral differences? I remember when the Boston Marathon had only 100 participants.  In my opinion, this could become a big event.

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Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.