They weren’t just drug tests…


I can’t do algebra, not even a little bit. While I can add apples and take apples away from apples, as soon as the letters start mixing with the numbers I’m completely lost.

Now that you know that I can’t do algebra, you might assume that I’ve also failed an algebra test or two. You’d be wrong though, I went an entire year of school passing algebra tests; because I am an accomplished math cheat.

I cheated on every assignment, test, and quiz of every day, of my freshman year of school.

It was easy, I would look at the papers of everyone around me and write down exactly what i saw. I also got a little help from people “liked” me enough to “trust me”, and blindly believe in my innocence.

I had no conscience, just a desperate desire to get a passing grade any way I could.

Lance Armstrong has been stripped of 7 Tour De France victories, and faces a lifetime ban for using illegitimate substances while competing at the highest level of bicycle racing.

Lance Armstrong has never officially failed a drug test.

So how did he get caught? The way most athletes get caught cheating; somebody blows the whistle on them.

For the uninitiated, sports doping isn’t as complex a process as it sounds. You hire a chemist to creat a compound that helps you increase your strength and endurance, and then you work really hard to keep your unique formula a secret.

You keep your formula a secret because testing can really only be performed for substances that you know exist.

This makes spotting a drug cheat like looking for a needle in a haystack… When you’ve never seen a needle before.

As long as your substance is a secret no one can test for it. When no one can test for it, you can’t get caught taking it.

The more money an athlete has, the better substance they can buy, and the more hush money they can pay.

Which brings me back to Armstrong.

Armstrong raced for a team whose primary sponsorship was the United States Postal Service, a government subsidy. He wasn’t hurting for cash.

He passed test after test.

Unfortunately, cash can’t buy complete silence. After Armstrong won his first tour, the field of competitors immediately cried foul. They felt that the recent cancer survivor was getting “help” reaching the top of the heap, they just couldn’t prove it.

They suspected it, because the majority of them were also getting “help” and suddenly they couldn’t beat the Texan with the heartwarming story. The initial tests results weren’t able to be accurately verified because of Armstrong’s Therapeutic Exemption, granted on behalf of his cancer medications.

No one pushed, because hey, who wants to kick a survivor?

The real problems began when Armstrong and his team began ruthlessly dominating the sport. From that point onward, every cyclist began doing what they could to uncover the “secret” behind Armstrong’s success.

If it could be imagined, it was speculated about:

“Armstrong’s cancer meds make him a better cyclist.”
“Governing bodies look the other way with him.”
“Armstrong swaps out his blood with that of a Vampire.”

But no one could prove anything.

When Armstrong finally fell from grace last week it was because the support team that performed the procedures necessary for him to use performance enhancing substances were willing to provide sworn testimony and evidence of their roles in the biggest doping coverup in sports history.

For his part, Armstrong refuses to battle the charges any longer. He’ll defer to his history of passed drug tests, and make veiled references to a “conspiracy of the envious”, but the only people who will believe him are the ones who’ve always wanted to believe that not only is Lance Armstrong clean, but that cycling is too.

Tearing Armstrong apart for doping in cycling is a lot like going after a pro-wrestler for using a chair on his opponent while the referee is incapacitated. Not only is it something that every wrestler does, it’s something the crowd expects and cheers for…

…Because each party agreed before the match began that they were going to stop thinking, “for entertainment purposes”.

Still, Lance Armstrong has to be banned, not because he was the only person cheating, but because it’s the only way to return any measure of respect to a sport that long ago passed from the hands of the competitors to the chemists.

Cycling can and will experience the same type of resurgence that baseball has, but only if each member is willing to bring more than just a competitive spirit to the course; they have to bring an honesty to their own preparation, and the courage to speak out against what they see wrong in the preparation of others.

Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test.

He was failing much bigger tests.

None of my algebra tests we’re simply math exams, they were tests of character. At some point I was too embarrassed to ask for help, and later on I was in too deep to back out.

The course of my education collided with my lack of integrity, causing me to drop maths midway though my high school career.

My problem wasn’t really with numerical calculations was it?

While I was passing my algebra tests I was also failing test after test of nobility and honor. It took years to grow beyond the cowardice I entrenched myself in.

And I’ll probably never overcome a quadratic… something or other.

The good news is that I’m now fully capable of not only failing in public, but also asking for help with things like taxes and tips.

I’m learning to pass life’s tests because I now recognize what they are really about, and how much is actually on the line.

The fact that we aren’t failing, doesn’t mean we are succeeding.

3 Responses to “They weren’t just drug tests…”

  1. Sharon O August 30, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Very interesting thoughts and writing…

  2. JUDY August 31, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Now I have to go back and regrade all those algebra tests :) Hmmm how about that Spanish class????

    Just kidding, I admire your honesty. Not easy to “out” yourself but it is oh so refreshing.

    Jon’s former, apparently blind, math teacher

    • Jon September 5, 2012 at 9:57 am #

      Well I didn’t have you for algebra, just Geometry… and you sat me next to people who wouldn’t share their answers! I can say that I failed every Spanish test on my own.

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