Real Niche Sports: HBO Does Millar

Last night, the HBO show “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” aired a segment about David Millar. I always perk up when cycling is going to appear on mainstream television, so I made sure to watch. Of course, cycling only gets attention outside the cycling media when the subject is doping, and I knew this piece was yet another doping story, but still, like a virgin entering a whorehouse, I went in hopeful.

Now, as a caveat, I should mention I don’t follow any sports apart from cycling. I’m not a fan of unscripted entertainment, and to me watching a sport like baseball is like watching the “Flavor of Love” in that’s it’s basically a bunch of cheesy people with unfortunate hairdos being winnowed down to a single winner over the course of a season. Cycling, on the other hand, is lots of different events with lots of different winners. (Though there’s still the cheese factor and the bad hairdo factor.) Also, I like to ride my bicycle, whereas the only ball sport I like to play is pocket pool.

Well, I was disappointed almost immediately—Bryant Gumbel wasn’t the guy I thought he was. To be honest, though, the fault was mine as I had gotten my hard-hitting sports journalists confused. I had thought Gumbel was that guy from “Pootie Tang,” but it turns out he’s actually that guy from the ‘80s who was in “Gumbel to Gumbel.” I soon got over that, but I was disappointed anew to learn that the first segment was about women’s softball and how it’s no longer going to be an Olympic sport. Whatever. Softball’s just a watered-down version of a sport I don’t care about anyway, and that fast-motion underhanded pitching creeps me out. Actually, truth be told, I don’t care if they get rid of cycling in the Olympics, either. I think they should fix the problem of Olympic bloat by getting rid of every sport except the ones that cavemen used to do. The Olympics should just be about who can lift the heaviest rock, who can run the fastest, who can jump the highest, and who can throw a heavy rock or stick the farthest. Done and done. Leave the rest to the professionals.

So I fast-forwarded through the softball and went straight to the Millar piece, only to encounter more softball--reporting, that is. Gumbel, Cone of Smugness firmly in place, introduced the piece by calling cycling "a niche sport whose image has been trashed by a series of scandals and allegations involving performance-enhancing drugs." I really can’t stand when people call cycling a niche sport. Yes, it's not regarded as mainstream, but the truth is it’s actually incredibly popular. Not only is the Tour de France (despite itself) one of the world’s most popular sporting events, but participation on the amateur level is huge as well. Outside of an academic environment how many people do you know who compete in organized and sanctioned baseball, or football, or basketball? Globally speaking, who the hell cares about the “World Series?” If cycling is a niche sport then Islam is a niche religion. Cycling’s not a niche sport—Gumbel’s a niche journalist.

Gumbel then passed the Cone of Smugness to John Frankel. Millar’s story is already familiar to most cycling fans, but if you’re not up to speed here are the highlights as presented by the piece:

--Millar is now clean, and he wants to help younger riders stay clean too. He recognizes that "fans of the sport no longer believe what they're seeing."

--Millar talks to Frankel while having his blood tested. Frankel asks him if it evokes a time when he used to stick a "needle in your arm--or elsewhere" in order to dope. The “elsewhere” is highly intriguing, yet they never follow up on it.

--Millar was a clean athlete until 2001, when he finally submitted to pressure to dope. When he proudly showed off a natural hematocrit of over 40%, a teammate remarked, "’Why aren't you at 50?’...for him it wasn't professional." Finally, tired and lacking results, he reached the breaking point. A team official sat Millar down for a talk and explained he needed to “prepare properly.” "It was relief,” says Millar. “I was just tired."

--Millar used EPO, which helped him win Vuelta stages and the World TT Championship. Jaded, Millar felt "no joy, absolutely no joy,” and kept the used EPO syringes on his bookshelf--the evidence which ultimately damned him.

--We see footage of Millar walking a city street pensively in a black peacoat. During his two year suspension he says he disappeared off the grid and drank excessively. This is more intriguing even than the “or elsewhere” with regard to the injections. Personally, I’d love to learn more about the lost years of David Millar. It’s kind of like John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend,” or that period in Jesus’s life that’s not covered in the Bible, during which people try to say he went to India and studied Buddhism or whatever. Did Millar smoke crack with Amy Winehouse? Did he paint himself green, eat peyote, and run around the desert at Burning Man? Did he take a creative writing course at the Learning Annex? I’m strangely curious.

--Eventually, Millar rediscovered his love for cycling. Enter Jonathan Vaughters whose own Cone of Smugness is pointier even than his sideburns. His riders are tested randomly once every two weeks, year round, and five times more than those on other teams.

--Vaughters wants people to "go back to believing in the athletes for what they really are" and he’s going to "put it all on the table." They’re putting it on the table all right—we see lots of shots of doctors putting vials of urine on one while Vaughters is talking.

--Slipstream is a "culture shift" in cycling; they all live together in Gerona, which allows “teammates to police each-other." They’re each given a Blackberry so they’re "easily found for testing at any time." “The result is the result,” Vaughters says. “If it's first it's first, if it's 132nd it's 132nd."

Hey, I respect Millar for serving his time and ostensibly being honest. I also respect Vaughters and Slipstream for trying to be “transparent.” They're like a straight-edge band: boring perhaps, but their hearts are in the right place. What creeps me out though is this idea of “policing” each-other. Treating riders like a bunch of unruly 7th graders seems worse for the sport than an underground culture of doping. Things get “transparent” when you slice them too thin. They also fall apart. There’s nothing in the world that holds up to intense scrutiny, and you can’t dissect something unless it’s already dead. And why do people expect such integrity out of sports anyway? It's not something important, it’s sports. Set some rules, make some guidelines, and enjoy the show. Sheesh.

Then we go back to the studio and niche journalist Bryant Gumbel. He and John Frankel exchange a few words, and then Gumbel moves his glasses down his nose emphatically and asks Frenkel: "And yet here's what I don't get. The sport is in shambles for doping, and yet its greatest champion, Lance Armstrong, is still revered as a hero. Where's the logic in that?"

Smirking, Frenkel replies, "Lance would say, 'I never tested positive.'"

"Neither did Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds or Mark McGuire," says Gumbel.

Frenkel (smirking even more aggressively): "We agree on this subject."

Gumbel and Frenkel then look at each-other a bit too long, like they’re both savoring the same delicious pudding, or like they might suddenly start french-kissing, and then Gumbel introduces the next piece which is about a horse or something.

Thanks, Gumbel. We almost got to the end of a cycling segment without the subject turning to Lance Armstrong, and we almost got to the end of a piece of journalism without winking and insinuations. Didn't Armstrong retire? What does he have to do with this story about Millar and Slipstream? And hey, if you’re sitting on some good stuff, let’s have it! I have to admit, though, it’s pretty clever what you did there. You sucked people in by presenting an optimistic story about the clean future of cycling, but then you grabbed the sport by the wing, stuck a pin in it, and started plucking its legs off at the end. Still, though, I do thank you for the revelation that David Millar injected EPO directly into his penis. I mean, he didn’t contradict you when you mentioned that he injected EPO into his arm “or elsewhere.” He never said he didn’t inject EPO into his penis. So I’m going to assume he did. I believe they call that “niche doping.”
automotive ,automotive news ,automotive magazine,automotive industry outlook 2012,automotif,automotive magazine automotive ,automotive news ,automotive magazine,automotive industry outlook 2012,automotif,automotive magazine