Lance Armstrong needed the words of his son to finally crack and admit his doping past, forced into telling the truth at the sight of a 13-year-old continuing to defend what the father knew was a decade’s worth of lies and despicable actions by the disgraced cycling champion.
That was three years ago, and this remains fact when it comes to those athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs: Shame inflicted from specific folks can bring a cheat to his knees.
I’m not sure it will for Yulia Efimova any time soon, because Russians most often follow the lead of their president, which is to fiercely deny any wrongdoing and instead shout about political conspiracies. Vladimir Putin shouts a lot.
But the stand taken against doping this week at the Rio Olympics by American swimmer Lilly King is a far more important moment than any medal ceremony involving Michael Phelps or Simone Biles or those track stars set to dominate your TV screen beginning Friday.
King is the 19-year-old sophomore from Indiana University who won gold in the 100-meter breaststroke in Olympic record time (1:04.93), but it was her actions in calling out the doping suspensions of Efimova and questioning why she and other cheats were eligible to compete in the games that rightly made the biggest headlines.
King actually disobeyed her coach’s direct orders not to specifically address Efimova’s past.
Thank goodness she did.
Thank goodness she wagged that finger and later expounded on its intent.
Sports need a lot more of King and a lot less of those unwilling to shine a light on its most scandalous ways. It’s true that a hint of skepticism will follow any athlete proclaiming to be the voice of clean competition in 2016, but we can at least hope King is honest and unchanging.
She was making a larger point and simply using Efimova as an example of a systematic issue, something her Russian opponent, not surprisingly, refused to acknowledge.
“I understand the people who didn’t congratulate me because the media was full of fake stories about me,” Efimova told reporters. “But on the other hand, I don’t really understand the foreign competitors. All athletes should be above politics, but they just watch TV and believe everything they read. I always thought the Cold War was long in the past. Why start it again, by using sport?
“Usually in Olympic Games, all wars stop, but this is not fair.”
It’s more than so and incredibly needed, because sport is the most formidable way in which to enact change. The Olympics and politics are linked in a most historical fashion, from the Nazis in Berlin to separate housing facilities for Eastern bloc athletes in Helsinki to the protests in Melbourne to the terrorist attack in Munich to the boycott in Moscow.
Doping is just another forgettable blemish tarnishing those five rings.
The comparisons to a Cold War revival after King’s comments were more the result of reporters basking in an angle than the swimmer’s real objective. This isn’t just about the Russians, although the foolish and misguided decision by the corrupt International Olympic Committee to clear 271 athletes from that nation to compete in Rio has only made an already menacing cloud over the games even darker.
When the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended a blanket suspension of Russians because of a state-sponsored doping program for Olympic and Paralympic athletes, the IOC needed to fall in line and uphold such a move. Instead, it caved.
That’s the problem for King and fellow athletes who claim to be clean. Who has their back when Efimova and American track stars such as Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay and so many others across the world who have been caught doping are allowed to return to Olympic competition?
Where is all the propaganda about protecting the integrity of competition then?
I’m pretty sure admonishment from a sports columnist or TV personality won’t shame any athlete into admitting his doping sins. But perhaps the more those such as King rail against the injustice of it all, the prospect of suffering the same level of humiliation and contempt that Efimova did this week might cause some to think twice before cheating.
It’s a long shot. The level of riches and fame that come with winning gold almost always will supersede any fear of being embarrassed on a global stage, especially when governing bodies such as the IOC continue to react to doping truths in a spineless manner.
I won’t hold my breath for Efimova and a majority of cheaters and liars to pull an Armstrong or Marion Jones and eventually cop to their misdeeds, but that doesn’t change this: While her coaches preferred she take the high road, thank goodness Lilly King instead rose to the surface of drug-infested waters and chose a righteous one.
Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney