By Hubert Lawrence
Admit it. There was a time when you probably liked Lance Armstrong. The American cyclist battled back from cancer and continued what was then the most celebrated career in professional road cycling. He inspired people with his courage and willingness to go beyond the established limit.
He went mainstream in a way few sportsmen ever do. He was the front man for the Livestrong charity and dated chart-topping singer Sheryl Crow. He wasn't just a jock on a bicycle. He was a celebrity.
The problem with Armstrong now is that his sporting success was founded on a lie. Fans trusted him wrongly, although they couldn't have known the truth at the time.
His current troubles bring to mind three press conferences with Marion Jones, the fallen American sprinter.
In Sydney at the 2000 Olympics, she stood loyally at the side of her shot put World champion husband, C.J. Hunter, who was forced by a positive drug test to drop out of the Games. She was sincere and faithful as a good wife would be.
In 2004, she was here for the Jamaica Invitational, at a time when she was under close scrutiny. Again, she was candid and charming. Just like Armstrong, she protested her innocence and contested the case against her until the truth closed in on her.
The third press conference had her tearfully confessing the error of her ways in 2007.
Now it's Armstrong's turn. One guess is that, as happened with Jones, he was cornered by pressure from high-level investigations. These days, sport doesn't rely solely on drug tests to prove illegal aid. Plain old detective work can prove if athletes have dealings with drug suppliers and if they use or resell the stuff. If there is proof, that's enough to destroy someone's reputation.
The trouble with Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones and others like them is that they make the fan doubt the results they see. Just like match-fixing in football, cricket and tennis, drug use revelations make you wonder if those who excel are real.
There are old studies that say that many athletes would take drugs to gain great success even if it hastened their own death.
That, however, isn't the whole story. Many others work their tails off. They ally themselves to knowledgeable coaches and make crucial sacrifices to reach the top.
Safe in his armchair, the cynic wipes them with a broad brush and just says, "The whole a dem de pon drugs."
Some, like Jones, Ben Johnson and the East German swimmers and track athletes in the 1970s and '80s, did take drugs. Oddly, though the East Germans went away quietly after unification in 1990, their records are still on the books. History has been harsher on Jones and Johnson. Their performances have been expunged from the record books.
The Lance Armstrong case tars cycling, but because he was a celebrity, it can tar all of sport. This is no time for 'I told you so' grandstanding. As a consequence, sport has to hustle to restore its image before the 2016 Olympics. When this nasty matter recedes, sport will have to talk more boldly about its effort to chase drug users away.
Perhaps it might be useful to retell the stories of recently retired champions whose records are spotless. The goal will be to restore the faith of those who doubt what they see.
Jamaica might find itself at the forefront of sport's fight for credibility. We amaze people with our remarkable results/size ratio. Often, people don't believe us until they come here and see what we do.
Our record on drugs is largely clean and we have Usain Bolt, sport's biggest star. That constitutes an opportunity to lead the way back from the Armstrong case to respectability. Stars like Bolt, Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Serena Williams, Lebron James and Rory McIlroy have to band together to win back the fans whose belief might be wavering.
There's one last lingering question - How do you like Lance now?
Hubert Lawrence is the author of 'Champs 100: A Century of Jamaican High School Athletics 1910-2010'.