A. Bruce Crawley
Christopher Dorner, a former member of the U.S. military who had been deployed in Bahrain and a former member of the Los Angeles Police Department, appears to have died a fiery death at the hands of police officials, in San Bernardino County, Calif., last week.
There are still questions about what happened. On Friday, human remains taken from the incinerated cabin were identified as those of Dorner.
While there’s doubt and much confusion about what finally happened to Dorner, what can be said with absolute certainty is that the conditions that produced Dorner are still very much in place in this country and that there are thousands of other unemployed military-trained veterans on the streets of the United States. Far too many of them are frustrated with their inability to find housing, with their lack of access to a steady job, and with their lack of suitable healthcare.
There have been 2.3 million Americans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. About 1.4 million have left the military, over that time, and 712,000 of them have had to rely, at some point, on VA healthcare.
Consider the fact that nearly half, or 977,542, of Americans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been deployed to those countries more than once. That circumstance was highly unusual during Vietnam, Korea, and the two “World Wars."
Add to all of that the fact that, since they’ve returned home from the recent wars, 26,531 of those veterans have been forced to live on the streets, been at risk of losing their homes, or stayed in temporary housing. That figure has risen rapidly from 10,500 in 2010.
Want more insight into the plight of recently returning vets? How about this? The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans stood at 12.7 percent in May 2012 as compared to 7.7 percent for the general population. The most shocking part of all of these unemployment numbers, shedding just a bit of light on Chris Dorner's circumstances, is the fact that the unemployment rate for Black post-9/11 veterans stood at 19.1 percent. That’s right, 19.1 percent!
We’ve also learned that more than 6,400 American soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. What we don’t hear as much is the fact that 1,286 service members in those wars have returned as amputees and that the rate of suicide for post-9/11 soldiers stands at three times the rate of the general U.S. population.
Sounds to me as though there could very likely be more than 900,000 other "Christopher Dorners" out there, nearly one million violent “accidents waiting to happen”— some white, some Asian, some Hispanic, some Black.
Further complicating what is already a dramatically unhealthy situation is the recent evidence that Black soldiers, such as Dorner, are being exposed, now, to a new, more-sinister brand of racist treatment, right in their own military units, before they even ship out to southern Asia or the Middle East.
Reuters News Service, in August, reported on the “Rahowa” phenomenon, which it said was short for "racial holy war." Rahowa describes the case of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and skin head groups, who encourage their members to join the U.S. Army and the Marines so that they can acquire the military skills necessary to overthrow the U.S. government, or the “Zionist Occupation Government,” as they like to call it.
A 2008 Justice Department report, according to Reuters, disclosed that half of all right-wing extremists in the United States had military experience, many expressing neo-Nazi views, during the time they spent in the service. Some, such as Marine T.J. Leyden, go so far as to hang swastika banners from their lockers, in the barracks.
I’m sure that puts Black, Hispanic, Asian, Hispanic and Jewish soldiers in the mood to go out and fight for their country. Then, again, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe that kind of stuff just adds to their trauma and stress levels.
As unsettling as all these circumstances are for people serving in the U.S. military, especially for Black people serving in the military, we have to remember that Christopher Dorner also was a member of the infamous Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). This is the same police department that immortalized Rodney King in a roadside confrontation by swinging at him with metal batons, hitting him 31 times, and shooting him twice with Tasers. All of this occurred while a police department helicopter flew overhead and while four squad cars of officers, with drawn service revolvers, looked on approvingly.
This is the same LAPD whose reputation for racial mayhem has certainly been reaffirmed, in the reports by Officer Dorner, of racially tinged, violent attacks upon Black suspects on the streets of Los Angeles.
It’s clear that the existence of racially insensitive and abusive police behavior is not limited, however, to the city of Los Angeles. Black policemen across the the United States are routinely exposed to such behaviors committed by their fellow-officers against alleged perpetrators. And more often than not, turned against Black officers, themselves, when there is an apparent shortage of likely Black suspects.
Don’t get me wrong. The last thing on Earth I want to do is to rationalize or condone violent attacks against police officers, or against any other American citizen, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of race or ethnicity.
In 2013, we should no longer have to deal with such situations in this country.
On the other hand, I have been concerned that most mainstream media reports about the Chris Dorner situation have tried to convey an impression that he was an aberration, that he was doing something no one else in this country could ever even remotely be expected to do. They wrote Dorner off as a “madman,” as a “crazy person.”
These reports, in my opinion, have been irresponsible and significantly lacking in perspective or journalistic integrity.
How can we in this country realistically look at the inhumane conditions being faced, today by nearly one million U.S. veterans of the recent wars and believe that these desperate military-trained men and women will just simply return home from a brutal war, where they were carefully trained to kill the enemy, and sit quietly in their respective corners unemployed, unhealthy and homeless into their senior years?
How can we not be concerned that, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan totally "wind down," that the U.S. is planning to bring “home” an additional 307,000 equally desperate veterans, each year, over the next four years?
Where will they live? Who will employ them? How will they be educated to become useful contributors to this economy? Who will be available to counsel them when their frustration has reached the boiling point? Why doesn’t our government care about its military veterans, as it used to?
These are all critical questions and issues that absolutely have to be addressed, if we want to prevent the violent emergence of hundreds and thousands more white and Black, “Christopher Dorners."
At the end of today, our country’s greatest challenge really does boil down to whether we will ever be fully committed to fair treatment and the provision of reasonable economic opportunity for all U.S. citizens.
When we stop addressing those issues, as we seem to have done in the case of our dangerously overworked military forces, and our callously disregarded military veterans, we do raise the prospect of having even more deadly “manifestos.”
We should know better. We can do better.
Have you seen the recent weather report, the one about the threat of major blizzard conditions scheduled to hit the Northeast part of the country?
When you hear about those things, do you simply resign yourself to being a “weather victim,” popping down to Wal-Mart’s to buy a couple of bags of salt, picking up a new shovel, digging out the heavy boots, dusting off those old earmuffs?
Do you make that Pavlovian move to the grocery store to buy “provisions and “essentials?”
Not me. Not as much as I used to.
Every time I hear that we’re facing a spell of severe weather, I think about the old anonymous quote: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
I think about that, mainly, because I fully realize that that statement is no longer true.
The truth is that people are modifying the weather, every day, all over the world, for good and evil purposes. They’re practicing weather manipulation to gain economic advantage and, more and more, to explore its application for global war.
If you’re paying attention, then you, too, understand that the days of simply believing everything your friendly local TV weatherperson tells you have long gone. The topic of weather, today, is a lot more complicated than that.
Because I’ve looked at the history, and because I do try to stay current about modern forms of man-made weather patterns, I’ve grown a bit cynical about the old, standby broadcast weather reports.
Anymore, when I hear that there’s a tsunami approaching a part of the world where they had previously been unknown, when I see coastal waters rising and wiping out parts of new Jersey and New York that have long been considered safe from such conditions, when I see snow storms in parts of the American South wherein snowflakes had previously been unknown, my trusty old sense of paranoia kicks right in.
I simply no longer believe that “bad weather” is simply a function of the "luck of the draw." Rather, I find myself thinking stuff like: “Who decided to send that severe tornado, or earthquake, to that poor country?
“Why are the powerful, scientifically endowed people of the world picking on poor Haiti, e.g.,by sending them historically significant hurricanes and earthquakes, one after another?”
Is it me?
Every time I start going off the deep end about the meteorological mayhem being created by 21st century “weather modifiers," I have to remind myself that this whole “trying to change the weather thing” didn’t start, just recently.
The reality is that there is ample evidence that mankind, dating from early India, where religious leaders led chants to create rainfall, to the ancient Greeks, who offered human sacrifices to calm the seas during their voyages, has never been quite satisfied with the weather that has been sent his/her way.
During the days of the Roman Empire, the citizens would periodically drag a huge, sacred stone inside the walls of the city, because they believed that act had the power to end droughts.
In more recent times, in a run-up to the Beijing Olympics, it was widely reported that Chinese officials had made it very clear that they simply would not tolerate bad weather during their Games. Indeed, word was leaked that on the day of the Games' opening ceremony, in August, 2008, the Chinese actually launched more than 1,100 “rain dispersal rockets,” designed to re-direct rain clouds headed toward their stadium areas. So intent were the Chinese on modifying their weather, that they launched the rockets from 21 various sites, over an eight-hour period.
According to the Institute for Defense Study Analysis, following their success at the Olympics, the Chinese began to deploy as many as 37,000 people to work on weather modification activities, at a cost of about $63 million per year.
More recently, the world has learned that the United Arab Emirates has conducted experiments wherein they were able to create more than 50 artificial rainstorms. These, by the way, weren’t your average, mid-Atlantic region, April afternoon rainstorms. No, these were the kind that included hail, powerful gales and thunderstorms, conditions virtually unknown in that part of the world.
So, what’s the big deal, you say? What’s a little rain or snow, no matter how it’s caused?
Well, how about this?
There’s proof that the American military, during the Vietnam War, used cloud seedings over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which led directly to a 30 percent increase in rainfall in that area, in 1967 and 1968. Even though that was taking place nearly 50 years ago, most people don’t yet realize that, today, the U.S. military maintains “weather warfare” facilities to modify weather patterns for military purposes.
Most Americans also have no idea that, in 2005, the U.S. military produced a very detailed report entitled “Owning The Weather," which stated in its opening pages that, by the year 2025, “U.S. aerospace forces can “Own the weather” through strategic use of technological resources and extending them to war-fighting applications."
When you realize that such activities are in play, here, and in other powerful nations around the world, how can you continue to take any future weather pattern for granted?
How can you accept that adverse weather conditions, e.g., excessive snow as we’re experiencing now, extreme hurricane conditions that were deceivingly called “Sandy” by the licensed meterologists, or the all-too frequently occurring earthquakes, which seem, each year, to spread closer and closer to home?
If you think back, you realize that there really was a time when we could be significantly unconcerned about what, if anything, was causing our weather conditions. There really was a time when we believed that our grandmothers actually could predict the rain by whether or not they felt that recurring “itch” in the palm of their left hand.
Hey, I believed it.
As I said, it was a much different time.
But things are much different, weather-wise, also in China. As compared to their sophisticated high-tech weather modification apparatus, there really was a time when the Chinese people believed, as people around the world did that, "If people can clearly hear the cricket chirp at night, it can be predicted that the weather the next day will be fairly good."
The Chinese also had another proverb, in more innocent times, that informed them that, “If the ant hill is closed, a thunderstorm is on the way.”
Things have clearly moved from that kind of thinking, in China, today, just as they have in the good old U.S.A.
For me, now, whenever there’s a report of another record-breaking storm, I wonder who planned it.
When I hear that snow is headed for Massachusetts, as it is this weekend, I can’t help but wonder if some scientifically proficient enemy, thousands of miles away, has arranged for that to happen.
Some of my best friends commonly refer to that as "conspiracy theory" thinking on my part. But I respond that there is simply too much supportive evidence about the strides being taken in the area of weather modification not to take this all very seriously.
The next time someone asks you about the weather, maybe you should ask to see their passport.
And, hey, it’s cold outside, stay warm.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc.
It’s Superbowl Sunday and, as a business professional, my first thought is not about whether the Baltimore Ravens’ defense can shut down the San Francisco 49ers’ potent offense. No, as hard it may be to believe, I don’t even give a whit about whether Beyonce is going to break down and actually sing her own songs, at half-time, or whether she will, once again, opt to do a 21st-century “Milli Vanilli,” before 110 million viewers.
No, every time I think of the Super Bowl, I think of the money that is being made from the event. The advertising revenues, the ticket prices scaled for “the 1 percent,” the food and beverages that will be purchased, and the tax write-offs that 35 percent of the attendees/party-goers will claim.
For me, as an African-American businessman, it makes me a little sad, at this time each year, to realize that Black players will constitute about 75 percent of the Super Bowl’s participants, but that there is precious little evidence, that Black-owned businesses, or business owners, will generate significant revenue opportunities, from the big game, on any level.
It’s not as if there is not enough money to go around, at the Super Bowl. Indeed, it’s estimated that for last year’s game, TV revenues, based on counts of the eyeballs of 111 million viewers, were a record-setting $250 million. That’s what you get, I guess, when you charge $3.5 million for each 30-second TV commercial.
How much of that money was generated by, or placed through, black-owned advertising agencies? How many promotional dollars for the game, itself, or for advertising related to the game, were spent in African American-owned media outlets?
Shouldn’t we “curb our enthusiasm” about the wonderfulness of the Super Bowl, just a bit, until we get some answers to those questions, or better yet, until we get some meaningful participation in those revenues?
Are we a part of the reason that the network can charge $3.5 million for each Super Bowl TV spot? As Sarah Palin might say, “You betcha!”
Take the 2010 Super Bowl, for example. Of the total $106.5 million TV viewers for that year’s game, overall, Blacks represented 11.2 million people, or 10.5 percent of the total audience. Based on that, one might reasonably conclude that, without the Black audience, each Super Bowl 30-second spot would have generated 10.5 percent, or $283,500, less revenue. That means that the $151 million in TV revenues, that year, would have been about $15.8 million less, without those 11.2 million Black viewers.
I don’t know — that sounds like big money to me. Did Black businesses share in any of that?
That’s the kind of stuff I think about.
Hey, in between the Super Bowl’s exciting kick-off returns, crisp passes and jarring tackles, as an entrepreneur, I just can’t help but reflect on the fact that, each year, during the Super Bowl, about 8 million pounds of popcorn and 28 million pounds of potato chips are consumed.
How about the fact that about 1 billion chicken wings “bite the dust,” during each Super Bowl, and more than 325 million gallons of beer are guzzled?
With the fact that overwhelmingly high percentages of African Americans now live in what are now called “food deserts,” or areas where there is an absence of large grocery stores, chances are great that, even when Blacks did buy some of those chips and wings, they didn’t buy them from an African-American business.
But, there’s more. In recent years, more than $11 billion has been spent on Super Bowl-related purchases. And, if Backs are 10.5 percent of the Super Bowl audience, then we are probably good for about $1.2 billion of that total. How many Black retailers are able to sell official Super Bowl hats, shirts, banners, tablecloths, or hoodies, into that overall market? How many Black buyers of such items are seeking out African-American businesses to make their purchases?
That’s not all. Now, we get to the “Best Buy” part of the story. Last year, it was estimated that Super Bowl fans, anxious to watch the game with the newest, latest equipment, bought 5 million new TVs, in preparation for the day’s activities.
How many Black-owned stores are selling those flat screens? How many African Americans are equity owners in Best Buy?
So, I guess, with all the Super Bowl euphoria, and all the billions of dollars passing hand-to-hand, Black Americans, once again, are not even involved in the economic part of the “big game.”
Someone estimated that at the 2011 Super Bowl, about 600 private jets were employed to fly the big spenders in and out of the city where the game was played. Tickets to that game were selling online at a price ranging from $2,100 to $2,300, each, and some tickets actually wound up going for prices as high as $15,000. Hey, if you wanted to bring along a few of your closest friends and watch the game from a field-level luxury box, the rental of that box would cost you $650,000.
I wonder how many African Americans were flying in on those jets — or even better — how many were selling or leasing those planes to the deep-pocketed fans.
Not many, again?
You’re probably right.
Now, I’m not saying that the NFL has not made any progress, at all, in the area of off-the-field, executive suite inclusion, because they actually have.
Look, according to the Institute for Diversity in Ethics and Sport, the National Football League now employs 11 “people of color” at or above the vice president level.
There are now 13 people of color working as vice presidents on the 32 NFL teams. At the same time, of the 32 teams, absolutely none has an African-American majority owner, and 31 of the owners happen to be males.
Can you spell “old boy’s club?” I thought you could.
If 75 percent of the Super Bowl players are Black, shouldn’t that community be more focused, now, on gaining majority ownership of a few of those teams, whose values recently have risen as high as $2.1 billion, for the Dallas Cowboys?
Wouldn’t it seem that African Americans, who are already among the most loyal and avid football fans in the country, anyway, would enjoy Super Bowl Sunday even more, or at least as much as their peers of European descent, if they knew the game was also putting money in their own families’ pockets?
It’s not like I’m not interested in the exploits of the Ray Lewises, Vernon Davises and Ray Ricees, who will actually be playing in this year’s Super Bowl. I just think it’s time for us to take more interest in emulating the Jeffrey Luries, the Jerry Joneses, the Jim Irsays and the Robert Krafts, who actually own the teams, and the player contracts, and make the lion’s share of the money from the game we love so much.
As much as economically marginalized African Americans think they currently enjoy the Super Bowl, I strongly believe they would enjoy it infinitely more if they actually shared in the game’s enormous economic benefits.
I don’t know. That’s what’s usually on my mind each Super Bowl Sunday.
What will you be thinking about?
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc.
When Oshunbumi Fernandez called me a couple of weeks ago, and asked me to listen to another of her new, “whiz-bang” ideas, I already knew I was in trouble.
As I’ve made clear in this space before, there are very few people in Philadelphia whom I respect more that Lois Fernandez, the founder of the Odunde Festival, and her daughter, whom the whole city knows, simply, as Bumi.
Lois, of course, is the family visionary, the person who, 38 years ago, co-founded the West African-themed festival that annually attracts hundreds of African vendors and musicians and nearly half a million of the rest of us to 23rd & South Streets, and to the banks of the Schuylkill River, where the highly successful event has always been held.
But, if Lois is the family visionary, then Bumi is the 21st Century, Millennial, idea-generator of the Fernandez family. In recent years, she has received the chief executive's baton from her mom, and has never stopped running with it.
You’d think that would be enough. Not for Bumi. It’s a rare week, or month, that she’s not calling, texting, emailing or tweeting her newest/latest concept to grow the Odunde brand, and to help support the people in her city-wide community.
As I said, a few weeks ago, I took the call, not really sure just what Bumi had up her highly creative sleeves, this time.
But, all of a sudden, there it was.
In her normal, 200-words-per-minute delivery, Bumi was explaining to me a concept that she said was just what Philadelphia’s Black community has long needed. As if that already wasn’t enough to hook me, she then went on to explain that this was a program idea that she planned to implement every other month, here, locally, and then roll out onto a national stage, in other cities.
What it was, was a brilliant concept called “My Story,” which would essentially consist of two or three African Americans of proven achievement, who would be asked to share with young people, college students, entrepreneurs, and others, just what it took to move them from point A, to the success they eventually achieved.
As Bumi explained it, young Black people are finding it increasingly difficult to gain the attention of potential role models. There can never be enough mentors, it seems, for those who need them. This program would be established to offer young, and other interested people in our community, open and direct access to information about successful people in our community, that’s not generally available.
The format would be designed to encourage, to motivate, to have people understand that virtually everyone who is black and currently successful, has faced challenges that required unique creativity, a special diligence and strong networking skills.
I told Bumi I thought the concept was both sound and timely.
I had no idea.
She asked me to think through the format for the first “My Story” with her, and to assist her with her own, prodigious promotional skills.
We wound up with having the first “My Story” program on extremely short notice, by my standards, on Jan. 23. If you know anything at all about Bumi Fernandez, you’re aware that she always opts to err on the side of doing it now, rather than later – whatever it is. So it was with the first “My Story.”
The first three panelists, it was decided, would be Ahmeenah Young, CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Rahim Islam, president of the Universal Companies, and me.
Bumi, herself, served as moderator.
The event was held at the African-American Museum of Philadelphia and an audience of about 70 people was in attendance.
The panelists were seated in luxurious, bright red, overstuffed chairs at the center of the stage, in an intimate, “Charlie Rose” kind of way.
Now, I’ve known both Ahmeenah and Rahim for more years than I care to mention, now, and thought I knew them both. This new format revealed that I couldn’t have been more wrong.
"My Story" brilliantly allowed/caused the three of us to share with the audience information about our respective backgrounds, about our early plans and aspirations, that have, honestly, never been shared before, in a public forum.
From Ahmeenah, we learned that, to a significant degree, her professional motivation included having a grandmother who was a Black Quaker and a grandfather who was an always-impeccably dressed and dignified banker in her community – a “numbers banker,” she eventually discovered. He, nevertheless, served as a model for professional excellence and for never believing, even for a second, that there would ever be any challenge or any responsibility that young Ahmeenah could not handle.
We further learned that a part of her unique and obviously effective preparation for a ground-breaking career in the hospitality industry was her early family home experiences, in South Philadelphia. It was during a period when some of the nation’s most prolific and legendary jazz artists would come to perform at two nationally recognized jazz venues in the community, “Peps” and “Showboat.”
As was the case for most great Black artists who performed in Philadelphia, at that time, they were welcomed to perform at the city’s jazz clubs – they just weren’t invited to book rooms in any of the city’s prestigious hotels.
That being the case, some of the biggest names in jazz wound up staying with Ahmeenah's family, and other black families who lived right off of South Street, during their performances in the city.
Who knew? No wonder, as Ahmeenah informed us, she now takes piano lessons to ease the stress of running one of the country’s largest convention centers. No wonder the music seems to come to her so naturally.
From Rahim, we learned that he had had a career in Corporate America before moving to co-found Universal, with Kenny Gamble. Like so many other black professionals, after too many frustrating years, he had hit the “black ceiling” in that environment, and decided to branch out into a career that would have him use his considerable financial management skills in helping the African-American community.
It sounds like a nice, neat story, but who knew before his “My Story” presentation, that Rahim worked for the first three years, at Universal — for absolutely no salary.
One young, Black, female, recent-college-grad, during the question-and-answer period, expressed frustration with being the “only one on her job," and with having to work until 7 p.m., from time-to-time, to keep ahead of the competition.
It was then that Ahmeenah explained to the “next great female executive” in our city, that she, Ahmeenah, periodically has had to work straight through the entire night, at the Convention Center, leaving only to go home, take a shower, and return to finish the job.
That, like so many other points in the first, “My Story” seminar, was a true wake-up call for the questioner and for others in the room who came to hear the “secrets to success.”
What they learned, I imagine, is that the “secrets” include “remaining true to your own identity, and close to your friends and family; working hard,; relaxing just as diligently; never letting anyone tell you that you can’t get anything done; and that virtually none of those who have achieved in our community was born with a "silver spoon in their mouths," as they might have suspected.
Judging by the audience’s response, the first “My Story” was a smashing success.
Was that enough for an idea-a-minute Bumi?
As I went up to take my own seat on the stage, her question to me was: ‘Mr. Crawley, do you think that I can turn this program into a book?”
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc.
As a cycling enthusiast, I’m not really feeling the whole “Lance Armstrong confession thing.” In fact, I’m feeling pretty much Lanced-out, and Oprah’ed-to-death.
I imagine Oprah is happy, though. That’s usually the case when your exclusive, two-part interview is simulcast to more than 100 countries in Western Europe, Latin America and Asia, and on several other cable networks. I have nothing, at all, against cable networks and celebrities using their promotional muscle to build audiences and to make a buck. After all, that, too, is “the American way.”
What I am deeply concerned about, on the other hand, is the absolute lack of perspective about, and knowledge of, cycling — and of world-class athletes, in general — on the part of mainstream media outlets that have been piling on to trash Armstrong, not just now, but over the past several years.
Their premise seems to be that, before Lance Armstrong came along, the athletes who inhabited the world of Grand Tour road races were as pure as the driven snow. Even worse, in their collective rush to judgment, it seems, not very many of Armstrong’s accusers have even bothered to find out just how grueling and, perhaps, inhumane, the Tour de France actually is.
For example, in most years, since its founding in 1903, the Tour has been a 2,200-mile-long race, conducted over a 23-day period, through fair and inclement weather, on flat lands, cobblestones, gravel roads, hills and snowcapped mountains. That averages out to more than 100 miles per day, for three straight weeks. The average speed for the 150-200 Tour participants, over the entire course, has been about 24 miles per hour. Over the years, some of the time-trial (sprint) riders in the Tour have reached speeds of more than 34 miles per hour, and maintained that pace, over a ten-mile course.
By comparison, the average “winning speed” for the country’s top-tier horse race, the Kentucky Derby, has been 37 miles per hour over the past 50 years or so. By the way, those horses — the best in the world — only have to maintain that pace for 1¼ miles, and when it’s over, they are visibly fatigued.
Please raise your hand if you think, for a second, that you could just step up and be a Tour de France competitor, no matter how many “performance-enhancing drugs” you ingested.
I don’t see many hands. Quite frankly, I didn’t think I would.
Maybe you’re aware that, periodically, Tour de France participants have actually died on the course, riding their bikes over the edge of mountains, crashing and dying on 55 mile descents, and expiring from heart failure.
No, the Tour de France has never been for the faint of heart, and like world-class athletes in other sports, its participants have always sought competitive advantage.
I read, recently, that, in Ancient Rome, gladiators consumed substances to “pump them up” and to make their fights more spectacular, and that athletes, in antiquity, “used hashish, cola plants, cactus-based stimulants and fungi” to enhance their competitive performances.
It’s also been reported that Dutch swimmers, in national competitions, in 1865, used stimulants, and that, as early as the late 19th century, “European cyclists were using a multitude of drugs — from caffeine to ether-coated sugar cubes to a cocaine-laced wine — to alleviate the pain and exhaustion resulting from their sport.”
Not surprisingly, from its very earliest years, various forms of “doping” have been in wide use at the Tour de France. Over the past 50 years, a significant majority of the race’s top finishers confessed to, or tested positive for, drug use to assist them in getting to the finish line.
In fact, when cycling’s governing body, the U.C.I., stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven first-place finishes, recently, it was perhaps understandable that they didn’t automatically bestow the iconic, first-place, yellow jersey on the person who had finished second in those seven events. The problem was this: In each of the years Armstrong placed first (1999–2005), the second- and third-place finisher had also confessed to, been accused of, or tested positive, for performance-enhancing drugs.
If you believe Ms. Winfrey and her colleagues, however, including, shamefully, ESPN, which ought to know better, Lance Armstrong, single-handedly created the concept of using stimulants to withstand the rigors of a totally debilitating, physically dangerous, but highly popular and profitable sporting event, whose revenues have been estimated, in recent years, at $200 million.
In cases such as this, of course, you don’t kill the sport, you don’t threaten the TV revenues or the brands of the deep-pocketed sponsors, heaven forbid. No, you pick one, poor, sucker to throw under the bus, for the good of the entire lucrative enterprise.
This year, the “sucker” happens to be Lance Armstrong.
Last year, Levi Leipheimer, one of Lance’s former team-mates was asked whether he had ever used, or thought about using, performance-enhancing drugs. He said, “All I ever wanted to do in life, since my teenaged years, was to ride, one day, in the Tour de France. So, I moved to Belgium to pursue a professional cycling career, to live with people I didn’t know, whose language I didn’t speak, and whose culture I didn’t understand.
“I worked hard for years and applied myself,” Leipheimer added, “to being able to join a team, as part of a major Tour event. One day, I was informed that, at that level, my choices were, to either, take performance-enhancing drugs to improve the team’s overall effectiveness … or go home. After all those years, after all of that hard work and sacrifice, I decided that I wasn’t going home.”
None of this institutional pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs is new to athletes. If they were gladiators, in Ancient Rome, they would have known the drill. If they were female swimmers on the East German Olympic team, given a steady diet of anabolic steroids, they would know precisely what was expected of them. If they are members, today, of a professional football team, concerned that they’ll be cut from their multi-million dollar contract, if they don’t very quickly “make weight,” and gain strength, no one has to draw them a map.
These athletes are forced to operate within a system, however, that makes it clear that if they get caught doing precisely what their sport, or indeed, their nation, has demanded they do to achieve maximum performance, they will be expected to “take the hit,” on their own.
I think about all of that when I see the pompous voters for Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame turn down Barry Bonds as a member, because he has been suspected of using “human growth hormones,” a performance-enhancing drug.
These voters have, so far, cynically made the case that “human growth hormones” were the sole reason that Mr. Bonds played so well, over his 22-year career, generated nearly 3,000 hits, including 762 homeruns, amassed 514 stolen bases and earned eight Gold Gloves for defensive excellence. Tell me, how does a “human growth hormone” help you catch balls hit to the outfield in a major league baseball game?
Maybe the next time Ms. Winfrey wants to talk to somebody about “performance-enhancing drugs,” she ought to invite in a few top-tier business executives who depend, every day, on white-collar “performance-enhancing” pain-killers, such as Oxycontin and Percocet, to allow them to get through their work day, pain-free.
Or maybe Oprah, or Matt, or Anderson, or Piers, can drag in some current university students who commonly use pharmaceutical “study drugs,” such as Adderall and Ritalin, to enhance their ability to study.
I can go on, but I think you get my point. Today, it’s Armstrong. It’s anybody’s guess as to whom the bus will roll over next week.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc.