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Armstrong v. Armstrong – One Small Step, One Giant Turd

We lost a truly great one this week folks.  And we also revealed a bad one.

When I was a boy, my hero was Neil Armstrong.  In fact, he still is to this day.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, captured my imagination like the Apollo space program and man’s ambitious goal to reach for the stars.  I read everything I could lay my hands on regarding the space program. I had newspaper clippings and magazine articles and pictures taped to my bedroom walls. I watched every telecast, taking great delight as I saw one of the most trusted and venerable old men in the world, Walter Cronkite, turn into a gushing, enthusiastic kid just like me. 

It was beyond a passion; it was an obsession.  Hell, I still have a Polaroid picture of our black-and-white TV screen, taken the moment Armstrong’s foot first touched the lunar surface. 

For those too young to know what I’m talking about, that’s the 1969 equivalent of taking a “screen capture” on your computer or PVR.

And no one personified the quest to reach the moon in a more compelling and personal way (for me at least) than Neil Armstrong. 

That’s really quite unfair to Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins (his shipmates) and to ALL the pioneers who blazed the path before them…the men who risked their lives in previous Apollo missions (and the members of Apollo One; Roger Chaffee, Virgil Grissom and Edward White, who actually did lose their lives) so that Armstrong could be the first person from planet earth to set foot on the Sea of Tranquility.

But it is what it is.  Neil Armstrong was the focal point of a decade-long quest and the incredible effort to achieve ‘the impossible dream.’ 

It was the single-most audacious venture in human history.  And to this day, I’m hard-pressed to think of something…anything, that’s happened since then, that tops it.

All of that explains why Armstrong was my hero then.  And perhaps it explains a large part of why he’s still a hero of mine now.  That kind of heroism doesn’t have a half-life…it’s eternal.

But here’s the rest of the reason:

After achieving this remarkable feat and returning to earth, Armstrong let his deeds speak for themselves…and did virtually nothing to build up his own lustre or value in the public spotlight.  In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of ANY situations where I saw him in public after the mammoth Apollo 11 ticker tape parade took place in New York City.  He virtually disappeared from sight.

Can you imagine a modern-day “hero” acting in this way?  You can’t, can you? 

In this day and age, virtually any other person who achieved even a fraction of what Armstrong achieved would have immediately hired a manager and an agent and a PR firm and gone on a full-tilt self-promotional blitz…cashing in on every opportunity that presented itself and squeezing every possible nickel they could out of their accomplishment.

And the list of opportunities would be endless.

Every product or service would be fair game for an endorsement and full-on advertising blitz.  Motor oil, cars, vacation destinations, restaurants, cereal, soft drinks, beer, clothing, casinos, video games, cell phones, websites, golf balls, personal hygiene products…you name it.

The endorsement sky would be the limit for a guy like Armstrong, if the moon landing had happened today.  In the modern era, he probably could have made a billion dollars a year, just by cashing in on his name and his accomplishment.  And that doesn’t even begin to cover the value of book deals and movie rights (move over JK Rowling!)

Roll the clock back to the 70’s and the numbers are more modest, of course.  BUT the opportunities would have been just as plentiful.

And yet what did Armstrong do?  He basically went into semi-seclusion for the rest of his life…content to let his contribution speak for itself, as he moved on to an important, but essentially behind-the-scenes role in NASA, followed by a career of teaching. 

In my research for this article (stunning isn’t it, I actually research the crap I write), I’ve discovered (much to my surprise) that he actually did act as a spokesman for a few companies…and sat on the boards of several corporations.  But I can’t for the life of me recall a single instance where I ever saw him hawking anything in a commercial (print or TV), can you?

He didn’t even sign autographs, once he realized they weren’t being collected as personal items, but were saleable commodities, commanding big bucks.

In that sense, Neil Alden Armstrong might have been one of the purest people humankind has ever produced.  His entire motivation was to explore, conquer the unknown and advance human knowledge…at the risk of his own life.  Thoughts of padding his own pocket didn’t appear to enter into the equation at all.

Remarkable isn’t it?

And sadly, it’s a concept that has become completely foreign to most of us.  In an age where we’ve become so used to the smallest person, cashing in on the tiniest achievement, to earn the maximum money and fame, a guy like Armstrong is more than an anomaly, he’s an absolute aberration.

In a world where so many seem to revere people like the Hilton and Kardassian sisters, who have achieved absolutely nothing (other than possessing DNA), to the point where they are apparently known only by their first names, a guy like Neil Armstrong just does not compute. 

You can see them rolling their eyes and shrugging their shoulders as they unthinkingly blurt out, “Who cares about some old guy who walked on the moon…tell me more about the (repulsive) characters on Jersey Shore!”

And this attitude was sadly reflected in NBC News on-line obituary for my hero…in which they referred to the first man to set foot on the moon as “Neil Young!”

And that’s truly a damned shame.

The Other Armstrong…

Coincidentally, another Armstrong was also in the news this week; Lance.

And just as Neil was the face of the Space program, so too was Lance the face of cycling. 

His exploits single-handedly turned an activity that many Americans saw as just the quaint transportation method of Chinese peasants seen on TV news footage, into a legitimate, honest-to-god, “we could actually care about this!” sport.

And, based on everything we now know, and the piles of evidence and testimony that have yet to be revealed, this Armstrong seems to be the antithesis of everything the other Armstrong stood for.  For all intents and purposes, his actions reveal him to be the Anti-Neil.

Lance Armstrong – The Turd de France.

This Armstrong made headlines this week by announcing he would abandon his defence against the United States Anti Doping Agency’s findings that he had cheated throughout most, if not all of his cycling career…and certainly the portion in which he won seven consecutive Tours de France. 

After trying to talk senior members of the US government (senators, governors and the like) into going into battle for him by pressuring the Agency into dropping their investigation, and failing…then launching several shaky lawsuits to prevent the USADA from pursuing their investigation and releasing their findings, and failing there too; Armstrong called a press conference to proclaim that he was through defending himself, packing it in.

Now, here’s where things get weird (at least from my perspective). You see, there are many people who interpret this move as the act of a tired, innocent man retreating from the good fight…rather than the last act of a cheat who knows that the game is finally up.

It’s probably because that’s exactly what he said; he was clean, he was tired of fighting…and he wanted to devote all his energies to his charity.

I have no doubt that Armstrong’s seemingly heroic sports accomplishments and involvement with cancer fundraising have tainted their objectivity quite a bit…seeing the world through steroid-coloured glasses.  But, how the hell can people still not put two and two together in a situation that seems so blatantly obvious?

For those who harbour an ounce of sympathy for this guy; who actually believe that he’s innocent, please consider the following;

1)      Despite his claims to the contrary, the USADA does have samples of Armstrong’s that contain evidence of steroids, doping, transfusions, whatever it is they found.  They have it.

2)      The USADA has assembled at least 10 witnesses who have first-hand knowledge of Armstrong using drugs, who overheard him describing to doctors the long list of illegal drugs he’s used, who saw him helping others use drugs and arranging for others to get access to drugs.  They have sworn affidavits already and the witnesses are prepared to testify.

3)      Several others; teammates, coaches and doctors of Armstrong’s have either confessed to their guilt, or have been found guilty, stripped of their titles and/or received lifetime bans.

4)      By dropping his defense, Armstrong has essentially cleared the final hurdle required to strip him of his 7 Tour de France titles…something that is scheduled to happen on Friday.

5)      Once the titles are gone, Armstrong will be forced to surrender the monies he earned through his victories.  This adds up to tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars.

6)      By dropping his defence and subsequently losing his titles, Armstrong will also face a series of law suits from past and present sponsors who paid to associate their corporate names with his name and accomplishments.  This also amounts to tens or hundreds of millions of dollars that he’ll lose.

7)      Finally, let’s not forget the spectre of going from global hero to global disgrace.

Now then, after reviewing all of that information, ask yourself if there is any way, ANY way at all, that Armstrong’s actions reflect the actions of an innocent man who is merely ‘tired” of fighting for what’s right.

No way.

Would anyone get “tired” of fighting a righteous battle for the truth, if their entire reputation and wealth were riding on it?

Please.

When we are faced with such overwhelming evidence (as we are here), it baffles me how people can choose to ignore what is right in front of their eyes and substitute reason and logic for their own opinions and emotions.

One of the biggest problems people have in seeing what seems to be the painfully obvious truth is in the wording Armstrong used in his press conference.  He used the sneakiest, most cowardly way he possibly could…by saying he was “tired of the fight and wanted to devote his energy to his charity.”

He said he was tired.  He said was the subject of a witch hunt.  He was fighting against an unfair, unconstitutional system.  He wanted to move on with his life and devote his energy to his charity.

Read through that again and look at all the sneaky buzz words and phrases he used.  It’s PR Spin Doctoring 101 folks. 

If you immediately want to get 30% of the American population in your corner, tell them you’re the victim of a witch hunt.  If you want to add another 10 or 20%, lob in a suggestion that your constitutional rights are being violated.  Need a few more points?  Play the martyr card.

I think it’s pretty revolting how manipulative his speech was…and stunning that so many people seemed to swallow it whole, despite the evidence piled up against him.

And for those of you who might be inclined to use the “they all do it, so why should he get busted” argument…please think it through.

Busting the guy who got away with cheating to the highest degree and earned the most by his actions is exactly what should be happening.  HE’s the guy they should prosecute the hardest…to send a clear message to all the cheats below him. No one should be above the rules.

Saying that “everyone does it, so going after Armstrong isn’t fair” is pretty twisted logic. It’s exactly like saying “everyone on Wall Street cheats, so the SEC was unfair to go after Bernie Madoff.”

As far as the accusation that he’s the victim of a “witch hunt,” there’s one important point that people seem to conveniently overlook; the USADA is going after one of their own. 

If they were making these claims against a Russian or a Frenchman, to the benefit of an American, the argument might hold some water.  But, that’s not the case here.  By taking these actions, the USADA is dismantling one of America’s “greatest sporting heroes” and turning him into a global disgrace.  Where’s the upside for them in this, unless they had the truth on their side?

As the evidence continues to mount, it seems apparent that Armstrong didn’t actually quit defending himself because he feared NOT getting a “fair trial.” He gave up his stalling and blocking tactics and the rest of his defense because he actually feared he WOULD get a fair trial. He knew his house of cards was crumbling down…and he would only inflict even more damage on himself (not to mention enormous legal bills) by fighting a battle he couldn’t and shouldn’t win.

And by the way, if Armstrong really is innocent, there’s one more important thing to remember; he actually does have the law in his favour.

He could make hundreds of millions of dollars by taking full advantage of the libel and slander civil laws…and suing the hell out of everyone who has accused him of cheating, who has claimed to witness him cheating, who has heard him rattling off the long list of drugs that he’s taken, and who has claimed to either buy drugs off of him, or said they saw him sell them or give them to someone else.

And the USADA is painfully aware of this too…lending all that much more credence to their actions.  They haven’t called him an ‘alleged cheat,’ they’ve come right out and said that he IS a cheater…and have opened themselves up to all manner of cripplingly expensive legal action if they don’t have the facts to back up their statements.  (FYI; “Alleged” is the media’s magical word when talking about a crime that hasn’t yet been proven.  As long as they use that, they’re bullet-proof from law suits).

So the question is this; why doesn’t he? In America’s ultra-litigious culture is seems like a no-brainer situation doesn’t it?  Someone says something against you, you sue.  A defamation of character suit isn’t really that hard to win.

For me, the answer to that question is because the truth is the best (and only real) defense against both slander and libel…and Armstrong simply doesn’t appear to have the truth on his side.

Where’s Waldo?

By the way, if you’re curious what Armstrong is doing right now, I’ll tell you: He’s probably locked up in a room with a team of spin doctors who are trying to plan out his nauseatingly predictable “Mea Culpa” confession/apology TV interview in the weeks or months to come.

Americans just love a repentant fallen hero.  It’s almost become a national sport.  (Ask Tiger Woods)

He’ll also be working with an acting coach, so he can cry on cue, instead of having to pull hairs out of his nostrils while no one is looking.

Meanwhile, his agent will be talking to all the networks to see who will pay the highest amount to get the exclusive rights to the interview. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox will be falling all over themselves trying to buy the broadcast.

“Stay tuned” indeed! This three-ring circus hasn’t even really started yet.

Isn’t this a golf column?

Hmmm…now that you mention it, I suppose it is.  Maybe I should talk about some golf here.

Round one of the PGA Playoffs started off with a bang…just like we were all hoping it would.  There were thrills, spills, heroic charges and huge disappointments typical of any major.  And after a pretty benign start, the track, Bethpage, was in Major championship tough condition by the time the weekend rolled around.

An easy-ish Thursday round on the course turned into a survival contest to stay only a few strokes over par if you were lucky enough to be playing on Sunday.

And the big winner was Nick Watney!  The other big winner was my daughter!!!

Yup…for the second time this season, the fickle finger of fate guided my daughter’s hand in just the right way…and her dart landed on the winner’s name.  Random chance defeats reason and research once again.

So much for all that homework I did!

Results – The Barclays

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter   & Dartboard)
Matt Kuchar T38  $        32,000 Rory McIlroy T24  $          56,700
Steve Stricker T54  $        18,000 Charl Schwartzel T24  $          56,700
Dustin Johnson T3  $      464,000 Vijay Singh T46  $          21,080
Adam Scott 62  $        17,280 Nick Watney 1  $      1,440,000
This Week’s Total  $      531,280 This Week’s Total  $      1,574,480
Season Total  $  33,820,168 Season Total  $      9,598,309

An embarrassing 3:1 margin of defeat to random chance!  It could have been worse I suppose; Dustin could have decided not to show up this week!

The Deutsche Bank

Unlike the Barclays, which rotates to one of 4 different New Jersey courses each year, the Deutsche Bank Championship is played on the same track every time; the TPC of Boston.

And that means that a valuable piece of prognosticational research comes back into play this week; the favourite old “horses for courses” method.  We can see who has played well here in the past, combine that with current form and hopefully not get our asses handed to us by our daughters again.

And with an even smaller field (only 98), the picking start to become a little thinner…making picking the winners a little easier, you’d think.

By the way, that whole “98” thing is the one major flaw I see in the entire PGA playoff structure…and the reason why we don’t award extra point for the first two Playoff events in the pool I run; they are skippable.

David Toms isn’t coming this week.  And stunningly, neither is last week’s third-place finisher (and Tour winner the week before that), Sergio Garcia.

If the playoffs start and you can actually advance to the next round by not showing up, something’s wrong with the system in my mind. 

Derek’s Picks

Luke Donald – I didn’t take him last week at Bethpage, because I didn’t think he had a very good chance there.  His 10th place finish suggests he just might have pulled it off, with a few breaks here and there.

This week in Bahstan is an entirely different story though…and I am putting him on my roster.

First, he has that excellent finish last weekend to draw on.  Second, Donald has played extremely well here in the past few seasons.  He was T3 last year and T2 the year before that.

Even though he’s had a hell of a good season, Donald has been solid, but largely unspectacular so far this year…by Donald 2011 standards. 

The one thing he’s missing to call it a really successful year is a BIG win…and I think this might be the week that he gets it.

Brandt Snedeker – If you scroll up a few paragraphs, then apply it to this pick, you should come to the same conclusion I did; Brandt Snedeker is the perfect confluence of the “horses for courses” method and current form.

In the past two years, Snedeker’s worst finish at the TPC of Boston is T5 (2010).  Last year he finished T3 here with Donald.

As far as current form goes, he’s the guy Sergio slipped under on 18 to finish in 3rd last weekend.  Snedeker put together a gutsy final round of 70 to finish in solo second at the Barclays. 

Add it all up and Snedeker should definitely be on your pick list this week.  He’s absolutely on mine.

Adam Scott – I really thought Scott would pull off some magic last week at Bethpage.  And, for a while there (Thursday and Friday) he seemed to be in the hunt.

However a smooth 74-75 weekend saw him plummet to a pretty dismal 62nd place finish…3 shots worse than Woods.

Despite that, this week the portents are screaming Scott’s name at me again…and I feel in the mood to listen.

In his last 2 appearances in Boston, Scott has finished T8 and T5. He like this course and he plays well here.  Not well enough to win so far, but pretty damned good, thank you.

And something in my gut says he has one more chance at a big win in him this season…and that when the opportunity presents itself again, he’s going to go all the way.  Given the way he’s played here in the past, this week seems to be the perfect time for Scott to win.

Jason Day – I know what you’re thinking.  I got so carried away in my drug story on Lance Armstrong that I did some drugs of my own before making this last pick.

You might be right.

Still, the way this season has gone, would it surprise anyone if a surprise winner like Day took the Deutsche Bank this week?

A year ago, he wouldn’t have been a surprise of course.  Day was “there” in almost every Major tournament.  This season has been a much different story however.  He’s been running so far under the radar for so long he has sap stains on his pants from the trees he’s been strafing.

In fairness, Day’s year really hasn’t been that bad.  But, it definitely hasn’t lived up to what we thought it was going to be coming off his hot 2011 season.  Not by a long shot.

Leaning on the horses for courses approach, it’s relevant to note that Day has finished in the top 5 in both of his last 2 appearances at the TPC of Boston.  He was T3 last year and T2 in 2010 (tying Luke Donald each time).  He also had a pretty good week, last week at Bethpage Black, where he finished T24.  If not for a wobbly Saturday 77, he could have been right there Sunday afternoon (where he shot 66).

Call me kooky.  Call me drug-addled.  But there’s something about Day that I just like this week.

(For the record, the guys I tossed off the bus this week to make room for Day and Scott were Dustin Johnson and Jason Dufner.  It definitely gets tougher to make these picks as the playoffs progress!)

And now that I’ve had my interminably long rant, here’s how daughter has conspired to get another win and shame her old man this week…

D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard):

Jonas Blixt

Brendon de Jonge

Louis Oosthuizen

Michael Thompson

And that’s all for this week folks.  As always, thanks VERY much for reading and for writing in…and for putting up with all this silliness.  Enjoy the tournament!

Cheers,

Derek

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derekaubrey

4 CommentsLeave a comment

    • You beat me to the punch man. I was going to post something similar just before Oosthuizen teed off for his final round this aft.

      Yup…this could be her SECOND consecutive win, while my carefully selected picks wallow in the muck.

      So much for all the research I put into this! I might as well spread dog treats on the pairings sheet and let our half-blind, diabetic Husky/Border Collie with the bad thyroid decide things for me. (We’re thinking of re-naming her “Lucky”)

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