As most of you reading this will already know, cyclist Ryder Hesjedal – Canada’s only Grand Tour winner – admitted Wednesday that a decade ago, when he was a mountain bike racer, he used performance enhancing banned substances.
He issued a statement confirming this after allegations made by Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen in his upcoming book Yellow Fever were revealed by the Danish publication Politiken. His team, the national federation (Cycling Canada), and the anti-doping agencies for Canada (CCES) and the U.S. (USADA) also released statements, deploring the acts, praising him for coming forward, and pointing out that it was outside of the Statute of Limitations.
The media all had a brief frenzy over it [I and other cycling ‘experts’ were invited onto TV and radio to discuss it, as usual] and, 24 hours later into the media cycle, it was basically over – the last search for news items I did shows nothing newer than Thursday morning.
So that’s it? A brief mea culpa, a shrug of the shoulders and we are done?
We seem to have reached a point in our society where issuing an apology is all it takes for complete rehabilitation. A politician lies, brokers in a financial institute make massive gambles with other people’s money, and athletes in a variety of sports cheat.
Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry .... now can I get back to what I was doing before?
I’m not trying to pick specifically on Mr. Hesjedal here, nor Michael Barry [another Canadian cyclist] before him, nor a number of other athletes from other sports caught up in the same boat. What I am pointing the finger at is what seems to be a disturbing trend: get caught doing something wrong, make a public apology in a completely stage-managed fashion, don’t engage, hunker down and wait it out.
It is too professional, too ‘cost-of-doing-business’. There is no acknowledgement of the people hurt – other athletes, sponsors, fans – no explanation, no responsibility, no attempt at atonement. No sense of visible or physical contrition. This is not an apology, it’s a public relations campaign.
Here’s an example: When the USADA Reasoned Decision came out last fall detailing the reasons for sanctioning Lance Armstrong, including all the names of athletes who had given testimony, we received [along with many other media outlets] simultaneous e-mails from a law firm containing statements by Mr. Armstrong’s team mates George Hincapie and Michael Barry. Other than swapping out names, both were identical, and contained a short, succinct summary plus an apology. Neither athlete would do interviews. Mr. Hesjedal’s admission followed an almost identical script. Neither athlete has provided further explanations of what led them to cheat and lie.
That sounds pretty harsh, but what else are we left to go on? I’ve known both Michael Barry and Mr. Hesjedal for years, I have respected them as athletes, and I expected better. I would have hoped for some sort of understanding of what led to these decisions, why they felt compelled to follow the paths they did. That understanding would certainly have helped me believe and accept their apologies.
In fact, I feel that they owe it to me if they want me to accept their apologies. They have represented my country and my sport. They accepted the cheers and support – both tangible and intangible – from the fans who came out, the local amateur race organizers from when they started, the local businesses who first sponsored them, the teams that ran on shoestring budgets, the provincial and national sports organizations that selected them for world championships and Olympic spots ... all of these deserve more than a quick ‘Sorry.’
I requested an interview with Mr. Hesjedal, and I received (from the team’s communications department) a stock reply that he was doing no interviews because of the ‘ongoing investigation into cycling’. Really? USADA didn’t even include his name in the Reasoned Decision because they decided it had little to do with the Lance Armstrong investigation. This sounds more like a convenient excuse for not having to actually explain himself.
In some ways – and it pains me to say it – I have more respect for the likes of other disgraced cyclists like Tyler Hamilton and David Millar. They at least gave me an explanation of what led to their actions.
So, sorry Ryder, sorry Michael, I don’t accept your apologies at this time. You need to earn my forgiveness.
Robert Jones is the Editor of CanadianCyclist.com . He has covered the world of professional cycling for over three decades.