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(NATHALIE MAGNIEZ)
(NATHALIE MAGNIEZ)

Usual Suspects

The Al Gore of sports Add to ...

Lance Armstrong is the Al Gore of sports. With his compelling recovery from cancer, his Livestrong bracelets and his dominating Tour de France performances, Armstrong brought people to cycling the way Gore had zealots flocking to his personal cause of global-warming catastrophe.

Gore's pet issue has been taking on water the past year after ClimateGate and a few other tussles with empirical data. And now it appears that, after a string of allegations about Armstrong using performance-enhancing drugs, the legal noose may finally be tightening on the celebrated cyclist. Despite the fact that Armstrong has never tested positive for PEDs, Armstrong is reportedly facing claims of fraud, perjury and drug use from federal officials in the United States after his ol' pals Floyd Landis, Greg LeMond (among others) ratted him out.

The justice system (led by Bonds' special agent Jeff Novitsky) will deal with the truth of the allegations. What's more interesting, however, is how will the media and the Hollywood crowd - who've elevated Armstrong to near-sainthood - deal with Armstrong if he is ever proven to be the Barry Bonds of cycling.

The media world has swallowed the man and his legend whole - and expanded it. Armstrong was named the 1999 ABC Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year. In 2002, Sports Illustrated named him Sportsman of the Year. He was also named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for the years 2002-2005. He received the Espy for Best Male Athlete in 2003-2006 (and hosted the 2009 show).Armstrong won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Overseas Personality Award in 2003.

Those are just the highlights. Armstrong is friends with president George W. Bush, for Pete's sake. The guy's Rolodex has more power names than Perez Hilton.

So how will the scribbling classes explain should Armstrong - after years of denials - be found to have used PEDs? Would the large swaths of the media, who've ignored the persistent drug claims to sing his praises, suddenly do an Emily Litella "Never mind..."? Would they apologize to readers/ viewers? Would they simply ignore the issue and hope it went away? There are no pretty options for those smitten with the Armstrong legend.

In a time when conventional media is trying to convince the public that they, not bloggers, are the sources of authority, Armstrong being defrocked would not strengthen their credibility. Call it a cautionary tale about distance and objectivity.

HNIC Producer Speaks Out: Sherali Najak, the now-former executive producer for Hockey Night in Canada, understands that, in the words of Tessio in The Godfather, it was just business.

"They wanted to take it in a new direction, and that's okay with me," Najak told Usual Suspects (confession: Najak once directed - if that was possible -Usual Suspects in a long-forgotten TV opus). "I'm proud of what we put on air. And I still support the show. It's a great franchise. It doesn't matter what title you have. You can still take possession of the property in whatever job you're doing."

Najak is returning to his first love, producing HNIC game casts from the production truck. Trevor Pilling hops into the hot seat as executive producer/ minder of Ron 'n Don. (That would be MacLean and Cherry, for the uninitiated.) The timing for a change was helped, in part, by the departure of game producer Doug Walton for Rogers Sportsnet's baseball broadcasts. Having grown up at CBC in production trucks and control rooms, it was a natural for Najak to fill the void left by Walton's departure.

"I'm happy with it," says Najak. "Doug leaving left an opening, and I stuck up my hand and said 'I'll do it'." As for how he'd like to take the look of the show now that he has his hands back on the wheel, he says, "I'd like to do more isolation cameras. Not so much the highlights themselves as following a single player back checking or performing a key role. I'd also like to capture more of the event feel in the buildings. Some teams have great in-house productions, and at times we didn't always convey that."

Open Ratings: The Canadian Open broadcast of Carl Pettersen's beer-fuelled comeback win on CBS did a respectable 1.4 rating - respectable for any tournament in which Tiger Woods takes a powder. Overnight ratings for Saturday and Sunday coverage increased by 43 per cent and 75 per cent respectively. Before you hold a ticker-tape parade, remember that last year's comparable coverage was rained out.

Memo To Sportsnet: Please spare us Sam Cosentino calling Blue Jays games. This past weekend saw Cosentino working the Toronto/ Detroit series while Buck Martinez, the regular host, was away at his other duties for TBS. Cosentino is a pleasant, earnest sort - ideal at doing junior hockey, his passion. He's apparently got a lot of baseball information in his head. But in the head and coming over the air are different animals. The tone of this weekend's games sounded like the regular host was locked in the washroom and Cosentino was simply filling time they found the key.

Sportsnet makes a big play out of its baseball coverage, blanketing the four regional channels with games. After such a huge investment, you'd think they could do better for a substitute host when Martinez is away.

Further note to Sportsnet: Find more ways to use Arash Madani. The host/reporter has yet to find a permanent niche at the network, but he is already one of their strongest studio and reporting presences. Madani's strong suit is CFL (he worked for two teams). Unfortunately, Sportsnet has little or no CFL profile. But he has the on-air authority that Cosentino lacks and a reporter's eye. Get this man to the top of the Sportsnet food chain.

Weighty Issues: Finally, what happens when a couple of fat guys get together live on air to talk weight loss. Charles Barkley, the round mound of sound on TBS' NBA telecasts was telling former pitcher David "Chunky" Wells, now TBS baseball announcer, that he needs to drop some kilos because of diabetes concerns. Wells commiserated, asking the 1993 NBA MVP if he was a full-blown diabetic. Not yet, said Barkley, "but I would hate to drop dead with all this money I've got."

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