OP-ED: Jean Valjean, Meet Lance Armstrong

By Shelly Saltman

There are a great many things that have disappointed me these days. Like most Americans, I have been disappointed by the length and the disparaging remarks that permeated our recently concluded Presidential Election.

I am disappointed with the interaction of many of today’s professional athletes with the fans. I am appalled that many families fear going to the Arena, Stadium, or Ball Park to enjoy an event.

I do not approve of cheating in order to win… either by intentional bad calls, or the use of performance enhancing drugs. But most of all I am disappointed in the media who many times elevate an athlete to hero status, only to viciously tear him down.

I have studied the landscape and I see how there is a prevalent move to keep Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame even though he is more worthy than 90 percent of the members already enshrined. Roger, it is insinuated, took PED. I do not know whether he did, or didn’t. However, there are two things I do know.

First, those standing in judgment probably never pitched, or for that matter, even thrown a baseball professionally. Or the lack of Hall of Fame support for Mark McGwire. Is he guilty of taking Steroids? His guilt has never been proven. Second, are we going to see another “Witch Hunt” as with Lance Armstrong?

It reminds me of the great 19th Century book by Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables”. Jean Valjean was convicted of trumped up charges and by testimony attributed to his peers. Valjean was sent to the infamous prison Bagne of Toulon on an island in the Mediterranean.

Valjean escaped and became a pillar of society, doing much good. Later, it was found that he had had been wrongly sentenced and was pardoned.

However, Inspector Javert -- who had originally been instrumental in Valjean’s capture -- would not hear of his innocence and continued to pursue him.

Now in the 21st Century, Travis Tygart, the CEO of the USADA could easily be mistaken for Inspector Javert. Even though after two years the United States Justice Department found no evidence of Lance Armstrong’s misdeeds. Yet, through persistence and peer pressure, he was able to bring down Lance, (in this case Valjean). In the world of sport and in the eyes of millions of people.

What a miscarriage of justice and shabby treatment of a man who has given so much! Let’s assume he did what he was accused of. Accepting that fact, we cannot and must not overlook the good he did with the celebrity he was given.

In preparation for this article, I read many reports mostly from oncologists connected with some of America’s great cancer Hospitals, among them, M.D. Anderson, Houston; Sloan-Kettering, New York; Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, Maryland and Mayo Clinic, Minnesota.

While doing my research, my cousin Martha Birnbaum from Boston sent me an article that mirrors what other oncologists told me. Writing for the Boston Globe Magazine, Dr. Lawrence Shulman, chief of staff of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute wrote:

“ In the light of recent events surrounding Lance Armstrong’s cycling career, some people may be questioning whether they can still see him as a hero. They can! Lance --- and the Lance Armstrong Foundation --- have an unrivalled commitment to improving the lives of Cancer Patients in the United States and around the world. The Foundation has raised over half a billion dollars for cancer research."

No other athlete in the history of the world, or for that matter, many men have had a greater impact for good than Lance Armstrong.

Now, here’s the rub! The Foundation he founded has walked away from him feeling he has been tainted. Sponsors have left him and most appalling of all, some well-known contributors have asked for their donations back.

So, who is the real villain… Valjean, or Javert?


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Sheldon Arthur "Shelly" Saltman's 50-plus year career in sports includes being the first president of Fox Sports, running the LA office for Mark McCormack, and creator of the bicycle race Tour de California. Saltman was born Aug.17, 1931 in Boston, MA.
But in the eyes of the general public he is perhaps best known as the man that Evel Knievel tried to beat to death with a baseball bat.
Shelly has created, written, and produced shows for television such as Pro-Fan, Challenge of the NFL Cheerleaders (an early “reality” show), and the movie "Ring of Passion" about the fights between American boxer Joe Louis and German champion Max Schmeling in the years leading up to World War II. Shelly is also the author of various books including EVEL KNIEVEL ON TOUR by Sheldon Saltman with Maury Green (1977 / Dell Publishing) and FEAR NO EVEL: An Insider’s Look At Hollywood as told to Thomas Lyons by Shelly Saltman (January 2007 / We Publish Books).

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