Sports

5 Stupid Government Interventions in Sports

It didn't begin (and won't end) with Lance Armstrong getting stripped of his Tour de France titles.

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faster than any postal worker i know

The cyclist Lance Armstrong has never tested positive for banned substances despite years of being dogged by allegations that he used so-called performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005 and was given a clean bill of health after each victory.

Yet Armstrong was stripped of his Tour titles recently by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which is actually a "non-governmental" organization that receives about $10 million a year in funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy [pdf].

The USADA claims to have at least 10 former teammates who would testify against Armstrong. Armstrong has declined to participate further in inquiries. Under USADA rules, that counts as a confession and USADA says it has the authority to strip Armstrong of titles won in France because it is part of World Anti-Doping Agency and that WADA is bound by its members' decisions. Meanwhile, the International Cycling Union, which organizes the Tour de France, said it is waiting on the USADA's full explanation of its case against Armstrong. 

Whatever you think of Armstrong's guilt or innocence — and whether he's received due process or is getting screwed — his predicament underscores how government-funded agencies intervene in sports. Governments have never shied from meddling in athletics, in ways both big and small. Here are five egregious examples worth pondering in the wake of l'affaire Armstrong.

5. The Feds Tackle Steroids in Baseball

do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?

Congress' first foray into investigating steroid use in America's pastime this century came in 2005, when the House Government Reform Committee (seriously) hauled in Mark McGwire, who broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998. McGwire initially refused to answer questions about steroid use, but in 2010 he admitted to havig used steroids during his record-breaking season.

Federal investigators grew more aggressive in pursuing performance-enhancing drugs. A multi-year investigation led to Barry Bonds spending a month under house arrest in 2011 for lying to a grand jury in 2003. The Department of Justice actually investigated Lance Armstrong for two years.

A second round of hearings in Congress about steroid use in baseball came in 2008. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell was appointed by baseball commissioner Bud Selig to conduct an independent investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and the House eventually held hearings about the issue, with Committee Chairman Henry Waxman claiming 500,000 teenagers have used illegal steroids. The highly publicized hearings led to no action by Congress, though pitching ace Roger Clemens was brought up on felony perjury charges for lying to Congress. He was acquitted earlier this year.

NEXT: YOU'RE WATCHING TOO MUCH ESPN, CONGRESSMAN…

4. Washington pushes college football toward a playoff system

apologizes to bp, bullies bcs

In 2009, Congress turned its attention from professional baseball to college football.  Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) targeted the Bowl Championship Series, a post-season system for college football that involves 10 teams playing five post-season games, including the BCS National Championship Game between the two teams selected as the best in the country. Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Barton likened the BCS system to "communism". It was a bipartisan affair, though, with President Barack Obama stepping in to use the bully pulpit to get college football to dump the BCS and adopt a playoff system. Earlier this year, BCS commissioners finally did that, with a playoff system to take effect starting in 2014.

As an historical aside, President Teddy Roosevelt is often described as having  "saved" college football by stepping in to regulate the game in the early 20th century. After many injuries and a few gridiron-related deaths, college football had become the target of a campaign to ban it for its brutality. Roosevelt pushed the creation of the 10-yard first down system and a ban on mass formations and gang tackling.

NEXT: BRUTALITY IS IN THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER…

3. Targeting Mixed Martial Arts

mma's so different it should be illegal

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a favorite punching bag of politicians looking to meddle in the realm of sports, especially now that it's replacing boxing as a spectator sport. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a big fan of boxing, has called MMA "human cockfighting." Thailand banned MMA altogether to protect their muy thai business. During the 1990s MMA was banned in more than 40 states. Reason's Greg Beato noted a few years ago how politicians' efforts to crack down on mixed martial arts actually led MMA's largest enterprise, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), to make changes that helped bring it into the mainstream; by 2006 it had beaten boxing and wrestling in pay-per-view revenue. In May, Vermont became the 46th state to regulate mixed martial arts under its athletic commission and last year the UFC sued New York state over its 1997 ban on the live broadcasting of mixed martial arts.

NEXT: AT LEAST WE'RE NOT EUROPE…

2. Europe's sports ministries

seriously

If the idea of state-level athletic commissions isn't statist enough, in Europe they have entire national ministries dedicated to it. The all-encompassing project of Europe does not exclude the realm of sports. Even — or maybe especially — in the midst of economic crises, European sports ministers declared "[a]lthough we live in an age of austerity measures [ed. note: they don't], it would be symbolical in the present poor economic situation to succeed in establishing a European framework programme by 2014, which could provide financial support to sports."

In Great Britain, the Football Association is scrambling with reforms to avoid intervention by Parliament. Dear Old Blighty may be spared the euro as a currency, but it participates fully in Europe's ways when it comes to nationalizing sports.

NEXT: SORRY LADIES, BUT…

1. Title IX and Regulatory Overreach

more interpretations written than for most passages in the bible

When what's known as Title IX went into law in 1972, it prohibited educational institutions that received federal assistance to exclude women from or deny them the benefits of educational programs. Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) inserted the amendment into an education funding re-authorization act and the bill was signed into law by Richard Nixon with no mention of the equal rights language. Over the next two years, various senators tried to carve some kind of exemptions for sports, but Title IX regulations were announced in 1975 and began to be implemented in 1978. The NCAA sued but lost. While Title IX has often been credited for the rise of female athletes in sports, it's also invited regulators and judges to influence the decisions of athletic programs, sometimes leading to schools limiting athletic opportunities for males to meet compliance.

And just a few years ago, Title IX was responsible for a court ruling that cheerleading, dominated by women and sometimes identified as a sport, is actually not.

NEXT: Double Suicide Attack Near U.S. Base in Afghanistan Kills At Least 12

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  1. I’m surprised (and disappointed) that the trophy didn’t crush his scrawny little legs.

  2. Reason’s Greg Beato noted a few years ago how politicians’ efforts to crack down on mixed martial arts actually led MMA’s largest enterprise, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), to make changes that helped bring it into the mainstream

    It’s also hardly the same from when I first watched it. It’s been completely neutered, basically american kickboxing with limited grappling that hardly counts anymore (designed to address jujitsu fighters) It’s become just another highly restrictive sport rather than being a truly mixed martial art, may-the-best-martial-artist win venue

    Anyways, all this meddling even without direct criminalization or banning is still implicitly coercive, so much so that it distorts industry to induce them into doing things that they otherwise wouldn’t have, like the ending of BCS I presume. It’s not just sports, but movies and games e.g. Joe Lieberman’s and others’ constant efforts to regulate games, even to try to ban, results in even more stricter self-censorship and restrictions from industry groups to appease politicians (and “the public”) and auto-racing and whatever else.

    I recall Fluffy’s post about how many things that seem so are not truly voluntary

    1. i don’t know how you can say this

      sure, it was somewhat restricted, and i think that was a fair tradeoff for getting recognition, although the fascist morons in NY *still* won’t “authorize” it, it got them to the table and on equal footing.

      kickboxing has nothing like ground and pound, doesn’t allow elbows or knees etc.

      the list of restrictions if pretty minimal. sure, pride allows headkicks to a downed subject, but other than not allowing headkicks to a downed opponent, small joint manipulation (fingers etc.), eye gouging, strikes to the groin, etc. it’s pretty wide open

      i think some REFs are the problem. they are too “liberal” with their interpretation of strikes to the back of the head

      my biggest problem is some of the refs who are too quick to stand people up when they view no “progress”. but that varies ref to ref. the good refs, like herb dean are fine

      and i think they have some pressure from the powers that be, as dana white has said outright, that the UFC is interesting in EXCITING fights and people who win, but win boring aren’t going to get the same level of promotion

  3. Single page? Pretty pretty please!

  4. I love Nick GIllespie, but he was wrong on Lance Armstrong. He was right that organizations have the freedom of association, but what has been done to Lance Armstrong is just plain evil and sets a dangerous precedent. Can a bunch of old basketball players now say that Jordan was ‘cheating’ and the USADA can strip him of his titles and legacy? Because that’s what’s just happened.

  5. To be fair, while it’s not as bad as gov’t intervention, the BCS IS quite an abomination.

  6. And just a few years ago, Title IX was responsible for a court ruling that cheerleading, dominated by women and sometimes identified as a sport, is actually not.

    Well at least they were right about that.

    1. OK. So define baseball as “not a sport”.

      1. i disagree with their ruling about cheerleading, and fwiw i actually READ the ruling (vs. some media article on it which won’t tell you the whole story)

        their “logic” was bogus. it was obviously political.

        granted, they identified some shortcomings that cheerleading can address so next time around they lobby for sports recognition, they will likely get it imo

        1. If the primary means of winning a competition is subjective judging, it’s not a sport.

          1. Thankfully there’s no judges in hockey, football, baseball, wrestling…

            1. Or gymnastics, ice skating, diving…

            2. What about Gymnastics, Figure skating, ?

            3. Referees != judges

              1. That makes sense. Because one judges your performance based on a set of rules, and the other… hey wait, they both kind of do that, don’t they?

                Don’t forget: boxing, also not a sport. I’d recommend raising that point with some boxers – they would probably be both enlightened and keen to discuss the philosophical distinctions that their competitions something less than a sport.

            4. That makes sense. Because one judges your performance based on a set of rules, and the other… hey wait, they both kind of do that, don’t they?

              In one of these things, judges look at what you do and give you a score. In the other there is an objective way of scoring (put the ball in the net, etc) and the referee just enforces rules.

              Don’t forget: boxing, also not a sport.

              The primary means of winning a boxing match is to get a knockout.

  7. i have massive respect for armstrong. in my sport we deal with the USADA (and some of us, the WADA), but their treatment of armstrong has just been horrendous. over and over he’s been investigated, scrutinized and he’s passed every time.

    fuck them.

    whatever they choose to do, as far as i’m concerned all those titles are his, just like what happened with muhammad ali being stripped – to fans, it’s irrelevant

  8. With the Armstrong case, I doubt very much that the government’s sponsorship of the anti doping agency really played a role one way or the other in their decision making, so I’m not sure I’d call it an example of egregious government overreach. If they hadn’t taken those funds and had taken the same course of action this would be a total non-story from a libertarian perspective. I know you’re not a bona fide libertarian in Reasonland unless you wholly and unequivocally endorse and defend not just the legality of any/all drugs, but also the availability, efficacy, use, and abuse of said drugs as well, and reject any attempts of any kind from any group or person to dissuade anyone else from using said drugs. But even if you find temperance objectionable, I think as libertarians we still respect the rights of private organizations and clubs to set their own rules for membership and competition.

    1. Obviously they can set their own rules, but egregious violations of fair play in enforcing them still deserve denunciation from fair-minded people. Strip him of titles with no evidence other than anonymous “witnesses”? Fuck them and their witch hunt.

      Do they have the right to set their own rules? Yes. Do we have the rule to ignore their baseless vendetta? Fuck yes.

      1. I am given to understand that the organization’s pursuit of Armstrong has involved multiple violations of their own stated guidelines. I think that that alone is or should be grounds for stripping them of all government funding. It’s certainly grounds for dismissing their attacks on Armstrong as a Crusade.

        1. Couldn’t agree more with both of you. And if I actually gave a shit about cycling I’d probably be able to muster some righteous indignation. But it just doesn’t rile me much from libertarian grounds.

  9. how government-funded agencies intervene in sports. Governments have never shied from meddling in athletics, in ways both big and small. Here are five egregious examples worth pondering in the wake of l’affaire Armstrong.

  10. Under USADA rules, that counts as a confession and USADA says it has the authority to strip Armstrong of titles won in France because it is part of World Anti-Doping Agency and that WADA is bound by its members’ decisions. Meanwhile, the International Cycling Union, which organizes the Tour de France, said it is waiting on the USADA’s full explanation of its case against Armstrong.

  11. One big problem is dopping! We must stop dopping in sport!

  12. “No person in the united states shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

    So you’re fine with federal funding of educational activities — it’s only the equality requirement you think is “a stupid government intervention?”

    Whatever you think about federal funding for education, requiring that the benefits of that funding be offered without sexist exclusion is a good thing compared to the segregated alternative.

    1. The story was about sports, you dolt. Why would they get into all the bad details regarding education practices due to Title IX when the article was about sports?

    2. So you’re fine with federal funding of educational activities

      Well damn, you cracked our little secret. Despite publicly proclaiming to want to dismantle the federal department of education and privatize or voucherize the existing public education system in America, we’ve really secretly been rooting for federal funding the whole time, just so that we could withhold federal monies paid in the form of tuition from teh wimminz sports programs on public university campuses. And here I thought we had such an inscrutable conspiracy going. You win this round Derider!

  13. All government intervention in to sports is stupid.

  14. At least government intervention in sports means that the buttinskis are concentrating on something that fundamentally doesn’t matter and where they are unlikely to do lasting harm to something important.

  15. All government intervention in to sports is stupid.

  16. This is clearly an American focused sport article, but you think thats bad in some countries they have sports ministers. Sometimes these sports ministers will get involved into who should get selected for national teams.

  17. Nice, sage. Liberal sociologists couldn’t have written it better.

  18. “…Dear Old Blighty may be spared the euro as a currency, but it participates fully in Europe’s ways when it comes to nationalizing sports…”

    Nationalizing sports? All European soccer leagues and clubs are private organizations, politicians are laughed at if they want to induce changes in professional sports. No “commissioner” here, buddy, unlike in your quasi socialist US professional leagues.

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  20. Single page? Pretty pretty please!
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