Saturday, July 26, 2003

Sports: French Etiquette

Dan Lewis is puzzled by the media's rush to (positive) judgment at the Tour de Lance (er, France):
During this year's Tour de France, Lance Armstrong fell because some "fan" all but assaulted him. Jan Ullrich, Armstrong's #1 challenger, stopped and waited for Lance to remount his bike. Most commentators smiled at this exceptional display of sportsmanship.

But was it right? I'm not so sure. Armstrong was the victim here mainly because he's the leader and perhaps because he dons the red, white, and blue. But the rules are the rules (or, perhaps, the umpires are the rules?).

Imagine if moments after the Jeffrey Meier incident, while the umps are calling it a home run, Joe Torre calls out to Derek Jeter to "fix the injustice." Jeter knows what he means, and on the way around the basepaths, clearly -- and I mean runs across the pitcher's mound -- misses second base.

The reaction, at least in New York, would be of utter disgust. And probably rightfully so. But the reaction from Ullrich's concession is across-the-board positive. Why is that?
The answer to Lewis' query is that professional cycling, like most sports, has it own set of quirky "unwritten rules" that exempt athletes from the normal standards of competition. Baseball is perhaps the most notorious abuser of unwritten rules, such as the notion that a player doesn't steal second if his team is ahead by a certain number of runs, or the moronic practice of both benches emptying whenever a fight breaks out on the field. In this case, Ullrich seems to have heeded the customs of pro cycling's well known caste system, which dictates not showing up the race leader in unusual circumstances.

All the same, it's a good thing this didn't happen in the United States. The minute Ullrich finished the race, FTC lawyers no doubt would've slapped him with an "unfair competition" complaint for failing to compete vigorously.

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