Lance today, Manny tomorrow?

By Rene Pastor

Lance Armstrong just had his ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment when he finally fessed up to the world via Oprah that he, indeed, used steroids to win big-time in the world’s toughest cycling race: the Tour de France.

Nobody thought that was going to happen. But almost a decade later, Armstrong has joined the ranks of the country’s biggest drug cheats along with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

The same charges have hounded Manny Pacquiao, and our guy has denied them at every turn. While it has been on some people’s minds – “How can someone so small be so powerful?” is something I keep hearing – it was Pacquiao rival Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s camp who openly insinuated Pacquiao possibly being on PEDS (performance enhancing drugs). Pacman hotly denied that and filed a defamation case against Mayweather in 2009. The matter was settled late last year under strictly confidential terms.

The Mayweathers later released a statement saying they “wish to make it clear that they never intended to claim that Manny Pacquiao has used or is using any performance-enhancing drugs…Nor are they aware of any evidence Manny Pacquiao has used performance-enhancing drugs. Manny Pacquiao is a great champion and no one should construe any of our prior remarks as claiming that Manny Pacquiao has used performance-enhancing drugs.”

Let me do a pre-emptive strike before everybody starts shooting from the hip and accusing me of crab mentality or worse. Pacquiao is one of the all-time greats in boxing. He won a record eight titles in as many weight classes and reenergized a sport missing star power all these years after fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard retired. The last guy to do what Pacquiao did was another boxing immortal, Henry Armstrong. Pacman took on all comers until that disaster in his last fight. He beat most everybody in sight. Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey.

Even if you accept Pacquiao is clean, were the suspicions of the Mayweather really that off-base? The Lance Armstrong confession made me think twice. What if? Could it be?

Pacquiao went up eight divisions, won 10 titles and was hailed as one of boxing’s greatest and proud holder of the title as best pound-for-pound fighter. Everybody in Pacquiao’s corner says it was done through hard work and excellent coaching by Freddie Roach.

But in an era when Armstrong was exposed as a fraud and baseball writers decided not to vote any player into the Hall of Fame on strong suspicions that great players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were juiced, all spectacular performances are suddenly being examined under a microscope.

It may be unfair, but suspicions are tough to shake off in this kind of atmosphere. Pacquiao is starring in the middle of the steroids era. The drugs are pervasive, and detecting them is most difficult. For example, you can’t test for human growth hormone by peeing in a cup. The only way the test can be done is getting blood from the athlete.

There are also designer drugs that clear out and do not show up on tests. There are also masking drugs to hide the PEDs in an athlete’s system. The chemists (who concoct PEDs) are always one step ahead of the drug police.

The fuel for the whole system is money. A Pacquiao-Mayweather fight is expected to generate a record gate receipt of over $100 million. Add the pay-per-view TV receipts and the ads. The zeros just ran out on my calculator.

I believe Pacquiao is clean. He has not tested positive for any drugs, and I don’t smell any rats around his camp.

But for all the revelations in sports these days and how fast heroes go down as heels, a confession of drug use 10 years down the road would not be a shock. If not on Oprah, how about Jimmy Kimmel?


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