Alberto Salazar and the Pecksniffs

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I love the Italian language.

I recently watched the Detective Montalbano mysteries on DVDs from the library.

It’s an excellent series, based on the popular books by Andrea Camilleri. It’s human, funny, and heartfelt.

I love the sound of Italian. Many Italian words sound wonderful, apart from their meaning.

For example, allora. The meaning of allora is trivial – “then,” or “so.”

I love the sing-song that Commissario Montalbano gives it, stressing every syllable – “A – llo – ra!”

Music to my ears.

montalbano-walking-2I love to hear abbastanza (enough), amoruccio (my love), bellisimo (wonderful), and fagiolini (string beans).

Did you know that your iPhone 6 and even your humble workaday cell is a telefonino – a “little telephone”? Isn’t that precious?

There are Italian words that I’d hesitate to use in polite company, but that sound perfectly wonderful.

For example, minchia. (Pron.: “MEENKia.”) To my ears, it suggests a fragrant little blue-flowered herb that decorates the sunny hillsides of Umbria in the spring and makes a wonderful addition to any pasta dish.

Many Italian words remain beautiful when expanded. For example, if you add minchia to pesto, I’m betting the result would be called minchiate. (Pron.: “meengkeeAHteh.”)

Of course, the meaning of these words is very different from the way they sound.

In real life, minchiate has little to do with sunny hillsides – unless male cattle are present.

In the sports pages lately, I’ve been reading stories that tempt me to visualize their authors serving up plates of minchiate with a flourish and a smile.

If you know Italian, you’ll understand that I’m talking about the journalists who’ve whipped their tiny brains to manufacture a drug scandal surrounding Alberto Salazar, Galen Rupp, and – they hope with all the fervor of their bent little pea-sized hearts – Mo Farah, and more recently, Paula Radcliffe.

As you’ve guessed, I don’t believe the allegations for a moment.

Bullshit

By the way, when I say journalists, I’m not talking about Runner’s World Editor at Large Amby Burfoot, or Ken Goe of OregonLive, both of whom have written balanced, minchiate-free stories about the allegations, telling their readers essentially “Let’s wait for the facts.”

Ken and Amby operate in a higher league than the scribblers slavering after Alberto Salazar’s blood. Amby and Ken are Menschen. It’s a defining difference.

If you aren’t aware of the issues, I suggest you read Alberto’s calm, detailed, thoroughly decent response to the charges. For my money, his 28 pages of minutely documented evidence comprehensively destroy his accusers.

Naturally, the gutter-scribes have reacted to Alberto’s cannon shot with outrage and contempt. The minchiate-shoveling habit will do that – it anesthetizes a person’s sense of decency, tempting him to don lily-white makeup, weave flowers in his hair, and adopt a pious expression while gripping a bloody dagger behind his back.

When Ken Goe’s story appeared, I was moved to write a comment. I said essentially that I had an uncomfortable feeling that the writers weren’t out for truth but for blood, and that they were wielding a paring knife, not a sword.

That was before Alberto published his reply. At the time, I had no particular evidence that Salazar was innocent, except my personal feelings about him.

I believed I’d gotten to know the real Alberto in his book, 14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life, and by following his career.

I was inspired by his transition from a world-class marathoner who had destroyed his body by pushing it beyond all decent human limits, to a loving mentor who’d learned that success isn’t worth achieving at any cost, and who wouldn’t dream of subjecting his athletes to abuse of any kind. Alberto lives daily with the results of his all-out racing career, in the form of crippling chemical imbalances and cardiac disturbances.

Salazar’s measured response to the allegations showed me that he was acutely aware of the risks that doping poses for an athlete’s health, reputation, and future career.

Really, I feel it’s just too stupid for words to imagine that he would dope his runners. A man of his character, stature, and deep knowledge of the sport, whose every move is monitored by the anti-doping authorities and by his bosses at Nike, wouldn’t risk the disaster that a proven history of doping would invoke for his athletes, his employers, and himself.

After weighing the flimsy evidence and Alberto’s rebuttal, I’m persuaded that the accusations are false, and that the accusers are signifyin’, as they say in the South.

Consider Kara Goucher’s statement that she saw Alberto urge Galen Rupp to run up and down a flight of stairs before a medical test to determine if Rupp would be allowed take medication for his asthma.

Kara’s assumption is that Salazar had Rupp exercise hard so that he would present with asthma symptoms when the doctor examined him. The implication being that the asthma medication would give him a competitive advantage.

I had to ask myself, what would I have done if I were Salazar? Rupp had repeatedly been forced to drop out of or not start important races because of his asthma, including the Olympics in smoggy Beijing.

If I were his coach, I would certainly not want him to present to the doctors symptom-free.

Do I believe it was unethical for Salazar to tell Galen to run stairs before the test? (Assuming he did so.) Not at all. To my mind, it was simply a good coach looking out for his athlete, ethically and legally, to ensure that he would be allowed to compete.

Goucher’s implication that the asthma medication would give Rupp an unfair advantage is false, as Salazar documents in his response. It would merely allow Galen Rupp to run.

Goucher claims that Salazar urged her to take prescription thyroid medication that she didn’t need. The standard tests for thyroid insufficiency are notoriously inaccurate and misleading. A very good test for a deficiency is to take medication or a supplement and see if it works. It’s what I did when I suspected my thyroid was underperforming. (It was.)

It’s the difference between taking prescription medication for diagnosis or for performance enhancement. I believe Salazar did the former, assuming Kara is telling the truth.

In his rebuttal of the charges, Salazar suggests that Goucher may have been influenced by her husband, Adam, who had a longstanding animus against Salazar, whom he blamed for not helping him achieve the success of which he thought he was capable.

From Salazar’s book, his lengthy rebuttal, and my intuitive sense of him, I believe he’s a person of integrity. Take it or leave it, that’s my view.

As for the original accuser, Steve Magness, I believe Salazar’s reply casts sufficient doubt on the facts of Magness’ allegations and his motives for making them.

Magness says he saw the word “testosterone” scribbled by a doctor on a prescription form for one of Salazar’s athletes. Salazar claims the doctor was actually prescribing testosterone patches – a legal medication.

Magness claims that no doctor, as a responsible “scientist,” would ever make such a mistake. I find this hilarious. Really, it’s fatuous to say that scientists never make mistakes. If you’ve read Magness’ blog, you know that as an exercise scientist and active coach, he’s given his readers a tremendous amount of unique and valuable advice over the years. No one has a better sense than Magness does of the need to balance science and actual, on-the-road experience. But despite his stature as a scientist, his articles, at least until the Salazar accusations, were riddled with typos.

The media have accused Salazar of being “vindictive” for revealing his accusers’ past history in order to expose their motives.

To my mind, this is simply the media being their loathsome selves. It’s the standard politically correct media response to any answering challenge – “If he/she says it’s true, he/she deserves the benefit of the doubt! The people have a right to know! Given the history with these sorts of allegations, it’s probably true! We won’t retract!” And that most specious and preciously self-righteous PC response to an answering challenge: “You’re blaming the victim!”

In other words, “guilty till proven innocent.” It’s despicable. It’s filth.

I was delighted to see the IAAF and Lord Sebastian Coe pushing back against the lower-echelon vermin of the British press who’ve attempted to plow these flimsy accusations for fame and gain.

In any reasonable system of justice, the right to examine an accuser’s motives is basic.

It also makes me cringe that the rumor-mongering media flacks aren’t remotely interested in the whole Alberto Salazar. They certainly aren’t interested in the spiritual man.

I realize I’m tip-toeing in an area where some readers won’t follow.

Alberto Salazar is a spiritual man, the more so, I believe, because he doesn’t make a public show of his spirituality. It’s a matter between himself and his God. Salazar wants to be judged by his actions, particularly by how well he takes care of his athletes.

It’s why you’ll never see him rudely co-opt an interview to spread the Gospel. His spirituality is inward, individual, experiential, and sincere. It’s not out on the surface.

I deduce this from his book, especially his account of growing up in a strong Catholic family, and his experiences during a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. Take it or leave it, that’s how I’m wired.

But then, I’m a gringo viejo monje cara de culo, a butt-faced old monk who gives weight to such things.

For the media sharks, Alberto’s spirituality is blood in the water. They love nothing better than to trumpet the mistakes and weaknesses of spiritually minded people as hypocrisy. Hypocrites themselves.

If you wonder what a coach with a spiritual center looks like, I recommend watching some YouTube videos of Bob Ladouceur, former head football coach at De La Salle High School in Concord, California. Ladouceur and the De La Salle Spartans were the subject of the film When the Game Stands Tall (4.5 stars on Amazon).

Terry Eidson, Jason Alumbaugh, Bob Ladouceur

De La Salle coaches Terry Eidson, Justin Alumbaugh, and Bob Ladouceur

In the 12 years from 1992 to 2004, Coach Lad’s teams won 151 straight games. The 2015-16 Spartans were ranked the nation’s pre-season number-one team under Ladouceur’s protégé and successor, Justin Alumbaugh.

I believe it’s a valuable spiritual exercise to study people like Coach Ladouceur. I think we should be slow to second-guess those who’ve committed themselves to the austere demands of the spiritual life, especially when, like Ladouceur and Salazar, they’ve achieved greatly while winning the admiration and respect of many whose opinions should carry a lot of weight. Coach Lad has a spiritual presence – we could use more coaches like him in youth sports.

To properly evaluate the Salazar accusations, I believe we need to weigh the evidence with our hearts as well as our minds.

And we need to understand how journalists see the world.

For this, no one has ever said it better than H. L. Mencken, the legendary American newspaperman and critic whose 1915 essay, A Gang of Pecksniffs, remains fresh in its language and relevance today.

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Here’s Mencken, describing America from the newspaperman’s ribald and jaundiced point of view:

Here … more than anywhere else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly—the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances—is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows. (From On Being an American, published in Prejudices: Third Series.)

The journalist sees the world as a circus to be hooted and bellowed. A hundred years after Mencken wrote those words, journalists are still writing with prejudice in their hearts. It was a weakness of Mencken’s work that there’s just enough poison in the steady drip of his cynical world-view to sour our souls. It’s best taken in small doses.

The second-rate journalist looks at people of accomplishment with squinted eyes. He’s often unable to recognize what he’s seeing, and he’s almost never willing to give the benefit of the doubt. The gutter-scribes can’t imagine that compassion will sell words or build a reputation.

I think I know Alberto Salazar better than the scribblers who rejoice at pulling people’s pants down in public for sport and profit.

I’m equipped to know him because I judge him with my heart, unlike the journos with their bloodied little pens.

H. L. Mencken said: “As the arteries grow hard, the heart grows soft.” Call me old-hat. It’s how I roll.


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