The definition of courage, revisited.

Courage (noun \ˈkər-ij, ˈkə-rij\): Also referred to as bravery, boldness, fearlessness, mettle, fortitude, or intrepidity - is the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation.  "Physical courage" is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, death, or threat of death, while "moral courage" is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal or discouragement.

(Apologies in advance to international cafesupporters for putting up with this longwinded sidebar to some of 'my fellow Americans.')  

Howya yanks!

It seems to me from reading the buzzing social media-sphere over the past few days that some of you question Tyler Hamilton's moral character and motivation in writing The Secret Race.

I completely understand why you feel the way you do.  Don't agree, but understand.

Thanks to some revisionist history, we've been duped into accepting a modified definition of what 'moral courage' really is.   Some of you expressing disappointment by denigrating Tyler are folks who once fawned at the kid's feats, but now feel duped.       

Some of you who scoff-post, I know personally.   And I also hear similar sentiments expressed from friends on rides.   Most of the time I try to debate, try to explain my own, contrary viewpoint.  But I soon get a glassy eyed response, as the conversation inevitably veers away from cycling and slides inexorably toward a philosophical debate of what constitutes 'moral' behavior:  Politically-incorrect territory we've all been culturally anethetised and dumbed down into avoiding expressing strong opinons about.  

So I bite my tongue, and let it go.  Avoiding social discomfort, avoiding 'pain'.  A choice as easy, and sadly familiar, as going off the back.    

I read Tyler's book this week.   Nothing in it I wasn't 99.9% sure was true anyway.  Nothing surprising.  Or shocking.  

Especially the opening line "I'm good at pain."   Statement of the obvious number 24, that. 
Good at pain.  You probably don't argue the 'physical courage part'.   But how 'bout the 'moral courage' part?  Why wouldn't the same not giving in to the pain of an Alpine climb or a cracked collarbone, naturally extend to a tough-to-digest but necessary whistleblowing at the risk of being demonized for, quote,  'acting rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal or discouragement?'  

I know.  We Americans love fairy tales.  We build 'em up, and when our fairy tale hero fantasy balloon is burst, we suddenly get all indignant and beat them on the way down.  With overly simplistic labels.  Like Liar.  Cheater.  Doper.  Snitch.  

We love to believe.  You know, like that Robert the Bruce character in Braveheart 'wanted to believe'.    You too might have 'Believed Tyler' once, and now feel duped.   

So because we - the great unwashed - like our content oversimplified and Hollywood dumbed-down entertaining nowadays, let me try an analogy to support my point.   A great scene, by a great actor, from a popular film: Al Pacino's "Frank Slade" speech in "A Scent of a Woman".    

You know the scene:  It's where the blind Col. Slade defends his nephew Charlie in front of a private school kangaroo court for upholding 'omerta' at the risk of expulsion for 'not ratting out' his weasel friends he saw pulling a prank.  The colonel, outraged at the hypocrisy, threatens to 'take a flamethrower to the place'.   

People love that scene.  Hell, I love that scene too.   Who hasn't wanted to go off like that at some time or another...

One small problem with that scene. The morality lesson. It's really backwards. (Read this) Understandable, really.  For we've been bombarded with a few decades of similar revisionist-history Hollywood storytelling. We've heard the same message, in so many endless Godfather, Sopranos and The Departed reruns, that many now actually think there's honor in omerta.

Deliver those messages in a politically correct opium den, and add in our post-greatest-generation 'question authority' mindset - and voila: The perfect storm to throw a moral compass out of whack. A lot of 'wicked smaart' folks convinced the moral and honorable thing to do is to keep quiet and 'protect your mates.' Honor, right? You never blow the whistle. Never rat on your mates.

To those who've been hollywood-hoodwinked into believing that upholding omerta is somehow the honorable choice, I again submit to you a counter-argument: the West Point Cadet honor code.

Hey look, it wasn't my idea jongens. But it's one that predates the lot of 'ya. Just consider its role shaping the country you safely sleep, screen watch, over-graze and over-consume in today. It's the bedrock of an institution most of you likely respect. Unimpeachable, right? You support the troops, don'tcha? West Point: Crucible of war heros, generals, presidents...and a musette-load of past and current Fortune 500 CEO's. Of MacArthur, Lee and Grant. Of Ike and George Patton, whose namesake park and tank, Tyler flew past en route to his first time trial victory so many years ago.

There, they take the honor code wicked seriously. Observe your classmate cheating and don't report it? They'll boot your butt out. That honor code is a bedrock principle of an institution whose graduates arguably built, defended and sustained what became a great, free and vital nation.

Omerta, conversely, is the bedrock that builds and sustains criminal enterprises.
Patton Park (Hamilton MA).
Honor-West Point-Patton-Tank- the Ardennes- Hamilton: 
2 degrees of separation: 

The fact that omerta has became acceptable, expected and somehow perversely honorable... even fashionable... well, that's a way bigger problem than doping.

Why's he speaking out now? I can't tell you whether he wrote the book out of sense of conscience, or for attention or financial gain. But whatever amount of money he earns from royalties, it won't come close to making up for the personal pain and turmoil the kid's endured. No, I think a guy who moves off the grid to Missoula, MT is seeking peace more than publicity.

We ought to stop believing in fairy tales.

Don't condemn the riders. Don't condemn Armstrong for doping, cheating or lying about it. That was the game, and he rose to the top as effectively as a mafia don. Condemn his gangster-boss behavior, while respecting the good he'd done and does for cancer victims. (But sorry Lance, the end doesn't always justify the means, so from now on, I'll be supporting alternative organizations for any future donations to that important fight.)

Condemn Nike, Oakley and Trek all of whom looked the other way, and went along for the ride. Condemn the complicit UCI leadership. The ASO for being two-faced in supporting comeback 2.0 while knowing better all along. If you want to denigrate someone, start with that cast of characters. They all put cash flow way before principle.

But for chrissakes, don't condemn Tyler. He's the most courageous cadet of the lot of 'em.

If it were up to me, I'd remake that Al Pacino scene, casting Paul Kimmage in the role of Col. Slade, in a scene set at UCI HQ. It would go something like this:

(P. McQuaid)  I'm sorry but your testimony Mr. Hamilton is not only vague, it is unsubstantiated.     

(Hamilton) I'm sorry.

I'm sorry too, Mr. Hamliton, because you know what I'm going to do, in as much as I can't punish Mr. Zabriskie, Mr. Leipheimer or Mr. Vaughters.  And I won't punish Mr. Hincapie.   They're all still  good for the sport.  But you, Mr. Hamilton, you are a snitch...and you are a liar.   

(Kimmage) But not a spineless coward!  

Excuse me ?  

No, I don't think I will.   Mr. McQuaid. - This is such a load of shite!  

Please watch your language, Mr. Kimmage.   You are at a UCI Hearing in Aigle, not a southside Dublin pub.   Mr. Hamilton, I will give you one final opportunity to speak up...   

Mr. Hamilton doesn't want it. He doesn't need to be labeled..."still good for the sport."   Good for the sport...What the hell is that?   What is your motto here?   "Boys, keep your mouth shut, cover for your teammates, save your hide and your job; anything short of that, we're gonna burn you at the stake"?   

Well, gentlemen, when the shit hits the fan, some guys duck and cover...and some guys face the fire.  Here's Tyler, facin' the fire, and there's the rest of them...hidin' in their DS and sponsor's pocketbook. And what are you doin'? You're gonna reward the all silent ones, and destroy Tyler.  

-Are you finished, Mr. Kimmage?

-No, I'm just gettin' warmed up. I don't know who came up with this place.  Henri Desgranges,  Baron de Coubertain, Willem Van Wijendale, William Tell, whoever.   Their spirit is dead, if they ever had one.   It's gone. You're running a corrupt, chicken shit coop here, a farm for raising silent, chicken-shit lemmings.    

And if you think you're providing millions of young athletes with valuable life lessons, you better think again, because I say you are killin' the very spirit of sport... the spirit and fairness your institution proclaims it stands for. What a sham.     What kind of a show are you guys puttin' on here today?   I mean, the only class in this act is sittin' next to me.   I'm here to tell you this kid’s soul is intact. It's non-negotiable. You know how I know? Someone here, and I'm not gonna say who, offered to buy his silence.   Only Tyler here wasn't sellin'.

- Sir, you're out of order.   

 I show you out of order.  You don't know what out of order is, Mr. McQuaid.   I'd show you, but I'm too old, I'm too tired, too friggin drunk.  And if I were the man I was twenty years ago, I'd take a flamethrower to this place! Out of order ? Who the hell you think you're talkin' to?  

 I've been around, you know?  There was a time I could ride a little bit too.   And I’ve known dozens of boys like these.  Seen boys like him have their dreams torn out of their hearts.   There is nothin' like the sight... of an amputated dream. There’s no massage, no recovery drink  for that. You think you're merely sendin' this splendid gladiator...back home to Montana with his tail between his legs, but I say you are... executin' his soul! And why? Because he wouldn’t 'clam up.'  Because he told an uncomforable truth.  Because he's doesn’t fit your warped idea of what’s represents the ‘best interests of the sport’. What is really in the ‘best interest of the sport’.. More like the best interests of your business, and your sponsor's business.    You villify and destroy this boy, you're gonna be bums, the lot of you.

And, Lance, Johan, Phil Knight, wherever you all are out there, f***  you too!   

Stand down, Mr. Kimmage!  

 I'm not finished.   As I came in here, I heard those words: "we've turned the page to a new generation of clean cycling."    Well, when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and it has fallen here.  It has fallen.

I don't know if Tyler’s writing his book today is right or wrong; I'm not a judge or jury.  But I can tell you this: He won't suppress the truth, or protect his teammates to save his skin!    He broke ranks against huge threats and pressure, to speak out.  And put his hand into the fire one more time to serve a cause more important than his own. 

And that, my friends, is called courage. 

 That's what really called honor. What’s really called integrity. That's the stuff real heroes are made of. 

 Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew, but I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. 

 Now here's Tyler. He's come to a crossroads. He may have started down the wrong path, but he backed up and chose another path. It's the right path. It's a harder path made of courage, honor and principle. The path that truly requires character. 

Welcome him back in. You hold the kid’s reputation in your hands. It's a valuable reputation, believe me. Don't destroy it. Restore it. It will make the next generation better, I promise you.


  1. you seem to be forgeting one important point he didnt choose another path he was caught say he ended up winning the veulta where he was caught "sloppy phonak doping not the postalmodel" he would be the only american with a monument,grand tour and olympic gold maybe his memoir would have writen differenty and he would stll be married to the lovely haven i call him OJhamilton personally an soar mhor

  2. I know,yr. right there fair enough. But they all got caught. Only they don't all speak out to fight to change the system. Ar mhórchóir truaillithe inniu. Thanks for reading & slainte!
    - Eddy

  3. its only anon because i dont know what URL is i like your blog the belgian spring semi classics are my fav races raced a little in the amateurs with the class of 1958 in belgium eddy plankeart etde wilde luc colynn,take care

  4. Riders like Hamilton are probably as much victims as those riders who tried to complete against them on 'bread and water'. BUT they were still happy to take the money !

    They completed in a system that was corrupt to the core - and still is. They decided to take a path that promised riches and success, only to find a fools paradise. I have sympathy for those who have broken the omarta, even if only at a time when their career is over - its a bit more difficult for current riders. What about the those who choose not to take the same path - what of their dreams !

    Where does the root of the problem lie ? I have little doubt the UCI has been a major part of the problem. They understood exactly what was happening, and did nothing to change the system. Infact the opposite. The press should also take responsibility. They also knew the truth, and other than a few brave characters like Kimmeridge, sat on their hands, part of the omarta. For me there is little credit in either of these groups.

    I do however applaude people like Hamilton, for at last telling the truth - lets hope more follow.

    Until we get a root and branch clear out of the UCI and the team management structure, there is little hope of a fresh start.

  5. Nicely written. Larry says folks who worry about those who break the OMERTA should think about this - those same folks promised (and even signed documents) NOT to cheat. NOT to dope. So once you've gone back on your word there, how can there be glory or courage in refusing to admit the cheating or explaining how it was done, even if that implicates other cheaters? This is the only way this mess might ever be cleaned up. From this point forward cheaters should face a simple LIFETIME ban from the sport. Exceptions (2-4 years) ONLY for those who admit it and rat out EVERYONE else involved. Once the majority of people involved in the sport are anti-doping the omerta will be gone and the riders can stop being victims of this crooked charade.

    1. You said:"From this point forward cheaters should face a simple LIFETIME ban from the sport."
      There is a problem with your approach:
      "Massachusetts is reeling from a massive scandal in its state crime lab. Details are still emerging about what officials call a "rogue chemist" who may have mishandled evidence in as many as 40,000 cases over 10 years.
      It could mean the unraveling of countless convictions"

  6. Chapeau! I particularly liked the re-write of that great scene. Having that honor code fully engrained into my being, I can relate.
    Guys like Floyd and Tyler deserve to be applauded for coming clean about the sordid history of USPS and pro cycling. They have both demonstrated a heap of conviction to see things right despite the backlash.
    I love the sport, too and think that there is only one way forward; and that is to tear the damn thing to bits, sort out the riff-raff and start anew.

    Mike Anderson

  7. Just wondering now, if I should admit cheating when I beat Tyler in the town line sprint (for the town line he did not know about). If he only studied local maps before riding with me, he would know where the town line is.


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