Most people didn't mind when the federal government went charging after Barry Bonds for steroid use once upon a time. After all, Bonds didn't exactly go out of his way to be well-liked, and there were signs that he did lie to a grand jury -- which the federal government usually doesn't like.
And not many people complained loudly when Marion Jones lied about her steroid use. She eventually told the truth, gave back her Olympic medals, and went to jail. Jones was in track, and we tend to assume that many athletes there use illegal substances. It's damaged the sport's reputation, dating back to ... maybe Ben Johnson in Seoul in 1988.
But Lance Armstrong is different. At least, we want Lance to be different.
For those in a cave, Armstrong came back from cancer treatments to win the Tour de France ... not once, but seven times in a row. There's nothing more difficult than to win that event once, and seven times is super-human. Armstrong has been visible in the fight to get rid of cancer. He's been an inspiration to millions.
What's more, he's come through test after test over the years for illegal substances, while many other competitors in the same era flunked. Cycling became a cesspool over the past several years, as the chemists stayed ahead of authorities for the most part.
Armstrong's story is so compeling that we can't help but watch as it appears to be unraveling several years after the fact. Teammates have been giving very detailed accounts of how Armstrong beat the system when he was racing, and it's not as if there was much incentive to do so. I mean, who reads cycling books not written by Lance Armstrong?
We've seen this drama before, several times, and we have an idea about how it may come out. We've seen athletes lie about drug use, and then finally have the tearful news conference when all is revealed. We're waiting for this to happen to Roger Clemens.
But, we're not waiting for this to happen to Armstrong. If it comes, it will be one of the saddest stories imaginable. It's a bit troubling to see the federal government spend piles of money on a decade-old case, but we can almost see the ending down the train tracks. Almost.
But an unhappy finish seems inevitable, doesn't it?