Shooting the messenger: how to lose at anti-doping

In Italy, Mafia informers are shot or blown up. In cycling, dopers who inform on others aren’t blown up or shot, but they do risk being vilified for their actions by the very community they are acting to defend: some lose their jobs, some are insulted on twitter and in internet forums. Of course, their efforts to defend cycling from doping are paradoxically self-interested: most give up information in order to benefit themselves in some way, just as some keep quiet for the same reason. It is very rare for those directly involved in cycling to break Omerta otherwise (maybe Frankie Andreu is a nice example, although he had just a little help from the formidable Betsy).

Joe Papp gets his fair share of crap hurled at him. Some of it may be deserved, but it is the way it is linked to his status as an informant that troubles me: if every time he is linked to a doping case leads to another attack on his character I think this tells us something about the problems in professional cycling and how we view anti-doping efforts.

Back in March of this year I wrote an article for this blog about doping in sport, informed by my experiences as an academic. At many stages of my career I have witnessed unethical behaviour, and have had to deal with it within a culture in which appearing ethical can seem more important than acting ethically. Many individuals and organisations suffer from a lack of insight into their actual values and choose to espouse theories that sound great, but do not actually underpin their actions at all (as discussed at length in the literature on organisational psychology: e.g., in the work of Argyris and Schön, 1974; 1978).

This, I would argue, is exactly what is going on in the bizarre world of professional cycling. It has been clear for many years that there is often more of an incentive to keep quiet about doping (even when caught and punished) than to describe practices and name names. Only legal and financial pressures really provide sufficient motivation to provide useful information to law enforcement and anti-doping agencies (as I have argued here). Yet when Jeannie Longo is being investigated for failing to make herself available for out-of-competition testing and it is alleged that the case may turn on evidence provided by Joe Papp (a convicted user and supplier of doping products) it is extraordinary how quickly Papp’s actions (and character) are criticised by some: and this is not the first time this has happened. Papp often uses twitter and cycling forums to pre-echo doping busts yet to occur: in this case he had some time ago hinted on twitter that he had supplied Longo’s husband with EPO (he also hinted at the case against Dan Staite in the UK before it was announced). This is probably why Shane Stokes of Velonation contacted him about the Longo suspension; it is also well-known in cycling circles that Papp has provided evidence to the anti-doping authorities about his own practices and those of others.

Papp is often labelled a self-publicist and many are at pains to point out that his actions seem motivated by a desire to mitigate his own punishment (he is yet to be sentenced in the US). The problem here is that as far as anti-doping goes it doesn’t matter what Papp’s motives are: just that they were exploited to extract information that can be used in criminal and anti-doping cases. What matters is that progress is made in anti-doping.

I have never met Joe Papp, and have communicated with him only briefly (and after I wrote my first article that mentioned him). He is a convicted supplier and user of performance enhancing drugs, and has provided evidence to the authorities about this. He still awaits sentencing, and it is unclear to what extent he has helped himself by cooperating thus far. His desire to maintain visibility, avoid a prison term, and rebuild his reputation may be seen by some as selfish, but without such self-interest it is hard to see why he would help the authorities. Others may have personal experiences that have led them to dislike Papp, I have not, and can only comment that to my knowledge he has hardly been rewarded for his crimes or subsequent actions (contrary to what some seem to think).

One of the espoused theories of those who criticise him seems to be that self-interest is not an appropriate form of motivation in relation to anti-doping. The danger here is that if individuals who come forward are pilloried as ‘snitches’, and every time their evidence is used they are attacked for perceived character flaws, this serves as a disincentive to others. I suspect that what actually underpins the criticisms of those like Papp (or Kohl, Landis, Jaksche) is a tacit belief that doping is a personal failing, and they therefore treat those who are caught (especially if they try to help themselves) as scapegoats. What professional cycling and its followers needs to understand is that doping is an institutional problem, and that scapegoating individuals will never solve these institutional problems, especially if it removes the possibility that they can help address the issues at a more systemic level (e.g., exposing practices and supply chains).

I am sure however, my entreaties will fall on some deaf ears. I know that my views on anti-doping are unwelcomed by many, and really wonder whether it is worth the effort at times. Jeannie Longo may or may not have used EPO bought from Papp, but I am hopeful that she too will not be pilloried if found guilty: it is the culture of cycling that has to change, after all it is a bit late for Longo herself…

Disclaimer: Joe Papp’s link to my original post on whistleblowing delivered more hits to this blog than any other. Since I earn no money or personal aggrandisement from this site I do not think this corrupts my objectivity. My views on anti-doping predate his interest, and if his notoriety helps keep anti-doping in the news, so much the better.

Acknowledgement: this post was peer-reviewed by @accidentobizaro, google translator of fabianese and baker of cycling cakes extraordinaire.

28 thoughts on “Shooting the messenger: how to lose at anti-doping

  1. I’ve come to have several conversations since meeting Joe online a few years ago. At first i was one of those who vilified him for “snitching” on others as my knowledge of how ingrained the doping in the peleton was minimal at best. since then I have learned alot more about it and I can only hope that more will come forward and do the right thing. While Joe’s personal motivations may be called into question I for one hope that the end justifies the means in this case.

    • Context is all isn’t it: Papp’s actions have to be viewed against a background of a morally bankrupt sport. He hasn’t chosen his role (see his long comment) but has to make the best if it. We need to learn from his experience, not brush it under the carpet.

  2. A couple of things:

    1) I’m required by law (as detailed in the terms resolving my criminal case) to cooperate not just with the US Gov’t, but with the anti-doping agency – and that means testifying truthfully against anyone about whom I have incriminating information. To refuse to testify against others, or to attempt to protect them from investigation, would be illegal and could see me charged w/ new crimes! Anyone who thinks they have the right to call me a snitch or imply that I’m somehow wrong to testify against others had better be ready to say that they would be willing to defy the US DOJ and risk prison to preserve omerta.

    2) What some might call self-promotion I call being honest and determined to tell my story to the world so that anyone who otherwise might be naive enough to make the same dreadful mistakes I did may yet avoid such a disaster after being confronted with the reality of how FUCKED my life is. I cannot for the life of me understand the small-mindedness of people who think that my actively engaging the public is anything other than a necessity to actively fight against the dangers of doping and intervene in the thought process of those who would otherwise be willing to severely overestimate their risk-management capabilities. Newsflash – whatever notoriety/public profile I have now and stand to continue to develop in the future was not worth a) my total economic ruin; b) banishment from the sport that literally was my life from the day my dad died (on the day b4 my 14th birthday in 1989) until late-July 2006; c) the failure of a marriage and the waste of everyone’s time, energy and financial resources (mainly mine); d) the failure of a second relationship that was stretched to the breaking point and repeatedly scorched by the relentless furnace of stress and anxiety resulting from endless and unpredictable delays in the resolution of my case for over 18mos; e) my disqualification from the two non-sport professional fields for which I devoted my university studies: intelligence procurement and diplomacy; f) the loss of most of my close friends; etc. At least I have the sympathy for the other well-educated, naive elite athletes out there who think they might get away w/ becoming involved in doping such that I’m willing to constantly expose to the public how badly I fckéd myself in hopes of helping even just one other person avoid a similar fate.

    3) Why WOULDN’T I do everything in my power to mitigate the severity of the sentence I’m to receive? Newsflash – I don’t want to spend 10 years in federal prison being sexually abused by sociopathic fellow-inmates while being brutalized by omnipotent and unaccountable guards. I only have a limited amount of endurance to suffer remaining, and I figure rebuilding my life will require most of it. If it’s to be expended trying to survive on my own in a federal prison with no external support network or even family on the outside to dream of being reunited with, I might as well go do a VO2 interval tomorrow on my road bike but rather than ease-off after five minutes, keep going harder and harder until either I have a coronary, a stroke, go blind and crash head on into a truck or … I challenge ANYONE in a similar position to say with a straight face that they would decline to better their prospects of survival by refusing to cooperate to the best of their abilities because they preferred to receive the maximum sentence and spend a number of years in hell-on-earth.

    Doping was great as far as improving on-bike performance, but I would never, ever repeat that course of action if given a second chance, for the reasons listed above. The only people who I think can claim with a straight face that doping worked well for them are the ones with so many millions of dollars in the bank that they can employ squads of lawyers to stay out of jail and still have millions left over. And even then there’s no guarantee that they won’t get cancer.

    • I don’t normally get a response from the subject of a post: one of the good things about a blog is that this can happen. I just hope things change sufficiently that doping recedes in importance in sport and stops destroying people’s lives.

      • I don’t normally correspond with the majority of authors/bloggers/fans who want to make comments on doping in general or my situation in particular, but your piece is so insightful and honest that I feel compelled to contribute all that I can to further the discussion.

        I also hope that the media de-sensationalizes its doping coverage and that the fan base rejects the invitation to hysteria when confronted with the topic. For it’s only as big of a problem as people perceive it to be – and that relativism is true across every sport.

        But before this can happen, the riders of course must reject the needle, and the chain truly broken such that the culture of doping is starved of the inflow of support and encouragement that originates at the point when unrepentant dopers becoming managers, DS’s, agents, etc. and corrupt administrators and officials who’ve facilitated doping by ignoring it are returned to office.

        For as passionate as we are about cycling, doping must in almost all cases be discussed dispassionately and clinically so that the sickness that it is can be isolated, attacked, and destroyed, and the patient – our sport – cured.

        I don’t have all of the answers, and my own transgressions make it easy for the unsophisticated to tune-out my message and amuse themselves by attacking me personally. Nevertheless, I am now, by default, an expert on doping in cycling – and I intend to use that expertise to fight against the same corruption that seduced me to the dark side. I know how easy it is though to succumb to the temptation to dope and only very, very few of the cyclists with whom I competed who doped were sociopaths. The majority are people who should otherwise know better and who would never steal from the grocery store or systematically defraud the IRS. Ultimately, they/we are all humans – even the sociopaths – and it’s the athletic excellence and tactical brilliance of men and women like you and me that should be the focus of our attention on cycling. And not endless speculation about the latest developments in blood manipulation, or sordid talk about strippers and cocaine.

        Hopefully that day is not long in coming, for all our sake and the sake of the sport.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback, Robk. That I was in the position to be able to do something ballsy in the first place of course has to be attributed to my own stupidity and willingness to cheat, but years have passed since I escaped the clutches of doping, accepted responsibility for what I did, and commenced making amends.

      I’m genuinely scared for the future (mine, and the sport’s) and I’ve lost so much more than most people can imagine as a result of doping, but I know I have to conduct myself with some level of dignity and honor, even if I lost my way out on the road and turned to a black bag of dirty tricks.

      I can only hope to prove to others the sincerity of my repentance and help them understand not just the horrors of doping but the value that could be realized from my ongoing work in public campaigning against doping while privately mentoring athletes who can benefit from the wisdom and experience of someone in my position, someone who isn’t ashamed to tell it like it is, in the interests of the next class of riders.

  3. Your points about ‘shooting the messenger’ are correct. I’ve known Joe since he was a ~15 year old up and coming Junior racing in Pittsburgh, and one characteristic he’s always had is a penchant for self-promotion. Unfortunately, that provides the people trying to shift the focus from the content of his message an easy tool for obfuscation of the bigger issues.

    The same type of thing happens with Landis, Jorg Jaksche, Jesus Mazano, Tyler Hamilton, or anyone else with inside knowledge makes any attempt to shine some light on what actually happens in pro cycling. Their detractors (i.e., the ones who like the corrupt system the way it is) use the fact that they admitted cheating as a tool for character attack, asserting that ‘you can’t trust a cheater.’ This provides the dopers and their entourage a tidy little tool to go after anyone with first-hand doping experience who tries to point out their behavior: That person is already be corrupt, so they must be lying, probably as a means for self protection or aggrandizement.

    The really sad part is that this two-bit defense is rampant in sport, and cycling in particular. When Pat McQuaid (i.e., the guy who is in charge of the UCI and whose family members promote a significant number of pro races) would rather spend his time attacking Floyd Landis than investigating any of his very detailed claims, you know that the sport is corrupt to the core.

    For me, it’s nothing but sad. I grew up crazy in love with cycling, and realizing that the professional aspects are a corrupt farce beyond repair has been a long, tough realization. Yeah, it might represent entertainment value, but don’t let the bright lights, flashy jerseys and screaming announcers fool you: it’s all bullshit.


  4. Mr Papp, two questions:
    1: Why, when asked about these things by folk don’t you just say “no comment” instead of soundbites containing poorly veiled references to accused athletes. Then give your help and testimony to the authorities dealing with the due process all such athletes deserve and then, once that athlete has had a fair hearing and been found innocent or guilty you’d be free to give the public the benefit of your doping expertise and discuss the case?
    2: Why do you pre-leak jucy bits of doping gossip to folk you’ve never met via Twitter DM exchanges? Surely the authorities are the ones you should be speaking to, not strangers on the internet who have nothing to do with the case.
    Ex dopers, and even ex-dealers, need to be an integral part of the fight against doping, I’m not shooting the messenger, just enquiring whether gossip and innuendo are the way to cut this cancer from our sport as opposed to doing the job properly within the confines of the law.


  5. Pingback: Goat Got as Press Tries (Allegedly) Geared Up Granny. « Hill fitness? Don’t make me laugh!

  6. The simple answer to your question is that I am an individual in all of this, taking action not according to a clearly-defined protocol or policy set-forth at the level of an organization to which I belong, nor as a representative of a court or tribune or law enforcement organization or other formal body, but rather based on my interests and best-judgment. Regardless though, I’ve never made reference – in the context of my knowledge or expertise – to any individual who I did not already have reason to believe committed a doping violation, evidence of which was already in my possession, or to which I personally was a party. Furthermore, in those instances of collaboration with the authorities where I have agreed under oath to refrain from speaking publicly about an investigation or prosecution, I do just that – refrain from discuss it publicly. But I’ve hardly abandoned my right to speak openly, using my best judgement as to what is an appropriate topic or matter for discussion in the public sphere.

  7. So essentially your help in the fight against doping is on a piecemeal basis. If the authorities guess/ learn enough to ask the right questions of you and put you under oath you’ll behave in what most folk would consider an ethical manner. Otherwise you’ll act as a self interested individual and leak stories about athletes, who haven’t had the benefit of a fair hearing, at a time and in a manner which best suits your purposes but at that point in time when legally it’s simply your word against theirs?
    You’re an individual as you say.
    So am I and that’s a postion I can’t respect. That’s just my opinion.

  8. I can only imagine that you’re being intentionally thick/obtuse. So let me break it down for you:

    1) I’ve provided complete cooperation w/ law enforcement and anti-doping agencies for four years and turned over all actionable intelligence concerning doping that was under my control. I will continue to cooperate for as long as my assistance adds value.

    2) If I’m asked not to speak publicly about a matter, I don’t – and I haven’t.

    3) I’ve never, to the best of my knowledge, accused anyone of doping who wasn’t guilty.

  9. We’ll, that’s the first time I’ve been accused of being either thick or obtuse. ;o)
    Joe, I’ll continue to follow cycling and the fight against doping, as best as I can with my thick and obtuse thought processes.
    Here’s the thing, if you’re not tackling doping through due process? If you indulge in gossip and act out of self interest as you confirm above?
    If you think DM conversations with total strangers is a way to tackle this issue? (documented instances of pre-leaking by you)
    Then you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem because you’re trying folk in the court of public opinion and seeking the spotlight for yourself.
    For doping to be credibly tackled then it needs to be addressed impartially and fairly.
    Self interest will always stand in the way of progress here. Just ask Pat McQuaid.( FWIW the UCI are a disgrace as well).
    As to “the best of your knowledge”? As I said, one persons word against another until due process has been followed.
    Follow every word I’ve said in my time podcasting (big fish, small pond so you probably won’t have heard of The Velocast or The Flammecast) and I’ve advocated rehabilitating the convicted dopers/dealers and turning poachers into gamekeepers in the fight against dopage.
    However, titillating soundbites and Twitter escapades are not fair to athletes who have not, and deserve under law, a fair hearing.
    See ya, I’ll waste my time elsewhere.

  10. Ok, maybe its time for a simplification of the Q’s:

    I think wjohngalloway is asking:

    Why not list everyone you know who ever doped and send it to the authorities, instead of one at a time.

    Answer give I think:

    Joe already talked to the authorities and gave them everything they asked for.

    My interpretation: Not every doper of Joe’s knowledge was of concern to the authorities at that time.

  11. My comment:

    Cycling is no different from any other sport, job, life, addiction. They all have the same common denominator of good and bad people, good and bad issues, good and bad perceived rules that are not written down, good and bad consequences depending on every minute detail of the situation and who you are and hoe much money you have.

    Its all the same there is no difference when you reduce it to the lowest common denominator, humans.

    Doping, cheating, stealing, etc. will not change in any of the listed items I listed, its life folks get used to it. Sure we can try to help it out in our best way to fix the bad issues but they will always remain or re-occur due to the gains in doing the bad things.

    You’re real issue is fixing humanity not just cycling, but I see how fixing cycling can be a start.

  12. Can’t attest to the other issues in other “pro” sports as the only one I follow is procycling for the past 20 years. Is the peleton cleaner now? I’m sure. operative word there was “cleaner”. Will there always be the temptation to skirt the rules and look for new way to get an edge on the competition? YES> Now some might do with some type of equipment change and others will do it with chemical intervention. Sad but that is and always will be a fact. Going after the folks who use and who facilitate it will be the only way to combat it. Should Joe do time for what he’s done. Not for me to decide. Has what’s amounted to a 4 year ban for what he’s done suffice? I think so but at this point my chances of getting winning the lottery are better than his chances of getting a contract and racing anywhere beyond you’re local amateur crit involving 8 years olds in a parking lot. But I give him kudo’s for attempting to right his wrongs.

  13. Ex dopers & suppliers are not the best whistle-blowers, as there will always be questions as to motives, especially if they protest their innocence beforehand. At the moment, they are the only source, so cannot be ignored.

    What the sport needs is the clean athletes to do it, & the dirty cyclist then to get chucked off their teams.

    But what’s the incentive for riders & managers?

    • Yes, clean whistleblowers are better than the guilty, but they often suffer greatly (remember Bassoons) and don’t know much of use: they are kept away from seeing anything dirty.

      Incentives for owners and managers are indeed the issue and like you I am stumped in this, although some do seem to appear motivated to do the right thing in terms of supporting a clean sport. Sadly, this may also mean they feel that they have to keep quiet about their pasts, or at least be less than completely open.

  14. looks like the L’Equipe article summed up what Joe was saying as the FBI/USADA certified that the emails were authentic. Now we get to see Ciprelli start dancing around…

  15. This just occurred to me.

    It’s concerning people like Joe Papp who sold drugs to others.

    Could they blackmail their previous clients, i.e. “I’ll snitch on you unless you give me $$”.

    Could this be their incentive to “disclose the truth”?

    By the way you can’t convince me to have respect for someone like Joe Papp, regardless of his efforts in anti-doping. He was a drug dealer, for Pete’s sake! “Once a cheat always a cheat” but this goes waaay beyond that.

    • Two things: (1) although drug dealers can blackmail clients no-one has suggested this is what has happened here and all the evidence in the public domain suggests otherwise and (2) my post was not intended to gain respect for Papp, but to point out how self-defeating scapegoating is in this context.

      • Joe, I do respect your current position, but others clearly don’t: I can’t change what others think of you, all I can do is point out the self-defeating nature of scapegoating. I have been horrified by the way those caught doping are crucified whilst their enablers and the system that supports doping continues. As far as I am concerned you are part of the solution, not the problem now, and I hope you are still getting some support from the authorities in return. If not, where is the incentive for others?

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