Monday, May 21, 2007

Idle threat of the week

Something one has to consider, when making threats, is that the same threat will have a different effect on different people. This is especially true when dealing in blackmail.

Cyclist Floyd Landis, who in last summer's Tour de France surprised with his come-from-behind grit and then disappointed with his positive drug test, found this out the hard way last week during his public arbitration hearing with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Prior to the hearing Landis had a little heart-to-heart with another famous American cyclist, three-time tour winner Greg LeMond. During their conversations LeMond tried to impress upon Landis the danger of keeping secrets (ie, not confessing to his doping) by relaying a story from LeMond's own life: He had been sexually abused as a child and had kept that experience largely hidden, to negative psychological effects.

The day before LeMond was to be called to testify before the arbitration panel in the Landis hearing, he received a mysterious phone call in which a male voice pretending to be LeMond's uncle claimed he would also be at the hearing tomorrow and just might "talk about how we used to perform a sexual act."

Implication being watch what you say or else. Because a number had shown up on the caller ID it only took minimal amount of investigation for LeMond to figure out the call had come from Landis's business manager.

By equating his sexual abuse with Landis's doping secret, LeMond had tipped that he was already considering going public with his painful past. And go public was what he did the next day, when LeMond told the arbitration panel his whole story from his abuse, to telling Landis he should come clean, to the blackmail attempt the night before.

Landis's business manager confessed making the call and was fired later that day. Yet the damage to Landis was already done. Now it was on record that LeMond was of the opinion Landis is a cheat, as were the creepy lengths to which the Landis camp was prepared to go to make their client appear innocent.

Dark childhood secrets are often an effective, if unscrupulous, subject for blackmail. But because Landis's business manager didn't fully consider the context of LeMond's revelation, his blackmail attempt proved feeble and damaging. Although it does capture idle threat of the week for May 14 to 20. Which is an award that never requires its winners to piss in a cup.

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