Phonak Disconnected

It is not often that you see unethical or even felonious behavior do in an organization of professional athletes.

College football teams riddled with thieves, cheats, and gun-toting men who assault their girlfriends somehow carry on. In fact, despite the odd temporary suspension or loss of a few scholarships, they often thrive.

The baseball teams that employed or are employing Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, and Barry Bonds are chasing pennants, even if most of the teams that employed Rafael Palmiero aren't.

So it came as something of a shock when Phonak, the professional bicycling outfit sponsored by a Swiss manufacturer of hearing aids, decided this week to slam on the brakes.

"I've had to do something I've never done in my whole life: Give up." So spoke Phonak's owner, Andy Rihs, on Tuesday. His decision to shut down operations came after his attempt to sell the team for one Swiss franc — approximately eighty cents — fell through.

Apparently, even in the traditionally suspect world of pro cycling, nobody wants a team saddled with the baggage of three riders found guilty of doping violations even before Floyd Landis came up positive for unusually high levels of testosterone and became the first person in the history of the Tour de France likely to lose it after winning it. Not even if that team can be had for eighty cents.

The manager of Phonak has no explanation for the number of the team's riders who've been suspended. "It's all individual cases," said John Lelangue. "There were old guys, young guys, experienced guys, with and without results." And then, in one of the great asides of all time, he added, "It's a very unfortunate coincidence."

This is the sort of assertion that drives commentators nuts because it appears to be beyond satire, but let's not let the goofy claim of coincidence distract us from the point here. A powerful, successful, and profitable pro sports operation has ceased to do business merely because lots of its employees were caught breaking the rules. I know, it's an obscure sport in a foreign land, but shouldn't the people running pro teams in the cities and on the college campuses of this country perhaps consider where perspective, sanity, and economic reality might next jump out and surprise us?

Nah, it was only cycling. We'll be all right.

This program aired on August 17, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.

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Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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