There is no truth to allegations I cheated to win the competition for fastest column writer. A combination of innocent mistakes, inexact testing and professional jealousy has produced this outrageous blot on my hard-earned reputation as a competitor.
I deserve the recognition and rewards I have received. I worked assiduously to hone my skills as a not-so-elite athlete, spending countless hours training alone in my dusty, cluttered office with only some stray dogs and cats, my keyboard and computer screen for company. Many a time I burned the midnight oil--which unfortunately made it so smoky I had to employ touch typing because I could barely see.
I remember when a fast columnist of modest means had only a pen and paper available to record his or her thoughts. (How many words got into print in those pre-processed times when writers faced the choice of forging ahead or tearing up a piece of paper and starting over?) In my younger days I actually preferred using a fountain pen, which had one odd side effect. The pressure of my grip caused an ink-stained callus to grow in the area between the nail and top knuckle on my right, middle finger, the bulge so thick I could gross out girls by running a straight pin through the skin without drawing blood or causing pain.
I graduated over time to a manual typewriter on which the only way to correct mistakes was to type through them with xxxx's or to use Wite-Out, a substance that slowed work considerably while it dried. Then came electric typewriters with built-in erasure strips and, finally, word processors.
But no amount of machinery can make up for the dexterity of a trained typist. My mother was more of a visionary than I realized when she insisted I take a typing class following my sophomore year at Sen. Joseph McCarthy High School. Of course, I did feel a bit uncomfortable as the only boy in the class that summer, but my singular status did have its advantages, which I won't go into here. Actually, I didn't go into the advantages back then, either, although I was distracted by the possibilities.
As I touch-typed my way through my career, the articles, deadlines and burdens of performing in a public setting prepared me for competition at the highest level. Despite allegations of impropriety, the fact that my fingers have grown unusually strong is a matter of training and hard work, not trickery. I have banged out plenty of stories in my time, as we say in the profession.
The burden of hefting my well-developed fingers had a cascade effect, leading inexorably to building the remainder of my body. I know strangers immediately lump me with tainted San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds because it appears my physique, like his, filled out in my later years, long after most people stop adding muscle. Bonds, it seems all but certain, used steroids. In my case, the physical change is somewhat illusory. My reputation for fast column writing simply made me appear larger in people's minds. This is a well-known side effect of celebrity.
Also, I got heavier.
So I was as surprised as anyone else when my drug test came back positive after I won the 46th annual Shoot From The Hip Columnist Classic.
Claims that my performance was artificially enhanced are preposterous. I never touch a keyboard unless I am clean and sober. I share with numerous leaders in government and business a fondness for my position as a sanctimonious role model. Maintaining that image assures a rich cash flow, one I do not wish to jeopardize.
I recognize, however, that envy and cynicism are inescapable in these jaded times, for some unknown reason.
These latest false accusations against me show just how jealous people have become of my success. If anyone should be accused, it's my masseuse. He has a grudge against me and is intent upon my ruin. Such sabotage may be more common than we knew. Just a few weeks back, Olympian Justin Gatlin and his trainer, Trevor Graham, similarly fingered a masseuse when the sprinter's doping test came back positive.
I have repeatedly tried to fire my masseuse, which he knows, but he is from Chatham County and has a long-term contract with a buyout I cannot afford. He is insidious in the subtlety of his efforts to undermine me. The other day, while looking over my cramping shoulder, he had the audacity to suggest that instead of the term "a couple times" I substitute the far stodgier "several." As if being less wordy and more elegant was preferable to being trendy. The last time I wrote a column, he made fun of me for describing people "gathered together," claiming no one can gather apart.
Looking back, I was foolish to accept that open can of soda as I typed, if only because a cardinal rule of a quick keyboard is to keep it spill-free. (Errant fingernails, cat hair and food crumbs are also particular dangers.) But conjuring complete sentences is tiring exercise, especially for those of us prone to run on, and I had grown thirsty. Besides, the drink he proffered was provided gratis by one of my corporate sponsors, and I need to get used to the taste if I'm to swallow that slop in public without grimacing.
All of this is not meant as an excuse, but rather an explanation. I should have known an envious cohort can easily spike a drink in an open container. Unfortunately, a fast column writer cannot afford the luxury of doubt, whether of himself or of those around him. Hesitant fingers are loser's fingers, as anyone who works near a chopping device knows.
Of course it is possible my masseuse's manipulation did not cause the abnormal drug-test result. In that case, the test was probably done incorrectly. If there was no such thing as human error, Wite-Out would not have been invented.
Even if the tester is not proven sloppy, or the specimen tainted, or the result inconclusive, my alleged doping should not be taken at face value. Science cannot explain everything. Just look at Floyd Landis, the disgraced Tour de France winner caught with an overabundance of testosterone in a sample taken after his near-unprecedented rally in the late stages of the annual bicycle race.
"All I'm asking for is that I be given a chance to prove that I'm innocent," Landis said before his backup test proved damning, too. "Cycling has a traditional way of trying people in the court of public opinion before they get a chance to do anything else."
Not just cycling, pal.
Landis' argument, at least early on, centered around what is a naturally occurring substance and what is an artificially added ingredient. He said he was simply full of testosterone, a biologically aggressive condition which, if true, must make for rough conditions when Landis indulges in another favorite pastime, knocking back whiskey.
Explanations from Landis and his attorney changed over time, but then science can be very confusing. One day a study declares that smoking cigarettes will kill you, and the next day another study laments that you'll die whether you smoke cigarettes or not. No wonder our president and his supporters tend to prefer faith and superstition to science.
For my part, I refuse to be sidetracked by debate over substance levels in the blood. Competition is about more than chemistry. All the handwringing in the world over unfair advantages does not change the fact that, if we've learned anything in modern America, it's that it pays to win regardless of how you get there.
Finally, I do not deign to respond to comments by the woman who claims she saw me repeatedly injecting a suspicious substance into a part of my body where only friends with privileges can see my tattoo. This is obviously bogus since I hate needles and would not employ one except to pierce a callus or to sew on a button, if I knew how.
Assuming I can avoid guilt by association, I stand with baseball's Barry, who has a similar problem with a former girlfriend's testimony. Badmouth me, and I'll sue your ass and ban you from my ESPN series. And if you think becoming entangled with lawyers is tough, wait until someone tries to use an asterisk to punctuate my name in the record books. They'll have to go through my editor first.