King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Ex-Baylor coach Dave Bliss, who tried to frame a murdered player to save his own hide, has a new gig. The good news: The Dakota Wizards checked his references. Plus: Lance Armstrong and drugs -- the readers write.


Salon Staff
August 29, 2005 11:00PM (UTC)

Quote of the Year honors, so far, go to Steve McCormick, owner of a minor-league basketball team called the Dakota Wizards, who hired disgraced former Baylor coach Dave Bliss to lead his charges.

Bliss, you'll remember -- you'll have to, because the Wizards' press release announcing the hire strangely doesn't mention any of it -- is under an effective 10-year ban by the NCAA after he was caught trying to frame one of his players, Patrick Dennehy, as a drug dealer to protect Bliss' dirty basketball program at Baylor.

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This was necessary, Bliss felt, to explain how Dennehy got the money to pay his tuition at Baylor without a scholarship, since the payments were arranged by Bliss, which is illegal.

Dennehy couldn't alibi the money away himself because at the time he was missing and also, not coincidentally, dead, having been shot to death by his friend and teammate, Carlton Dotson, who later pleaded guilty to murder and is doing 35 years.

After interviewing Bliss last week, McCormick told the Bismarck Tribune, "We're checking his references."

Checking his references! How'd that call go? I guess it went pretty well, because McCormick made the hire.

I'm trying to picture being Bliss' reference here. As it happens I was recently called on to act as a reference for a friend and former co-worker who was trying to move up in the world, and I happily and truthfully explained that even if this guy weren't my pal I'd say he's a fine human being who does excellent work.

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My friend made it easy on me by not being the biggest sleazeball in the history of college basketball, which is saying something. I didn't have to tap-dance around that whole hindering a murder investigation thing.

"I'm not going to try to pull the wool over your eyes," Bliss' reference must have said. "Dave did try to smear the name of a deceased former player in order to protect a losing basketball program from sanction.

"He did break most of the NCAA's rules, including those picayune ones about not covering up failed drug tests, in the process of building that losing record, and frankly I shudder to think what he would have been willing to do on behalf of a winning program. There were at least accusations at his former stops.

"What I think we have to do is, just for a moment, look past the depravity and egocentrism to see what lies beneath," Bliss' reference must have said. "And I think if you do you'll see that what lies beneath is pure evil.

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"But if you look under that, you'll find that Dave Bliss isn't a bad guy, per se. He's not immoral. He's amoral. He has no sense of right and wrong. None of that stuff matters to him as long as he gets his way.

"But he's feeling much better now! He's learned his lesson. Listen, sociopaths reform all the time. Once they get their wrists slapped, they walk the straight and narrow every time.

"I'm sure that if you hire Dave Bliss, you'll be getting just the kind of mediocre coach the -- what was it? Dakota Dragons? -- need. And more important, you'll be getting a guy who won't embarrass you at all, especially since you seem to be incapable of embarrassment.

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"You won't have to worry about Bliss breaking a lot of silly old rules because who knows or cares what happens in the Continental Basketball Association? Hire Dave, get the name of the -- what was it? Bismarck Bumblebees? -- in the papers, sell a few tickets to curiosity seekers, and hope for the best.

"I mean, how much trouble can the guy get into in Bismarck? It's not like he has the bright lights and temptations of Waco to worry about.

"OK? Hope that helps. I have to go back to my cell now."

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Lance and drugs: The readers write [PERMALINK]

J.P. Partland: You refer to Lance Armstrong as "just another rider in the '90s." Not true.

Armstrong had been one of the top racers in the '90s. He focused on one-day races and weeklong stage races, and he was among the best at both. He was world champion in 1993, one of the youngest professional world champions ever. He had won two classics, a number of semi-classics. He had come in second in many of the top single-day and weeklong races in Europe. He won stages in the Tour in 1993 and 1995.

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King replies: You're right, as were several other readers who wrote in to make this point. "Just another rider" was overstatement by way of sloppy writing. Obviously Armstrong was already a top racer when he was diagnosed with cancer, because that diagnosis made news. It wouldn't have if he'd been "just another rider."

What I should have written, and meant to say, was that Armstrong was just another very good rider, just another champion. That is, very good, a winner, but not looking like an all-time great or a great candidate to win, let's say, a record number of Tours de France. Consecutively, no less.

For the sake of not having to explain this to letter writers for the next 100 years, I've changed the original to "just another champion."

Brian Bischel: I really don't care if Armstrong was doping or not, but I have a hard time believing he was juiced. Despite the individual achievement, cycling remains a team sport, and Armstrong seems to be a brilliant strategist.

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I find it hard to believe that doping could sustain such a string of accomplishment in cycling. I guess I might view this differently if he won the majority of the stages, but nearly everything he did was within the concept of a team sport. We may never know the truth, but I just as sure question the motives of the folks digging this up as I do the cleanliness of Lance's urine.

Muruga Simmonds: I don't get why some drugs are seen as horrible because they improve performance, yet all kinds of other advances are OK. Lasik surgery sure helps folks out in whatever sport. We don't complain about that.

How many pitchers in baseball have some dead person's ligament in their arms? In the '50s, did every pro athlete have a full-time trainer, nutritionist and medical staff? I don't necessarily think we should just let everyone juice up, but why does our sense of wonder suffer when a guy takes a chemical, but not when he's had a laser shape the lens in his eye?

King replies: First, a quick note: The number of pitchers with some dead person's ligament in their arms is, I think, none. Tommy John surgery involves transplanting the person's own ligament from elsewhere in the body.

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But your point remains, and you ask a very good question. I've asked it myself. I don't know the answer.

Gavin Fritton: While I think that the Tour has an interest in having a "clean" race, I think it has plenty of reasons to want to drag down Armstrong.

First, as Armstrong himself has said, he and the French have always had a love-hate relationship. Now that he has retired from racing, they can indulge in the "hate" aspect a little more openly. Taking him down allows the French to feel a sort of moral vindication for all the resentment they clearly have for him.

While you make an interesting point about Amaury owning both L'Equipe and the race, they may be making a calculated gamble here. I think it is very likely that without Armstrong in the race, interest in the Tour will wane significantly in America. Amaury probably knows this too. And as much as interest here might wane, the Europeans will never lose interest in it (or so it appears) no matter how many allegations of doping get tossed around.

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So, if Amaury knows that they are losing America and they also know that they can't possibly lose Europe, why not indulge in some more parochial interests like bashing Lance and tweaking America in the process?

Lee Iverson: As a scientist and sports fan I'm certainly disturbed by much of the recent coverage of drugs in sport, but not always for the same reasons as everyone else. The Tour de France race director's comment, however, gave me such pause that I had to write to someone. He described the L'Equipe's results as "scientific proof" that Armstrong had cheated. There is quite simply no such thing.

Scientific measurements, theories and predictions are about reducing uncertainty, not eliminating it. Notions of scientific "proof" are very old ideas that have essentially vanished from the practice, use and even philosophy of science in the past century, yet popular consumption of science seems to make this mistake all of the time. The differences of opinion over these "positive" tests reflects that reality, and is a normal part of scientific conversation.

In reality, it is only when enough tests have been attempted by a number of different scientists in the best controlled conditions that we can have any confidence in our ability to interpret any particular measurements using new techniques. What is spectacularly clear from these reports is that none of this has been done yet. These results are every bit as reliable as the "proof" of Iraq's WMD programs that Colin Powell presented to the United Nations.

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That doesn't mean that they aren't true, simply that we have no way of knowing what the accuracy of these tests on these kinds of samples might be.

This really, truly is a witch hunt. It is no more possible to prove you are not a drug cheat than it was for a woman to prove she was not a witch. Without actual evidence, I prefer to believe what I see (even as unreliable as that is). And "without evidence" is where we are today as much as it was last week before these reports were published.

Richard Hershberger: What strikes me about the current atmosphere, where any athletic achievement engenders suspicion, is how it is the mirror image of 19th century baseball and gambling, when any remarkable loss provoked a similar response.

Baseball journalism of the time was constantly full of suspicion and accusations and recriminations. A few instances were proven and are remembered today. Some genuine instances undoubtedly went undetected. But largely forgotten are innumerable charges that were utterly baseless. Any upset or a critical error would provoke such accusations, and sometimes even that wasn't necessary.

Colin Frangos: I disagree with the assumption that Armstrong's doping isn't just editorial policy at L'Equipe. They've treated it as a proven fact that he's been using drugs for the past seven years in all "news" articles.

So I don't think it's true that they have a vested interest in him being portrayed as a hero. They've always hated him and have published demonstrable lies to "prove" it. Regularly. Perhaps they have a rational reason to want the hero of the sporting event they sponsor to be considered a god, but ... well, they're French.

The question then becomes: Have they known the real truth all along and finally have scientific evidence, or is it just one of those weird French things?

We'll see. The details they've provided are pretty sketchy, frankly, and they have a history of making dubious claims backed up by speculation and the occasional lie, but I'll believe it if they prove it.

Kevin E. Davis: You apply a behavioral template of U.S.-style media conglomerates to the French. It doesn't fit. In fact, one may better argue that they enhance themselves (and French cycling) more by framing and smearing Armstrong than by supporting him.

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