Joe Papp: Reformer

Daniel Benson at Cyclingnews has written an amazing profile of doper-cum-dealer-cum-informer Joe Papp. Benson’s skill as an interviewer and ability to remain neutral is in full force in the profile. Before you read any further, please read it here. I’m not normally one to write response piece (though it has happened), but this is one occasion from which I cannot restrain myself.

Let’s recall that Papp is a rider who began doping to pump up what was a third-rate career as a pro and that he nearly died from a gluteal hematoma following a crash. Doctors drained an incredible 1200ml of blood from the wound.

Was this enough to get Papp to stop doping? Heck no.

He was popped for testosterone at the Tour of Turkey in 2006 and suspended through July of 2008. Was that enough to get Papp out of doping? Nope.

He turned state’s witness so-to-speak and testified at the Floyd Landis CAS appeal. In his testimony he admitted that he had used testosterone gel, steroids and EPO. The only drug he ever tested positive for, recall, was the testosterone. What Papp didn’t admit at the CAS hearing was that he was trafficking in doping products—primarily EPO—to other riders. So obviously, testifying wasn’t enough to get Papp out of doping.

Then, in 2008, the story broke that Papp had been dealing in doping products. It was a shocking turn of events following his 2007 interview in VeloNews. He was asked, “How do you respond to naysayers who complain you’re just a small fish making a big stink, that you were a low level pro who is onlyspeaking out after he was caught?”

Papp’s response: “I don’t have to respond to them, do I? (laughs) Seriously, I don’t have anything else left to lose, so I’m in a position to be able to speak out without fear of retribution, unlike someone like Basso, who can still earn millions after his suspension. It all comes downto money – when a rider still has the chance to earn more money through cycling than another profession, it is in his interest to deny specific charges against him or general claims of doping in sport.”

Once caught, Papp not only faced increased sanctions from USADA, but federal charges in his home state of Pennsylvania. To say he began singing like a stool pigeon is to say Michael Jackson could dance. What did all that singing get him? Well, it kept him out of prison. He’s been under house arrest and thanks to his plea agreement with prosecutors, he’s only receive house arrest. That’s quite different from the sentence of 10 years he faced.

Papp told Benson that he’d like to find a role within cycling on his release, that he’d like to work as an anti-doping advocate in the sport.

I don’t see the point. He told Benson, “I can tell you that I absolutely at no point wanted to go to prison and that at no point was I going to do anything less than the absolute maximum to help myself.”

Beyond what he has told authorities about his customers, I’m not sure I see a way he can be of use. But that’s not really the point. Papp has proven that he’s got no moral compass, that he’ll do whatever he needs to just to save his ass, but he doesn’t really think in terms of the good of the sport. The chance to say out of prison is a powerful incentive. People have invented whole fictions just to reduce the amount of time they spend in prison. Telling the truth is a good deal easier.

He told Benson, “There’s nothing noble in accepting a prison sentence.”

See, that’s where Joe’s wrong. Had he told everything he knew just for the good of the sport, just because it was the right thing to do and then accepted prison time, what ever the appropriate sentence of someone who didn’t cooperate was (so I’m not suggesting the maximum), then I’d believe he did it for the good of the sport. In cooperating to saving his ass from time behind bars, he put his own interest ahead of any other consideration. I’m not suggesting he wasn’t honest, just that his honesty was purchased just like the EPO and growth hormone he sold.

I think he’s still rather clueless, a point driven home by this quote: “I don’t think I’ve lost the right to enjoy the actual act of pedalling a bike as a fitness endeavour, and something that is therapeutic.”

No, Joe, no one is suggesting you deserve to lose the right to ride a bike. We just don’t want to see you pin a number on again or anywhere near anyone who does.

Joe, here’s my offer to you: I’ll give you the opportunity to tell the readers of RKP why I’m wrong, why you really can offer the anti-doping fight long-term assistance. Personally, I think you’re a blight on cycling and even if you were offered a job by USADA to do this, you’d jump ship to the first bike shop willing to pay you more, but I’ve been critical and am willing to hear you out. Drop me a note: info [at] redkiteprayer [dot] com.

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26 comments

  1. Emory Ball

    I think Joe needs to stop talking about honor. He did what he did to stay out of jail and reduce his punishments as much as possible. I have no problem with that but it wasn’t done out of honor it was done because he was caught and didn’t want to do time. In addition I agree I fail to see how he can be work as a anti doping advocate, that would like letting a banking accused and convicted fraud back in the bank to work.

    His actions to me are not noble he’s just cleaning up a mess he helped make. Calling it noble is like saying BP saying they are nvironmentalists because the are cleaning up the oil spill in the gulf.

  2. Meg

    For my money, Papp deserves to be locked up. He cared nothing for the health of young riders he sold his crap to. As you say, he sang like a bird to save his sorry ass, not because he cared about our sport. IF he ever gets back in to cycling in any capacity, we can kiss goodbye to getting cycling clean.

  3. Jarvis

    The line about doing everything he could to save his arse was what stood out for me and for the same reason as you. Quite clearly all he cares about is himself and earning money. Doesn’t seem to give a toss about the sport or anyone else

  4. ben

    Papp is such a POS. Yeah, it’s nice and somewhat helpful that he’s helping nail his former clients and others, but he’s doing that BECAUSE he was caught. If he hadn’t been caught he’d still be dealing. The dude didn’t/hasn’t learned a thing. He’s cooperating b/c it keeps him somewhat relavent and that, from the time he was a kid, is obviously all he ever wanted…to be special.

    Hey, I’ve got an idea, let me go swindle or hurt somebody. that’ll make ME special! Then I’ll be on the news! Maybe I’ll get a deal and be able to be special in the courts! People will pay attention to me. Does this guy have daddy issues or something?

    What kills me is how self-righteous this guy is. “Look! I’m helping to clean up cycling now!” What other choice did you have pretty boy? Prison? Yeah, you’d do well in there pal. You got a pretty mouth.

  5. Robot

    I can forgive Joe Papp for what he’s done to cycling. I just don’t want him back in the sport. I don’t need him to go to prison. I just don’t want him back in the sport. If he wants to do the honorable thing, I think he ought to go find a living someplace else. And best of luck to him.

  6. Flahute

    I’d rather see someone do the right thing for the wrong reasons than continue to do the wrong things.

    I wrote a letter to the judge in Papp’s case requesting leniency due to his cooperation; regardless of Joe’s motivation for cooperating, because of his actions, there are fewer dopers in the sport than there were previously. And I don’t believe that he helped create the problem … if Papp hadn’t provided the service, you can count on the fact that someone else would have.

    If keeping him out of prison ensures continued cooperation and more dopers being ejected from the sport, then I’m all for it.

    But then I guess you guys all think that Frank Abignale should never have started cooperating with the FBI, either.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your thoughts on this.

      Flahute: There’s no question that it’s better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than to do the wrong thing. And there’s also no question the Papp did deserve leniency because of his cooperation. I trust that the appropriate punishment is being delivered. I only suggested jail time in response to Papp’s issue of noble action. I just don’t think you can claim to have acted nobly if there was any positive incentive guiding your decision. As for Frank Abagnale (for those who don’t remember, he was the subject of the movie “Catch Me If You Can”), I don’t think Papp is an accurate comparison. I’d compare Abagnale to Michele Ferrari. One was a master forger, the other a master doper. And because he was a master, I think Abagnale was in a position to teach the FBI a lot about how good forgers work. I’m unconvinced that Papp has the same level of knowledge, which is why I invited him to respond.

  7. David

    Where do I start…

    “who began doping to pump up what was a third-rate career as a pro”. Different I guess if you’re in the top ten.

    “he doesn’t really think in terms of the good of the sport”. Again, applies to anyone doping. They are only, in the end, selfishly thinking of themselves.

    “People have invented whole fictions just to reduce the amount of time they spend in prison”. Hmm… “I planned on doping but never did”. That certainly gets creative points!

    I would submit (with respect) that anyone doping, lying, cheating, lacks a moral compass.

    They are all swimming in the same pool. Are there degrees of moral turpitude? Perhaps that is the more pertinent question here.

    Regardless, I hope he never pins on a number again.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Cyclo Cross News: I assume you are referring to Lance Armstrong and I would question the suggestion that his entire career was based on a massive fraud, but that’s neither hear nor there. Lance Armstrong has no bearing on this post, was not the subject of this post. Let’s stick to the matter at hand.

  8. A Stray Velo

    I’d agree, I don’t thing this guy has any moral compass either.

    What’s really bugging me about all these cyclists who dope, confess to doping and continue on with their careers is that they take their second chance for granted. Okay I agree that most people, not all people deserve a second chance. Papp obviously doesn’t. I feel like I’m getting taken for a ride (pun completely intended) by professional cycling. Today it seems acceptable or the norm to be caught doping, take your two year vacation and then continue on with your career. I get the idea that it’s become acceptable within the peleton to dope as long as you don’t get caught and if you do get caught you’re welcome back anyway. It’s a farce.

    The top riders receive generous salaries with a unofficial “second chance” bonus in their back pocket in case they “give into the pressure of doping.”

    Cyclists like Papp are taking that notion that everyone deserves a second chance and rubbing our faces in it.

    He deserves completely nothing from the cycling community and I’m starting to feel he’s not the only one in or formerly of the peleton who should be standing outside the cycling community circle of trust.

    Let’s stop rewarding these riders who take it for granted that they have a second chance and celebrate the ones who will never need it.

  9. LD

    @A Stray Velo.
    I think its always been acceptable to dope within the peloton. As long as there have been products with the assumption that they’ll help you ride faster they have been part of the peloton.
    Omerta developed through this bond between the riders. If a rider spoke (speaks) out he’d be hard pressed to get anywhere in the peloton save for Lantern Rouge. It is probably changing ever so slowly but a rider still has to honor Omerta because of the aforementioned reason. Like the ridiculous “war” on drugs, as long as the need to consume them is there, guys like Papp will exist.

  10. ben

    @LD (or anyone else that cares to chime in),
    re: Omerta. As you said, you feel, at it certainly seems that attitude is changing. Where do current advocates (David Millar I suppose comes to mind) fit in that Omerta scenario? Obviously he’s not being relegated to lantern rouge status, but is that b/c of his history and level of experience. Is it b/c he is on Garmin (and how do the rest of the riders on “clean” teams fit in the Omerta?)?

    Just curious…b/c it is pretty obvious the Omerta was THE WAY and it’s obvious that to some degree that is changing…but it also seems to be very much present at the same time. There are outspoken anti-doping riders now. Andrew Talansky has been pretty outspoken and he’s new to the pro-tour. I don’t think Andrew has been shunned, but what do i know? not much!!

  11. LD

    @Ben
    I’d love to discuss this further but I don’t want to get off topic (Papp). Having said that, yea there are exceptions. I think Miller is an exception but indeed the climate within the Peloton is changing. But…..

  12. Dim

    I think first I should say I consider Joe a friend, however, I am also a staunch anti-doper which at times does create its own dilemma.

    Firstly to address a point in these comments. Just because Joe didnt ride at protour level does not mean he knows nothing about the culture of doping in the top level of our sport. Riders of all levels share houses, they share coaches, they train roads, and most of all, they share the same suppliers. Often low level coaches, soigneurs who go unnoticed but supply by pro’s and amateurs at the same time. Sure there are exceptions, Postal kept it in house, but by the large the network encompasses pro’s, amateurs, soigniers, riders, riders wives and girlfreinds, it doesnt differentiate between wether you are pro tour or not.

    My second point is. Its interesting how everyone wants former dopers to name names, people want the omerta broken, people want riders to stand up and confess, but yet, when it actually happens, they are a POS, a blot on cycling, and need to just go away.

    You cant have it both ways.. ;)

  13. Ian

    None of you know Joe personally, so talking all kinds of shit (which includes this ‘article’) it probably pretty easy for you folks. I also suppose that after attacking the cyclingnews piece for being ‘objective’, you feel that this run-on dreck you pumped out with your axe to grind is doing the cycling world a favor. RKP would be more of a help to the cycling community if they were to not lower themselves to the type of encouraged slander that makes this site look like a second rate celeb gossip site. Move the fuck on. Joe has paid plenty and it’s time to shift the focus toward healing the sport, not still rallying the staunchly anti dope crowd around a cause that has already seen it’s course. This is the last time I visit this shithole gossip circle. Thought you were about riding and racing, not promoting negative energy to the community who is trying to be positive.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Dim and Ian: Thank you for joining the conversation. I’ve applauded riders who have doped for confessing their full knowledge of their doping activities. And it’s true that the investigation that brought down Rock Racing and let to the investigation into Lance stemmed from the raid on Papp’s mother’s home. However, Papp did not confess the full extent of his activity when he first tested positive, which is why I’m not trying to have it both ways. Had he confessed everything, including his trafficking and his full customers list, I’d think he was a pretty terrific guy. I would. However, the fact that he concealed his trafficking from USADA even as he was acting as a witness on their behalf was self-serving in the extreme and embarrassed USADA at a time they didn’t need any help in that department. Even after the raid his cooperation has been tied to reducing his sentence, and while I completely understand the motivation to cooperate in exchange for leniency, Joe claims his acts were noble, but there’s nothing noble about covering your ass. I simply don’t think he can be trusted to tell the truth for the sake of doing the right thing; he only seems to tell it when there’s something in it for him, which means his knowledge isn’t about the good of the sport, it’s for the highest bidder no matter what the purpose.

      I’d like to heal the sport and have written extensively about ways to do it. Papp’s ability to be forthright is a serious issue.

      Ian: I respect that you say you won’t be visiting here anymore and that’s fine. However, if you do, and you choose to comment, please be aware that we do have one rule about comments: Keep it respectful.

  14. Big Mikey

    Geez, Padraig, I’m disappointed in your zealotry on the subject. Joe did a couple of bad things, got caught for one, continued to do the other to keep the cash flow going, and eventually got caught for the other. He’s lost everything, living at home under house arrest, and his name and reputation are in shambles. And this crowd is talking about how he should have gone to jail? For distributing products to guys who knew exactly what they were doing with them?

    I’d expect more compassion, frankly. Who is any of us to judge someone else? Who’s to say when he’s paid enough, and who are we to draw the moral distinction between being noble and self-interested?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Big Mikey: I’ll admit I’ve been pointed in my criticism of Papp. I have. I believe he deserves to be regarded in a very different light than the guy he is compared to most often: David Millar.

      Let’s draw a comparison with recreational drug use: The law distinguishes between possession for personal use and possession with intent to distribute. It’s a distinct threshold and that’s why Papp should be viewed in a different manner and why his contribution has been both helpful and damaging. As a dealer who concealed his activity from USADA as he was testifying on their behalf suggests to me that this guy has no allegiance to anyone but himself.

      As to whether we have the right to distinguish between acts that that are noble and those that are self-interested, I think I have a duty as a writer to point out distinctions as I see them. He claims that his acts have been noble, but that suggests he undertook them for superior moral reasons and that, by any standard, is not what happened. I haven’t suggested that his punishment was inappropriate or that he deserved jail time. What I’ve pointed out is that there’s nothing noble about cooperating with authorities in exchange for leniency. It’s and understandable and reasonable thing to do, but noble it ain’t.

      I might also have more compassion for him if he wasn’t so rough on others. His condemnation of Andrew Tilin is completely outsized to 1) Tilin’s offense and 2) Papp’s punishment relative to his own offense.

  15. Dim

    I fully agree that we shouldnt be comparing Papp to David Millar. Joe has co-operated with authorities and it is his information that has led to investigations that ultimately end up in the cases against the likes of Longo and Armstrong.

    David Millar on the other hand, fessed up only because he was caught red handed, and is now seen as some sort of anti doping advocate. Why? What exactly has Dave done? Did he name other riders who were doping? Did he tell the authorities where he got his EPO? Did he hell. Dave has somehow made a name for himself as this purvayor of all things clean, as the staunch anti doping advocate without actually doing anything.

    I like Dave, I like him as a rider, but it always amuses me how people will hold up a guy who has done nothing as some huge anti doping advocate.

  16. Simon Wicks

    First of all, I suppose I should declare an interest – I’m a friend of Joe’s. But I’m a disinterested friend (in the true meaning of the word); I have no qualms about telling him what I think. But my feeling is that it’s too easy get self-righteous about all of this, point fingers and cry damnation. It’s too easy. Some of you criticise Joe for saving his ass, some of you admit begrudging respect to him for doing so – but you all find something to rip him apart for. He’s an easy target – though, to be fair, he doesn’t do himself many favours on this point…

    But here’s a question: do any of you who criticise him actually know Joe? Have any of you met him, had a conversation with him, maintained a lengthy correspondence with him? How aware are any of you the background to Joe’s behaviour? Nothing exists in a vacuum.

    I’ve no particular issues with holding Joe to account for his specific behaviour. He could have said no when offered dope for the first time (though, as many riders have attested, that’s a very difficult thing to do if you’re an ambitious, hopeful young man and you want to be accepted); he certainly could have decided not to set up his online EPO operation. But please don’t hold him to account for everything that’s toxic in cycling, and sport in general. Joe’s not responsible for the deceitful, oppressive, ruthless, manipulative and monomaniacal culture of professional cycling. He’s also, incidentally, not responsible for the people who approached him to buy EPO – they all knew what they were doing. By all means be angry about the toxic culture of professional sport, but don’t pick out people like Joe as scapegoats.

    Joe’s story is actually a lot more fascinating – and troubling – than many of you probably realise. And he’s a highly intelligent and complex guy, too. But it’s easy for that to get lost amid the moral simplicities that tend to be the standard fodder of internet debate. The way I see it – and this is also simplifying – is that he’s a vulnerable man who got caught up in the machine and it chewed him up. You think his behaviour’s ambiguous? In all likelihood, yours would be, too, if you were facing 10 years in prison for selling performance-enhancing drugs to people who wanted to go faster at cycling or running or whatever. I’ll say it again – they knew what they were doing. This isn’t an equivalent to selling street drugs to schoolkids.

    And if you think he’s not paying a high-enough price, I’ll remind you that he’s been more or less without liberty for the best part of four years (ie, surrendered passport, not allowed to leave his town without permission); he’s entirely without liberty at present (it’s not the case, as I’ve seen suggested, that he can go to the shops – he’s actually not allowed to leave his house at all except under special circumstances); and he’s facing a further three years with greatly reduced liberty. He has no job and little prospect of one; he’s shunned both within the sport and without; he has no family support; he reads personal abuse from strangers on the internet daily; and he’s already vulnerable… care to swap places with him?

    I really can’t get too worked up about the ethical debate about cycling – and other sports – that people seem so determined to get involved in. Sports people cheat. They’ve always cheated. They always will. So what? We dream of honour and glory (a kind of proxy elevation of our own lives), so I guess it’s no wonder we feel so disappointed when we see what goes on behind the scenes – maybe it’s a bit like seeing just how banal a magic trick really is. That’s disillusion, folks. Personally, I find the Machiavellian nature of cycling one of its more engaging aspects, but maybe I’m just one of the less deceived; anyway, I’m a lot more concerned about my friend than I am about whether this guy or that guy took this or that.

  17. velomonkey

    I’m not so sure I see this as a fair and partial write up.

    I recall in philosophy 101 there was some phrase along the lines of slippery slope for doing something bad – ergo, don’t do something bad, because philosophically it’s difficult to see the ethics or lack there of in the next step.

    Joe doped. Joe sold dope. Joe turned to cover his own hide and talked about the people he sold to in order to avoid prison.

    At what point does he deserve your ire? Is it when he doped? If so, you got a lot of writing ahead of you!!!! Is it when he sold dope? If so, why specifically is that worse than just doing dope? Does telling someone how to dope the same, worse or better than selling dope? Is it when he became a rat? If so, why is this worse then selling or teaching someone how to dope?

    The only truism on Joe is that he is clearly out for himself. So is Lance Armstrong and a lot of other pros! So why the diatribe against Joe?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Velomonkey: Fair question. I’m surprised that so many seem to be talking around the same point, so I think maybe my point wasn’t clear enough.

      Yeah, he doped. I don’t like that, but lots have done it, so it’s not a huge deal.

      Yeah, he trafficked in dope. That’s bad. Way worse that anything Millar or a host of other guys did, but that’s not why I have a problem with him.

      His apoplectic diatribe against Andrew Tilin, who doped for a feature for Outside magazine is completely outsized to Tilin’s offense. Papp’s froth over it strikes me as completely hypocritical, but even that’s not my big problem with him.

      My problem with him is that he was selling a variety of doping products while he was testifying on behalf of USADA, claiming to have reformed his ways. In short, he was a double agent. Now he says he can continue to help in the fight against doping. He hasn’t done anything to help the sport that didn’t have a string attached to his well-being. The problem isn’t that he is self-serving, it’s that because he only acts in a self-serving way, when his freedom is no longer at stake can we trust him to act with the sport’s best interests in mind? I don’t see how he can be trusted to be both honest and forthright at the same time. And if we can’t trust that, how can we have him in the sport? I think he has the potential to do more damage to the sport in the future, and I don’t trust that he can do enough good to overcome that. And I’d love for anyone to rebut that idea. I’m open to hearing other views, but not many people seem to appreciate that distinction.

  18. randomactsofcycling

    Wow, I’m late for this topic but it astounds me that something that is ENTIRELY black and white, can be so clouded.
    Joe doped. Joe got caught. Joe doped, again and then sold it to others and then lied about that AND continued selling on the sly.
    C’mon, if we are half as intelligent as we think we are (we read RKP after all) can’t we just draw a line and put Joe on one side of it?
    Sure Joe may not be a bad person, but he made bad choices and society says and has always said that people must pay for their choices.
    And by the way, as soon as someone mentions how noble their intentions are, they aren’t.

  19. Walter

    “randomactsofcycling says:

    November 13, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Wow, I’m late for this topic but it astounds me that something that is ENTIRELY black and white, can be so clouded.
    Joe doped. Joe got caught. Joe doped, again and then sold it to others and then lied about that AND continued selling on the sly.
    C’mon, if we are half as intelligent as we think we are (we read RKP after all) can’t we just draw a line and put Joe on one side of it?
    Sure Joe may not be a bad person, but he made bad choices and society says and has always said that people must pay for their choices.
    And by the way, as soon as someone mentions how noble their intentions are, they aren’t.”

    Spot on! Everyone who breaks the law and gets caught often loses a lot (job, career, home, etc.). That does not change who they are or what they did.

    Everyone who gets caught and cooperates get a break. That too does not change who they are or what they did.

    This guy is a step above (or, more appropriately, below) the normal crook who gets caught and then sings for his freedom (truthfully or not). As so many have pointed out, he used, got caught, took a step further by then dealing. He testified, but lied by omission in that he did not disclose his dealing.

    In short, he and the truth are strangers. He offers the truth only if it is already known. He deserves no pity and no sympathy. I suspect had his sentencing Judge known the extent of his duplicity in the US doping hearings, the outcome would have been different.

    I agree we should move on…but without this guy in the sport.

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