A few months ago I wrote a blog entry about “the persecution of Lance Armstrong” in which I defended him passionately. I have also defended him just as passionately in verbal face to face conversation.
After Lance’s confession to Oprah Winfrey it is time for me to “eat crow.”
I have been an admirer of Lance when he was a talented, brash young cyclist, before his bout with cancer and his multiple Tour de France wins. His overcoming the disease and his subsequent “domination” of what I believe to be the worlds most grueling sporting event was an inspiration to me as well as many others throughout the world. I followed and cheered him through his victories and bought and read, multiple times, a few of his books. In addition, regardless of his curt style with the media and his brutal retribution of those who questioned his ethics I believed him to be a decent person and fair competitor. A prime example is a Tour de France stage and his actions as leader of the peleton during a crash by his closest competitor, Jan Ulrich. Instead of “putting the hammer down” and increasing his lead, he waited until Ulrich had caught up to the front, inquired as to if Ulrich was okay, THEN continued racing.
His philanthropic efforts in establishing the LIVESTRONG Foundation were also inspiring. Finally, a professional athlete who didn’t put his ego ahead of decency. Who realized that the true measure of a sporting event was in the effort you put into training and the skill you portrayed in winning the event based on your own natural strength and endurance. And who was willing to share his talents, celebrity status and finances to try and make the world a little better place. I believed him to be a good example of what we COULD be if one trained hard, was candidly honest and be willing to help his fellow man.
Apparently my admiration was misplaced and I was wrong.
Being a little more than a casual cyclist I still admire Lance Armstrong, or any professional cyclist. It takes a lot of discipline and will to get up every day, in all kinds of weather and put the miles in on the saddle. Bike seats are hard, handlebars don’t give and every imperfection in the road is transmitted directed to your groin, hands, wrists, lower back and neck. Somedays you’re roasting and sweating like a hooker in church, others you’re wet, cold, miserable and you can’t feel your fingers and toes. Skinny tires do not do well on wet roads and worse on wet roads with icy patches. Hills are depressing, headwinds are depressing, hills with headwinds can make you contemplate suicide just to end the mental misery. And that’s just the training.
The Tour de France is 21 days and approximately 2100 miles. The average speed during a stage in 2012 works out to almost 25 MPH for 6 hours (I think I’m doing good when I average 18 MPH for 20 minutes). The terrain ranges from flats to hills to honest to God mountains with incredible heights and inclines that will make strong men cry. You go from oxygen rich sea level to oxygen starved mountain peaks, hot humid temperatures in the lowlands to freezing rain in the heights and sometimes in the same day.
Being human, with my own foibles, I can understand anybody’s weakness to take advantage of unfair tactics to do well in a sport where the payoff is in millions of dollars of sponsorships. But I do not condone it. There is no excuse for cheating. If you win a sporting event by cheating you didn’t win….you just cheated.
I may have been able to forgive if Lance had only committed one sin, cheating, one time. But he has committed multiple sins. Lying about his cheating to his accusers is bad enough. Misleading those who look up to you and believe so strongly in you is worse. Doping during one race is bad. How many of your multiple victories are a result of doping? Bringing suit against those who rightly accused you is wrong. Accepting monies from those rewards when you know the suit was falsely brought is worse.
Lance Armstrong’s credibility is totally destroyed. In addition he has destroyed credibility for future athletes. If someone managed to game the system for so long while professing and apparently proving his innocence how are we to believe any future athlete who manages to exceed what we thought was the pinnacle of human achievement? There will now always be the question of “did they cheat? Sure the drug tests are clean but have they found an undetectable way to dope?”
The damage done to the LIVESTRONG Foundation is incalculable at this stage. Though a good foundation with an admirable goal the fact is that there are a lot of people who will disassociate themselves simply because it is a legacy of Lance Armstrong. And changing the name will not bring the organization the same recognition and marketability it would have continued to enjoy had this all not come about. It is still to early to determine the fallout from Lance Armstrongs misdeeds. It would have been bad enough if he had confessed after the first true accusation. The ramifications are far worse after years of denial.
However there are a lot of weasels coming out of the woodpile. For those organizations and companies who are trying to regain monies payed for past promotional fees, forget it. Though there may be a case for misrepresentation here the fact is that you people reaped the financial gain from your association with Lance Armstrong at the time so you don’t get to sue now. I, for example, bought two bikes from TREK based on their association with Lance.
For those of you who wrongly paid rewards for defamation suits brought against you, if it is found that your specific allegations did have merit at the time you made them then you should be entitled to recompense.
I have held Lance Armstrong out as an example of what you can achieve and overcome if you just work hard. Now I find myself having to explain this mess of an example to my 9 year old son. Personally, that may be the hardest thing of all for me.
I still admire Lance Armstrong for his successful battle against cancer and the hope for other cancer victims his example may inspire. I admire him for the discipline that he has brought to his sport. Regardless of the advantage his doping brought in the more efficient use of oxygen in his blood the fact remains that cycling is a physically painful and grueling sport and it takes a lot of courage to climb on a bike every day in all kinds of conditions and ride the miles he has.
It his his perceived character and the example of that character that are the biggest casualty in this whole mess. I hope he can redeem himself…..