It’s absolutely no secret that Lance Armstrong ranks super high on my All Time Heroes List. Been a fan, an admirer, a supporter since he beat the odds, defeated the cancer he was given little chance of surviving, then conquered the most arduous sporting event in existence—not once, but seven straight times.
When he retired in 2005, we remained cycling fans—though, it just was not the same. Enjoyed the Spring Classics, followed former teammates such as George Hincapie, and discovered new young talent that kept “Le Tour” a must-see each July. When Lance announced his comeback in the Fall of 2008, cycling suddenly grew more exciting, the anticipation building. Could he come back after three years and treat us once again to a Tour to Remember?
Opened my first Twitter account when Lance announced his comeback. Then I was something like the 17.9-Million Twitter account set up. Contrast four years’ later with my blog’s Twitter account numbered almost 300-Million. Remember Lance’s excitement the day he hit 25,000 followers… Now his followers near 4,000,000, and Twitter is mainstream media.
Over the past few weeks—or really the past six months—watched the difficult unraveling of this hero. Really, really wanted him to “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” and Lance obliged, denying the allegations and seemingly irrefutable evidence that he not only took performance-enhancing drugs, but also “bullied” teammates into doing the same. Although he never failed a random test—and was the most tested athlete in that era—the USADA, then the UCI accepted the evidence as “damning,” and banned the now-retired cyclist from competitive sports and stripped him of those seven yellow jerseys.
Difficult to watch, difficult to accept, difficult to believe the legend was a myth perpetuated by a so-called cloak of silence. That crack appeared in these rose colored glasses for the very first time.
Whether or not Lance doped pales in light of the jubilation of the USADA, the glee of the “cynics,” the media who immediately dubbed him the “disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.” To read some accounts, Lance seduced young cyclists into joining this conspiracy of doping-at-all-costs to ensure victory—the hero suddenly portrayed as America’s Most Wanted for performance-enhancing drugs. Forgotten in the media hype is the fact that many of the same cyclists who felt that they had no choice except to dope to keep their jobs continued to use PEDs long after they left the team to ride for other sponsors. These were not innocent children, but grown men who obviously made a conscious decision to remain on the team, to use PEDs, to accept the paychecks, the bonuses and the glory.
The very fact that the Tour de France will not name a winner for those seven years testifies to the culture that accepted and winked at PED usage. How far down the list would they have to go to find a clean rider—and then, since test results obviously are meaningless, how could they be sure they had found that “clean” cyclist to wear the yellow jersey?
None of this excuses what the evidence appears to confirm—Lance is not the man we placed on that podium and declared a hero. But—and this is a huge “but” for me—none of this tarnishes the work he and his Foundation have accomplished over the past 15 years, taking cancer from a stigma to a mantra of survivorship…to LiveStrong.
For the 28-Million cancer survivors, for the friends for whom I have worn my yellow wristband for nearly a decade, for those who lived strong, but ultimately lost the battle, Lance Armstrong remains a hero. If you’re one of those who demonize him now, please keep the legacy and work of the LiveStrong Foundation in mind. What the Foundation—in large part due to Armstrong’s celebrity and dedication—accomplishes is vital work that must continue. The yellow wristbands must remain a symbol of hope, determination, survivorship.
Armstrong is not the first athlete to ingloriously tumble from our super-hero podiums… Michael Jordan had his gambling issues; Michael Vick served time in prison for committing heinous acts on dogs; Tiger Woods self-destructed over a Thanksgiving weekend no one will forget. But those three remain stars, though a bit tarnished, in their respective sports. The three still have sponsors and legions of fans. None was who the public image portrayed, yet somehow the world forgave, forgot—and awarded Jordan, Vick, and Woods a second chance in the sport in which they excel.
Is it more acceptable to brutalize animals, gamble during the playoffs, cheat on your wife than to take PEDs? Time will tell that story. Those who revel in Armstrong’s humiliation should note—it’s quite likely none of this evidence would ever have surfaced had Lance stayed retired and not gotten back on his bike. We’d still have our seven-time TDF champion; we’d still have Lance Armstrong, the inspiration to millions; we’d still have one of America’s greatest heroes.
With my rose-colored glasses, cracked on one lens, I can’t help but wish Lance Armstrong had never gotten back on that bike.
- Lance Armstrong Stripped of 7 Tour de France Titles, Banned for Life by UCI (outsideonline.com)
- Lance Armstrong dip from stardom status (allsportshere.wordpress.com)
- The apology Lance Armstrong will never give (sports.nationalpost.com)
- America’s Last Hero? (chicksdigsportsromance.com)