Did anyone else feel like they hit a pothole and were thrown over the handlebars when they heard about Lance Armstrong last week? As you probably know by now, he announced that he would not fight the doping charges that the USADA (U.S. Anti Doping Agency) had brought against him, saying “I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair.” That ‘one side’ includes evidence that he had used both performance enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his professional cycling career. By making this decision, it’s likely that he will be stripped of all seven Tour de France titles, his Olympic Games bronze medal, as well as much of his winnings. That’s when my brain did an endo into a ditch: Lance Armstrong would give up the very thing that defined him: seven time Tour de France champion? How could he possibly do that?
Sad to say, it’s very likely that by refusing to fight for his honor it’s the only way he thinks he can hold on to some semblance of it. Because the more I’ve read of the USADA’s case against him, he would very likely be publicly disgraced and have much much more to lose. He’s not the only one; we his fans would lose an athlete we so greatly admired and wanted to believe in—a man who overcame an illness that nearly destroyed his body and then went on to make that body perform better than many of the fittest athletes in the world—for seven years running. Who really wants to stop believing in that?
Not I. And certainly not anyone who has benefited from or is connected to LiveStrong, the foundation that Armstrong admirably set up to fight cancer. That’s what makes this ‘witch hunt’, as Armstrong has referred to the case against him, oh so more complicated. Because Armstrong, like the rest of us with lesser VO2 max than he, has made both good and bad decisions in his life and the LiveStrong Foundation is unquestionably one of his best ones. Even if we could throw Armstrong into the drink to see if he’s truly guilty or not (a classic 16th century witch hunt practice), the verdict wouldn’t just affect him. If he were to float (a sign of guilt), the hopes of many cancer sufferers would undoubtedly sink, innocent as they are.
It doesn’t seem fair. And yet, does doing good make a wrong any more right? Would it be better to let the USADA and the WADA and the UCI have their say and look the other way? I don’t think I can anymore, not when many of his past teammates are now ready to step forward and testify against him. One of those teammates, the Olympic gold medal winning (and then losing) Tyler Hamilton came clean just over a year ago and spoke on CBS’s 60 Minutes about what he witnessed. It’s fascinating and disturbing, especially when he ‘bets his life’ that every single team on the tour had guys doping. You get the strong sense that Hamilton didn’t feel he had a choice: it was do it or lose it.
But just because everyone is doing it (and many getting away with it) still doesn’t mean it makes it fair or excusable, and at some point the tire is going to blow. Or in this case, the whistle. In a statement addressing his decision not to fight the case, Armstrong said “There comes a point in a man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.” Well, many of us have reached that point also, to no longer give him the benefit of the doubt. If an athlete with Armstrong’s means won’t go through the process to prove that he’s in the right, if he refuses to face his teammates and others who once were close to him, then how can we continue to believe in him?
Another Armstrong was in the news this past week, one who never sought the limelight, and felt his teammates deserved much more credit than he for his own ‘superhuman’ accomplishments. Lance might take Neil Armstrong‘s famous words to heart. By owning up to the truth, he would still lose his titles, but he would gain a small measure of honor for himself and help ensure that all sportsmen and women perform ethically and honorably, now and into the future. It would be “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” That is something I could believe in.