Back in April I blogged about Lance Armstrong and how I respected him for continuing to compete at a high level in triathlons after retiring from cycling.
Not that a huge number of people read this blog, but I was tempted to go back and delete the post after this week’s news that all of Lance’s corporate sponsors were dropping him and he was stepping down as president of Livestrong.
I decided not to delete the post because I still stand by most of what I said. I didn’t make any reference to doping in that April post. I didn’t think he doped, but I wasn’t sure, and the post was not about doping anyway. But it’s now abundantly clear that Lance not only doped, but he was the honcho of the doping ring that propelled him and his team, U.S. Postal (backed by millions of taxpayer dollars) to the front of European cycling. It’s also apparent that he vindictively trashed and destroyed the reputations and livelihoods of people close to him who dared to publicly state that he doped.
Most of us pulled for Lance because he was such a great story: a kid from Plano, the son of a hard-working single mom, a guy who beat cancer and cheated death, a guy who went to Europe and represented the U.S. on one of the biggest sports stages in the world and then founded an organization to help cancer victims. So, in a sense, we made Lance. No, I’m not saying we made Lance dope. But we made Lance. We constructed him and propped him up and celebrated him because he scratched us where we itched and filled our need to see a brash Texas guy go over and stick it to the Frenchies seven times.
We needed the story. And now that much of the story seems to be fiction we feel the need to trash him and cast him off the way Nike and Trek and Radio Shack and Anheuser-Busch and Honey Waffle Stinger and a bunch of other people have discarded him. But let’s ask ourselves if Nike didn’t make a buttload of cash off of Lance; the Lance that was propelled by drugs. Do you think Nike will be giving any of that money back? Do you think Trek will; now that they know without a doubt that it was the EPO-injected Lance that was winning the tour on their bikes, give back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars they made off of him? Wouldn't it be right for these big corporations to kick in some serious money to drug testing technology or athlete education or clean racer development? If they are doing it I’d like to hear about it.
Let’s not fool ourselves, especially if we’re cyclists. The guy was immensely talented and he trained insanely hard and possessed exceptional mental toughness. He was up there among the top 3 pro triathletes at races he did when he was 16 years old. He got a lot of people off the couch and on a bike. Lance made cycling more popular, accepted and mainstream in the U.S. The massive number of people who went out and threw a leg over a bike because he inspired them probably made bikes and bike technology more affordable. He and his foundation have helped an untold number of cancer victims. So I’m not ready to jump on the Hate-on-Lance bandwagon because he was doing what apparently a high percentage of pro cyclists have been doing.
The whole Lance disaster should make us examine why we tend to celebrate the guy, the team or the coach who is willing to do anything, legal or ethical or not, to win. We celebrate them without asking too many questions. Maybe they’re our dope.