The Lance Armstrong Thing

Last week I linked to the Top 10 Sport Science Stories of 2012... Lance Armstrong’s fall was #1.

As I write this, the Lance Armstrong/Oprah interview has not aired yet, though people on the internet already seem to know that he has admitted to doping.  I wanted to do a write-up on this situation (and it’s impact on triathlon) when the USADA first revealed its evidence against him but I didn’t get around to it, and again before 2012 was out I wanted to do a post as part of a end-of-year review.  I’m a little late on that score, but this interview and new revelations will freshen it up a little.

Sifting through all the evidence brought by the USADA is more than some paid, professional journalists can handle, so I don’t like my chances at all.  Still, at this stage, Lance Armstrong’s guilt of using performance-enhancing substances seems to be a foregone conclusion, so let’s run with that.  Though I’d bet his defenders are getting harder and harder to come by now, as the court of public opinion was convicting him, I still saw statements like:

“It’s a shame the state of the sport gives these athletes the need to cheat”

Others would question if it’s really cheating when so many other advancements in our understanding of human physiology (and cycling technology) make things possible today that weren’t before.  Still others point to Livestrong and the good it does against cancer - attacking Lance Armstrong is akin to attacking Livestrong.  His tale of beating cancer (as detailed in It’s Not About the Bike) has inspired so many people, and they worship him as a hero.

This is all garbage.

It’s true that in sports, to succeed is to win.  Athletes who want to get paid need to win, and winning means being better than the others - if the others cheat, you’ll need to cheat or else you go hungry, right? Wrong.  In a world of adults with free will, you make choices and you’re responsible accepting the consequences of those actions.  Need to get paid?  GET A JOB.  Those of us sitting under fluorescent lighting, waiting out the clock till we get a chance to do the same thing professional athletes get to do all day - PLAY GAMES - have little sympathy for those pros.

Should doping really be considered cheating above and beyond the enhancements that can be achieved through better science and medicine available from technology and nutrition?  I’ll give you a hint: if you have to hide what you’re doing, it’s wrong and dishonest, and even worse, you obviously realize that.

And Livestrong?  I’ve got a pair of shorts from them that I really like, and their website is a great overall resource for healthy living and fitness.  What they aren’t doing it curing cancer.  This expose from Outside Magazine purports that they’re in the business of building ‘Lance Awareness’.  Let’s call that accusation the worst case scenario, but if they’re not funneling money into research, then what?  Building awareness?  How much more aware of cancer can we get when it touches the life of 1 in 3 people.  Someone you know is in a fight with cancer or has been.  There is a small space of work in the war on cancer in terms of support services and coordinating them to best help cancer patients.  Personally, I think these services vary widely from location to location and might be better served with local organizations, but if Livestrong can help, more power to them and I wish them well.

As a former cancer patient who won his battle, Lance Armstrong has inspired a lot of people but the hard truth is - fighting cancer involves a lot of luck.  Do you think everyone who has succumbed to the disease simply didn’t ‘want it bad enough’.  That they didn’t put enough effort in?  Certainly not taking your own steps in a cancer fight (making it to chemo treatments, improving your own nutrition, etc.) lessens your chances and not every cancer battle has the exact same adversities, but lauding those who make it without incorporating humility and acknowledging that luck, fate, the universe or God played a significant role is a smack in the face to those who weren’t so lucky.

I read a book once, The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.  In it, the future society has taken on a Victorian moral code, telling them right and wrong along those old, puritanical lines.  In that world, hypocrisy isn’t so bad; they look back at our society where hypocrisy is one of the worst sins, because the only moral code is the one each individual makes for him/herself.  That’s the world we live in - make your own moral code and live by it.

Imagine a rock star.  He womanizes, does drugs, smashes hotel rooms, that sort of standard, rock star stuff.   It’s expected and we as a society won’t condemn it that much.  When the televangelists of the 80s behaved in similar ways, it was a big deal - because their whole image and message was the exact opposite.  If our imaginary rock star recorded Public Service Announcements decrying the use of illegal narcotics, and recorded preachy songs while supporting a drug habit, we’d be pretty incensed.

Which bring us back to Lance Armstrong.  If he’d kept mum about doping like the average rock star does about drug abuse, it would have been one thing.  But no, he’s “the most tested athlete in the world” (obviously those tests are essentially meaningless), and investigations into his doping were “witchhunts”.  The charges were “baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity.”  And of course his famous Nike commercial: “I’m on my bike,... what are you on?”

And that is why I have such a low opinion of him: he cast himself as some kind of angel while casting aspersions on all his peers, while being no better than them.  And now, he’ll probably hope to regain some credibility through confessing to Oprah Winfrey.  You won’t be worshipped any-more, Lance.  This society worshipped you, they worship winners, and now your victories are tainted.  This society doesn’t worship integrity, even though, apparently, it’s just as hard to achieve.

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