Monday, November 12, 2012

Long After Lance

         A few weeks ago Lance Armstrong experienced a particularly rough span with allegations, which he decided to stop fighting, coming on particularly strong from many directions. My first inclination was to believe him, and the harsh comments the judge made regarding the case bicycling’s governing body made supported my inclination. But the more that comes to light about the scope of doping Armstrong did across the years, the more I suspect USADA wanted to bring it all out in the hearing.

         As the charges continue to roll out and damage Armstrong beyond the race route, the more I wonder what the fallout will be to other athletes as more doping charges will surely emerge. From the loss of the race titles to the damage to his namesake foundation, Armstrong faces threats far beyond a suspension or denial of a hall of fame; a life’s-work could be wiped out.

         Modern athletes transcend the sporting venue and have become more brand than athletic performer. As a result, performance in the sporting venue becomes even more important as it advertises the brand.  Such pressure tempts the use of performance enhancing drugs and it increases the risk of using them. To cheat or not to cheat?

         While Armstrong raced in an era of doping so rampant that the agencies governing international bicycle racing refused to do anything more than leave the record books blank for the years of which his title was stripped, it does not in any way diminish the degree to which his doping damaged the sport. He regularly chimes that he was the most tested athlete in history. To go to the lengths necessary to circumvent the system that Armstrong had to do magnifies the level of deceit he perpetrated against the sport.

         Even though I wanted to believe he was telling the truth, that Armstrong will be recorded as a cheat and a liar in sports comes as no surprise to me. Having lived in Austin twelve years now – and moving to Austin in the middle of Armstrong hype – the community has been filled with story after story about his generally nasty, self-absorbed personality. A co-worker served on the jury trying a driver who nearly hit Armstrong. After his testimony, they wished the driver had hit him, backed up, and hit him again. While the superficial celebrates a winner, the larger undercurrent celebrates the skinned knees.

         The revelation of doping only confirms the underlying character. Armstrong gave hope to millions of people with cancer. Now we know it was a misguided hope. He did not do it on his own; he knowingly and intentionally manipulated the system to promote the image he holds of himself. Unfortunately, his self-image conflicts with reality. He presents an unfair image to those millions.

         Hope is a powerful tool.

         Hope changes even the most dire circumstance.

         Dashed hope, in this case is deadly.

         I cannot help but resent Armstrong for the damage he did to those cancer patients who clung to his story as a motivation for their own success. For the donors to his foundation who ask for their money back, I feel for you. You fell for a lie.

         But for those cancer patients, the world is filled with cancer survivors who do AMAZING feats without cheating, without misleading everyone. One person’s dishonest conspiracy should in no-way diminish your hope because the truth is there are far more who have survived gracefully with their own force of character. They just do not have a publicity machine pumping out the story. They survived for themselves. Ultimately, everyone lives for themself.

         Still, after following the Armstrong story for years I wonder what lessons will be learned from his grandeur fall. History says no. Those who perform at the very highest levels eventually believe the myth that they are unshakable no matter the fall of those before them. 

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