Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why I Have No Sympathy for Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong raised a ton of money for cancer awareness in this century. He became an American legend for dominating a grueling event with one testicle. He's an inspiration to millions who have beaten cancer or fought bravely before passing on from this life. He influenced the trend on folks wearing bracelets with messages on them.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, does that change with the overwhelming evidence that he is a cheater? Not just a cheater but someone who elaborately lied for years to keep it up. Someone who rode the fame wave of his celebrity despite bullying and threatening those who dared speak up against his empire. A man who rudely cast aside his wife in a nasty divorce.

A man who’s fall should be worse than Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and anybody in the sports landscape since O.J. Simpson.  A man stripped from glory and all of his titles because he decided to keep lying in the space of overwhelming evidence and he’s trying to save whatever good name he has.
Yes, cycling is a dirty sport. Perhaps the dirtiest sport in the world with more corruption than baseball or football. You can say Lance was a product of his environment just like baseball players who took steroids to compete. The latest Hall of Fame ballot should show you how that turned out for clean folks like Craig Biggio and others. 

Like most of you, I wanted to believe Lance. His rise to fame coincided with my high school and college years and every summer, I got interested in a bicycling race I cared little about before. I bought his story and thumbed my nose at the jealous French media who were mad an American won their race and didn’t appeal to them. I had doubts on their reports of cheating.

But I also realized later that Lance wasn’t a great guy. Cheater or not, I didn’t like the way his divorce came out. He didn’t come off as a nice person and because he was so ornery, I treated him with skepticism. Great champion yes. Great person no, but not everybody who raises money for a noble cause has to be of high character.

Armstrong is the cycling version of Clemens, who also swore he was clean despite his trainer, wife, best friend (Andy Pettite) and others close to him admitting they cheated. Lance tried to maintain his innocence despite teammates, close confidants and others all confessing to the government they cheated and Lance was a big part of it.

He carried on for well over a decade and enjoyed his celebrity benefits. There’s a word for that and it’s called a fraud. I’m not discrediting his athletic ability but the whole story of his success was built on a lie. But yet, some folks don’t care because of the end-game. Raising funds for cancer research.

Except that Livestrong actually raised millions for cancer awareness, not so much research. See there’s a clear difference. Awareness is basically PR for something – something good but not as directly helpful as donating to help fund research. Ask yourself if you’d rather donate to a good cause knowing it was going towards help instead of promoting something? Oh by the way, who benefited the most from Livestrong? Lance himself.

People who want to still elevate Lance because of what he did for cancer awareness have never seen American Gangster or New Jack City, where ruthless criminals endeared themselves to their communities with gifts and Thanksgiving day Turkeys. You think Lance isn't the first person to hide dark deeds by charity? Everybody knew those drug lords/gangsters were criminals and yet people accepted their charity for a variety of reasons.

Lance bravely fought cancer and overcame it. He deserves my respect as do the millions who overcame it. Cancer has personally touched my family, my friends' parents and folks I know from college and Twitter. But at what point does personal accountability come into play? At what point does defending his good work overshadow that he lived and relished in lies and deceit.

You tell a lie long enough and eventually the only person you need to work hard to convince is you, not everyone else. It’s time to tell the truth and while Lance is going for sympathy, I’m sitting here thinking about sympathy for others.

Tyler Hamilton, left, and Floyd Landis, right, were former Armstrong teammates who snitched on Armstrong and faced threats and lawsuits for threatening to undo the great Armstrong empire.
I feel sorry for the people Lance bullied into silence or public scorn. I feel sorry that most of his outreach did not go towards cancer research after 2005.  I feel sorry that Lance didn’t realize he would’ve been an inspiration had he just hopped on the bike after cancer. Yes, it's good that he's paying the Postal Service back something but it feels like chump change almost.

Here’s what I would ask Lance Armstrong Thursday if I had a chance.
1. What made you start using PED’s? To help ease the recovery from cancer for cycling?
2. How and why do you think the culture of cycling fosters this atmosphere of doping so easily?
3. Did it ever get hard keeping this lie up?
4. Did you ever want to admit it sooner
5. What would you say to Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and others that you bullied into silence or intimidated to keep up your charade? (My favorite)

Armstrong is trying to save himself by going on Oprah Winfrey’s network. It’s a PR spin job of the highest order, aided and abetted by Oprah who’s going to love the ratings boost it gets her. This isn’t Monica Lewinsky going to Barbara Walters or Alex Rodriguez confessing to Peter Gammons. It’s two celebrities – one a talk show host – discussing Lance’s past as a confessional more than a potential apology.

He's losing it all. He's no longer chairman of Livestrong. Nike has terminated their relationship with him. He's been banned from cycling by the US Anti-Doping Agency. He's facing lawsuits and possibly more fallout depending on his words to Oprah. And it couldn't happen to a more appropriate person.

Lance did a lot of good for cancer awareness. He inspired many who survived or succumbed to cancer. But as someone that thrived on a lie and bullied those who dared call him out on his lie, one of the greatest stories of my teenage/young adult life deserves to be shattered. He doesn’t deserve sympathy; he should be called out for who he is: One of the biggest frauds in recent American sports history.

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