I’ve purposively not touched the Lance Armstrong story because it is so tragic on so many levels. While there has always been a lot of ‘smoke’ (allegations), there never has been the amount of evidence that was released a week ago by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA – link to the report). If you are at all interested in this story, I would encourage you to read USADA’s report. If you had any reasonable doubt about Armstrong’s actions, this document will remove those doubts. In fact, if you continue to defend Armstrong without reading the report, you do not have the whole story and can’t be a reputable defender. The report describes an athlete that manipulated the system, lied, cheated, and then practiced character assassination on anyone that raised questions.
It is tragic that someone that so many looked up to as a beacon of hope and perseverance, has now been shown to also be such a beacon of the cruelty of the “win at any cost” mentality. Ask yourself, if it had been you, would the gains had been worth everything he had to go through to claim to be the champion of the Tour de France? Would the achievement have been worth completely destroying people and advocating – no forcing – drug use by your teammates? Would the accomplishments been worth living with the deception and what surely must have been the exhausting denials for many years? What would we say if the same behavior was uncovered in other athletes – like Roger Clemens, Andy Petite, or Mark McGuire? Reflect on what those players have gone through just for the use of or the suspicion of the use of performance enhancing drugs – being hauled in front of Congress for testimony is a fairly significant consequence. Can you imagine the consequences if there was this much evidence that these players also enforced drug-use on their teams – just to win?
Yes, it’s tragic. Armstrong meant so much to so many, and in so many ways, those meanings are now hollow, with the real Lance Armstrong finally revealed in the pages of the USADA report. The Lance Armstrong we thought we knew has been revealed to be nothing more than an actor; acting a part just so the charade of a hopeful beacon could continue. There was an AP article that suggested Armstrong’s image would survive this scandal. Really? Are we really ready to forget (we all forgive, right?) the years of deceit and still hold him up as a beacon of hope? Maybe not – it was just announced that he has stepped down as the head of the Livestrong Foundation after 15 years because of the concern that his image may be so damaged that it would hurt the foundation.
But what can we say when another ‘sports hero’ – and an American one at that – crumbles? Do we just avert our eyes and forget that we all lauded this athlete while he was deceiving us. Do any of us feel bad for the people whose characters were destroyed because they spoke out? If nothing else, we should at least be familiar with those people’s names and what they sacrificed so the truth could come out (provide below courtesy of Dr. Ross Tucker)…and if you don’t know what they went through, google their names and prepare to be further ashamed. Because we should all be ashamed that we let this deceit continue and encouraged it (or did not pay attention)…
So if nothing else, think of Betsy and Frankie Andreu, David Walsh, Paul Kimmage, Emma O'Reilly, Andy Hampsten, Scott Mercier, Darren Baker, Christophe Bassons, and all the others who spoke first, or walked away. As Ross Tucker notes, “Theirs is the example to praise, and today is a day to celebrate them.”
About the Author
Dr. J. Timothy Lightfoot, PhD FACSM RCEP CES, Omar Smith Endowed Chair in Kinesiology, Dept. of Health & Kinesiology, Texas A&M University.