The two sides of Lance Armstrong

Posted: August 27, 2012 by terryvandrovec in Guesties, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Thursday night, the ultimate sports survivor gave up.

Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France and cancer-fighting icon, stopped fighting the doping charges that have dogged him for years. He quit via press release.

There are only two logical conclusions to draw from this: Either the Texan truly is innocent or he’s trying out a new form of the non-admission admission. And we thought we’d heard them all before.

However, the implications are complex and borderline mind-boggling. Armstrong built his Livestrong movement, a charity that’s reportedly raise roughly $500 million for cancer research, on the platform of his incredible story – he wasn’t supposed to live, let alone become the most decorated cyclist ever. If he cheated, does that message get undermined? Or should the public care less about his alleged actions on the field of sport in light of his contributions to the world?

This is what Armstrong looked like during his battle with cancer.

Minneapolis sports-marketing pro Andrew Miller (AM) and I (TV) are going to try to work through this …

AM: Let’s get away from Lance Armstrong the fallible human being for just a moment and focus on the Lance Armstrong brand.

You and I never knew Lance Armstrong. Any sports fan who feels disappointed or let down is needs to take a step back and breathe. Sports fans should know by now pro athletes will do almost anything to get a leg up. (If you haven’t already, check out the Star Tribune’s heartbreaking three-part series on painkillers in the NFL.) If a pro athlete cuts corners, that’s their cross to bear. Don’t take it personally.

We knew the idea of Lance Armstrong. We could never begin to know the individual.

I wore the Livestrong x Nike Lunarglide+ 3for my run this morning. I don’t wear the yellow Livestrong bracelet anymore, but I did back in 2004 while my grandfather was fighting cancer. (I counted four runners wearing them this morning, by the way.) As far I know, I’ve never purchased anything endorsed by another cyclist. Like most fans, Armstrong is the only cyclist I’ve ever instantly recognized. I couldn’t tell you this year’s Tour de France winner without googling it.

To me, Armstrong was a symbol of persistence. The irony here is it appears that persistence wasn’t necessarily pure. Immediately, the Lance Armstrong brand is tarnished. But can anyone honestly say they were shocked by Armstrong’s de facto admission of guilt?

TV: Doing lots of good on a platform built (potentially) atop deceit – to me, this is what makes this doping case different than any others in sport. The question has been asked: Aren’t philanthropic cheaters better for society than run-of-the-mill selfish cheaters? Frankly, I’m not certain. And, no, I’m not being dramatic.

There is no question that Armstrong inspired others battling cancer. He provided, at worst, a placebo effect – they thought they could beat the dreadful disease because Armstrong did. Atheists might argue that religion does the same thing – tricks people into believing in a fable. It just feels … gross. We want to think the things that inspire us are pure. When they don’t turn out to be, we’re apt to feel foolish and stupid and conflicted.

Then again, maybe we don’t care anymore. Reports say that giving to Livestrong has spiked in light of Armstrong being stripped of his championships. Interesting. I wonder if those people are giving to stop cancer or giving to support a guy they still believe is a hero. And does intent even matter if the money is getting to where it’s supposed to?

AM: The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?

Kobe Bryant goes to Germany and has space-age blood platelet therapy on his rapidly decaying knee and bounces back a new man. No one quite understands the procedure, but no one questions it, either.
Tiger Woods mimics the divine throughout his 20s before his body begins to fall apart. Then, his personal live dissolves when we learn he’s made bedded half the talent in the San Fernando Valley despite being married with two young children.
Armstrong wins a close fight with cancer, then rattles off seven Tour de France wins. In a row. Going back to 1903, no American cyclist other than Greg LeMond had won the Tour de France. Then, an American wins seven in a row. Without testicles!
So often, we hear announcers explain how an athlete’s greatness excites the imagination of sports fans, forcing us to reconsider the boundaries of talent and training. What it really does is challenges our gullibility.
For instance, don’t you find it suspect the tiny island of Jamaica turned into a sprinting powerhouse virtually overnight? Is there any logical answer as to why or how this happened? As sports fans, shouldn’t we be conditioned to listen to those pangs of skepticism before they’re validated a short while later?

Nah. We’d rather believe the hype, drink the Kool-Aid, assume the best. Speaking of dope.

TV: In a way, we’ve gone full circle with this discussion. That is, there are alleged and confirmed cheaters in every sport, if not every walk of life. People are starting to get used to the idea and arguably, not caring anymore. They like greatness, even if achieved through questionable means.

But this is different, so much more personal because of the cancer cause. Although by no means exactly the same, there is at least a twinge of similarity to the Joe Paterno situation in that can’t make sense of one man being both an icon for morality and the employer of a child abuser.

The funny thing is, that two-tone take shouldn’t be so hard to digest. For example, I’m not 100-percent good or 100-percent bad. I donate time and money to the Children’s Miracle Network in the honor of my late daughter, Breley – should those efforts be discounted if I, say, chew out my oldest daughter, Mya, for not cleaning her room? Probably not. Of course, the stakes in my example are vastly smaller; Armstrong is involved in an elite, international competition and in hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s reasonable that emotions and opinions would be elevated beyond the everyday, especially in the social-media era.

Still, in a sense, we are Lance Armstrong, and we don’t want to be a shade of grey. Good or bad, black or white. That’s easy and predictable and comfortable. It’s also a thing of the past, if it ever really existed at all.

  1. Rich Jensen says:

    Y’know, it’s always possible he didn’t cheat. The USADA’s arbitration record is 58-2 in favor of the USADA, and apparently they were willing to admit hearsay and other evidence that isn’t acceptable in court. And Armstrong can’t challenge the USADA’s procedures until he’s been found guilty by them (pretty standard common law jurisprudence there: you need to suffer an injury before you can seek redress in court). And even at that, it’s unlikely that a court would rule in favor of Armstrong (the USADA would likely be ruled a non-state actor, just as the NCAA was in Tarkanian v. NCAA, thus not required to provide constitutionally rigorous due process).

    Thus, in short, Armstrong was almost certainly going to lose fighting the USADA and then lose his challenge to the USADA in court. I mean we’re talking less than 1% chance here. So I’m not surprised by this.

    Yeah, he might’ve cheated, but I’m also willing to say, ‘hey, he’s a once-in-a-lifetime-freak’. I mean, the guy’s lung capacity and heart efficiency are off the charts. He’s basically a human antelope.

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