Lance Armstrong Never Deserved a Free Ride Because of Cancer

Peter AlfanoContributor IIOctober 18, 2012

Lance Armstrong lost sight of his biggest victory.
Lance Armstrong lost sight of his biggest victory.Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong is a cancer survivor. I applaud him for that.

He is not alone. There are millions of Americans who have had cancer and increasingly, more are beating the disease.

Not enough, however. For all the billions of dollars that have gone into cancer research, I would have hoped we would be closer to a cure. Cancer has afflicted four members of my immediate family; my mom and two sisters had breast cancer, my father had leukemia.

Cancer claimed my father and a sister.

The point is that I am happy when Lance Armstrong or anyone beats cancer. That is the biggest victory of anyone's life. But while we may sympathize with anyone who has the disease, it doesn't mean society can ignore when they violate the rules.

It took a long time for officials and ruling bodies and endorsement companies like Nike to disavow Armstrong. I think the fact that he survived testicular cancer had something to do with it.

I also think we wanted so much to believe that he was a true American hero, overcoming adversity to win perhaps the most demanding sports event in the world not just once, but seven consecutive times.

And yet it never made sense. It never added up. Cycling is one of the dirtiest sports when it comes to performance enhancing drugs. For Armstrong to win the Tour de France seven times when probably 75 percent of the other cyclists were doping is incredulous.

For Armstrong to have that kind of success when his own teammates were using PEDs was also impossible to believe. His defense is that he never tested positive, which is what Roger Clemens, among other athletes, cling too as proof of innocence.

Unfortunately, that isn't a good enough defense. A colleague and I at the New York Times wrote a five-part series about steroid use in 1988 after the Seoul Olympics. That was when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson lost his gold medal for testing positive for steroids.

A full decade before steroids became a hot issue in baseball, we heard some amazing stories about steroid use, not only among athletes, but the public as well. We traveled the country and talked to steroid users, athletes and Olympic doctors. 

It became apparent, as one doctor told us and we have since heard repeated many times, the cheaters are always one step ahead. For example, we were told that a few prominent American athletes were testing themselves on a regular basis, presumably to determine the steroid cycle and how long they could be detected.

It's sad when heroes come tumbling down like sand castles washed over by a wave at the beach. It is disheartening when inspirational stories are proved fraudulent.

This is another cautionary tale for parents whose children idolize athletes, or any celebrity for that matter. We sometimes forget they are all human.

Armstrong didn't have to tarnish his reputation and erase his legacy the way he did. Just getting back on his bicycle and competing in a physical, emotional and mentally draining competition like the Tour de France was enough to earn our admiration and respect.

For the life of me, I just don't get how athletes like Armstrong, Clemens, Barry Bonds and Marion Jones can look in the mirror every day knowing their achievements are tainted.

At least one positive aspect of the Armstrong case is the success of his Livestrong Foundation for cancer survivors. Beating cancer is one challenge worth winning.

Batting .500 as my family has isn't good enough.