Lance Armstrong is not having a great few months. There is not a person on the planet watching the methodical takedown of one of the greatest athletes of this generation who would not agree that Armstrong is having a pretty rough time right now.
We all agree on that, right?
Show of hands for anyone who does not agree that Lance Armstrong, banned from the sport of cycling, dropped as a spokesman for Nike and resigning from his leadership position at Livestrong, is having a tough few weeks.
Nobody? Good. We all agree on something.
Now that we agree Armstrong is having a seemingly never-ending run of bad days, we can begin to comprehend why some people still refuse to agree on an enormous pile of evidence against him.
Despite a nearly insurmountable collection of testimony and documentation connecting Armstrong to drug use, drug distribution, blood doping, cover-ups and potentially using government money to fund illegal activities, some people inexplicably refuse to agree with the prevailing truth that Armstrong may have cheated.
I am trying very hard to understand why some people still believe him. (Note: If you don't think people still believe in Lance, read the comments in any story, on any website, that says something bad about him. The story linked next has plenty of examples.)
The United States Anti-Doping Agency doesn't believe him. The United States federal court system does not believe him. Nike not only doesn't believe him, the company that stood by him through years of allegations and rumors no longer believes in him, which may be more damning to Armstrong's case than anything else.
Armstrong is distancing himself from his own charity. The entire world of cycling is crumbling around him, with the most prominent American riders of the last 20 years sullying their own names—their own legacies—to out Armstrong as a cheater.
It is impossible to believe anything Armstrong has said about being clean when so many people that close to him are telling us the opposite. And yet, people still believe.
There are people in this world who still believe Lance Armstrong did not cheat, that he is a victim of a convoluted witch hunt led by Travis Tygart at USADA and a host of disgraced American cyclists who invented stories and fabricated evidence to implicate Armstrong in something of which the cycling legend had no part.
There are people in this world who think Armstrong is telling the truth and everyone else is lying.
Those people deserve better.
Throughout human history, people have entrusted their time, money and devout beliefs to charlatans and snake oil salesmen masquerading as something they are not. Every single day of our lives, we are lied to, cheated, hoodwinked, swindled and bamboozled by someone who decided that beating the system is more lucrative than following the rules.
Quick story: The sibling of a longtime friend was in the news last year because he was stealing retirement money from confused old people, offering to serve as a custodian of their savings while tricking them into signing the money over to him to keep after they died.
When the allegations became public, he denied them, must like Armstrong has done, claiming the state (and the media) were on a witch hunt perpetrated by his rivals who wanted to sully his name.
Like Armstrong, people convinced themselves he was telling the truth. They wanted to believe him, so they did. What if it all really was a witch hunt? What if all he wanted to do was help the elderly with their money, which disappeared because of lazy bookkeeping and not a planned and organized evasion of state and federal laws?
It was all a big misunderstanding, he explained, until police in Alabama arrested him at a bus station after skipping bail in New Jersey while trying to leave the country. He had bank routing numbers with him when he was captured. Still, there was an explanation, an excuse, a denial.
Heck, Jerry Sandusky is still trying to tell people that all his accusers are lying and he didn't do anything wrong. People lie. It's okay to stop believing them when the truth comes out.
Human nature, though, can be funny. We trust people we want to believe in, and that trust is a bond that is very hard to break.
Armstrong's fight against cancer—both personally and publicly through his charity work—has always given people reason to trust him. It has understandably been hard for some to separate the cyclist from the philanthropist, especially when the magnanimous gestures would not exist without the athletic accomplishment that preceded them.
If you can put your faith in Armstrong's efforts to fight cancer, it becomes much easier to put your faith in his claims that he was not a cheater.
The problem is, much like the case of the bank swindler, or even a monster like Sandusky, evidence can change perception. What you believed to be true may not actually be after more facts are presented. Finding the truth is the bedrock of investigative work, be it in law enforcement or journalism, and learning what we didn't know will always change how we think about what we already knew.
Now, that becomes the problem for millions of Armstrong followers and supporters. Many have read the new allegations against Armstrong and, reluctantly in some cases, begun to realize the man who staunchly denied he was a cheater is probably a liar as well, justifiably appalled by the depth and detail of Armstrong's alleged deceit.
Still, though, there are some who refuse to believe Armstrong is anything other than the perfect athlete, philanthropist and statesman he has publicly shown us to be.
For one reason or another, people still want to believe Lance is clean, so they do believe Lance is clean.
Armstrong supporters are in an interesting position as the evidence mounts and public perception has shifted against him. Those supporters haven't changed; it's everything else that has, which makes it hard for them to understand they are now the outliers. They are the people who went from true believers in the clear majority to a group of fringe, whack-job conspiracy theorists.
Lance Armstrong supporters are the new Birther movement. When testimony proves them wrong, they refuse to believe it. When evidence mounts to discredit their beliefs, the instant reaction is to try to discredit its validity.
When all else fails, they blame the system for conspiring against the truth, for engaging in a witch hunt or a cover up or anything else that can justify all the time they spent defending a belief—for supporting a man—that was nothing but a waste of time, supported by lies.
Supporters still hang on the notion that Armstrong never failed a drug test. The USADA report, chronicled in detail here by the New York Times, explains the different ways doctors would mask the appearance of drugs in the system to create a false negative.
The report explains how Armstrong and his teammates would defeat the testing system by simply not answering their doors or by leaving their homes when testers were known to be in town, circumventing, but not breaking any rules that would trigger failed tests.
Let's not forget the most important part of this: Armstrong was at the top of his sport and rich beyond anyone's dreams, so it stands to reason his doctors were ahead of the curve when it came to designer performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong knew how to beat the tests because his network of cheaters was better than those giving the tests.
This is not opinion. It's fact that cheaters are often ahead of those enforcing the rules, especially in the underworld of drugs. With better testing options available now, reports indicate that some of Armstrong's previously clean tests would now trigger different results.
Is that a failed test by the letter of the law? No. Still, the idea of Armstrong never failing a drug test sure seems hard to defend with all this new information.
Yet defend they do. Until Armstrong publicly admits he used drugs or writes another book recanting all the denials he's had in his previous memoirs, people will still believe he is telling the truth. Even if believing that truth means the complete and utter disregard for decades of investigations and countless hours of testimony, people will defend Armstrong until he, himself, tells them to stop.
As long as Armstrong continues to deny the accusations, the trust from his acolytes will never waver, even if makes them look like the ones perpetuating this crazy conspiracy theory on his behalf. They dug their heels in so deep to defend Armstrong, they ended up burying their heads as well.
Just think about it this way: If a man is capable of controlling a network of international conspirators all dedicated to the systematic subversion of rules created by his sport's governing body, at the same time circumventing countless federal and international laws all while keeping this network a complete secret for decades while countless organizations were investigating its existence, that man might—just might—be capable of lying about it, even after all the transgressions come to light.
Still, people will believe whatever they want. Sometimes, even the truth can't change that.
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