Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner, finally admitted what everyone on the planet already knew. And the sports world is apoplectic.
The accusation from posturing sports puritans reads thus: Lance is a cheater, he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) while racing in the Tour de France, he doesn’t deserve his trophies, and he warrants only our scorn.
You can’t swing a bat in the sports media without hitting someone with this opinion.
The sports world’s hypocrisy and double standards are notorious. Wife beaters, dog fighters, alcoholics, racists, spit-ballers, thugs and myriad other deviants have, over the years, been forgiven their transgressions and welcomed back to competition or placed in a Hall of Fame.
Some degenerates have been excused more than once.
But not Lance Armstrong, he is too big a jackass to forgive. He lied to us, threatened his accusers with lawsuits and then failed to look appropriately chastened when he finally came clean to Oprah.
I, for one, forgive Lance Armstrong for his trespasses. I don’t particularly care what kind of person he is. Many high performance athletes are narcissists, convinced the world revolves only around them.
I never praised Armstrong for his warm and fuzzy personality, so I do not now condemn his egomania.
As far as his Tour victories go, I forgive those as well.
Armstrong Worked His Ass Off
To hear the sports puritans talk about Armstrong, you’d think he sat on the couch for 11 months eating Cheetos and chugging Mountain Dew, then hopped up, shot himself full of PEDs and threw a leg over his bike to win the Tour.
Lance Armstrong was an extreme trainer, renowned for his work ethic. During his tour years he trained eight or more hours each day. In effect, he spent more than a third of his life with his butt in a saddle.
PEDs did not make Lance Armstrong a seven-time Tour de France winner. Ridiculously hard training, the mental ability to push beyond freakish limits and a mutant VO2-max made Lance Armstrong a seven-time Tour de France winner.
The PEDs cannot create these qualities. PEDs only enhance them.
There is a seminal moment in the 2001 Tour de France where Armstrong is leading Jan Ulrich up the climb at L’Alpe-d’Huez, he turns and looks Ulrich in the eye and with a massive acceleration leaves the Bosch cyclist in his dust.
Ulrich, by the way, was ultimately banned for his PED use. In point of fact, everyone in the pelotons Armstrong destroyed were on the same PEDs that he was.
Armstong wasn’t cheating. He was playing by the rules of the peloton.
Endemic Sports Cheating
Have you ever heard the sports proverb that a foul isn’t a foul until the referee calls it? It doesn’t matter if everyone else saw the foul. It doesn’t matter if replays show a foul. And it shouldn’t matter if we discover the foul umpteen years later.
The sports puritans rend their garments and tear their hair out insisting that Lance had us duped all along, that he got away with a foul in the game and now, all this time later, the referee needs to call the foul and assign a different outcome to the game.
Imagine if we did the same thing with Michael Jordan’s game-winning step-back jumper against Bryon Russell in game seven of the 1998 NBA Finals. You’ve all seen the replay, Gatorade (another performance enhancing substance by the way) even uses the clip in their commercials.
Watch the video. Jordan is driving to his right with his left hand on Russell’s hip. Jordan stops, pushes Russell away with his left hand hard enough that Russell almost falls down, and then steps back into the championship jumper. And for good measure he palms the ball several times.
There are no two ways about it, according to the rules of basketball this is a foul on Jordan and he doesn’t get that open for the shot or win his sixth NBA title without the shove on Russell (or carrying the basketball).
What’s that you say? “But that’s different from what Armstrong did.”
How, exactly, is it different? Michael Jordan cheated, the referees didn’t call it, Jordan wins.
“But that is never called in the NBA!”
Actually, it is, but only against lesser players. It is a poor secret that NBA superstars get different calls than the rest of the league and especially in the final seconds of an NBA Final.
How is this different than the UCI not calling a foul on Lance when he wins a Tour de France?
Dallas Cowboy wide receiver Michael Irvin was never open without pushing off a defensive back. Should he give back his three Super Bowl rings after we watch the replay?
What about the magic hands of soccer players Thierry Henry and Diego Maradona? Sure, the Irish and English fans were fit to be tied, but last time I checked those game results stand.
My point is that cheating is endemic to sport and most of the time the sports puritans look the other way or offer a weak justification for the untoward tactics. A sociologist buddy of mine at the University of Oklahoma refers to it as "sanctioned cheating."
Does Armstrong deserve to keep his titles?
The unique requirements of competition require the athlete to push the limits in training, in tactics and, yes, even in the conduct of the game. Sure, we’d love for all athletic competition to be devoid of any rule breaking.
We allow cheating in sports because it makes the games more exciting and brings out the best in the performers as they push the envelope.
And everyone knows it.
Its like my good ‘ol boy Earl said in the car the other day, on a long ride listening to satellite sports and cheesy commercials, “Its like they say in the SEC, if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” Of course it wasn’t the first time either one of us had heard that.
Seven-Time Tour de France Winner
Lance Armstrong beat his competition using the same training methods as his competitors. He gained no advantage over the peloton.
Yet somehow this is different than countless other examples of athletes cheating in sports but getting away with it because it makes the games more exciting.
I watched every one of those Tours and they were pretty damned exciting. And I forgive Lance Armstrong.