Lance Armstrong's Confession Kicks off New Race, the Backpedal

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Lance Armstrong's Confession Kicks off New Race, the Backpedal
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Lance Armstrong confessing to Oprah Winfrey his use of PEDs.

Here we go.  Another article about Lance Armstrong.  Seems about as original as those cola knock-offs one sees in the beverage aisle adjacent to Coca-Cola and Pepsi that go for about $0.99 a case.  And I'm not talking the good stuff like RC Cola and Tab - I mean the grocery store branded stuff that is perpetually "on sale."  

But like anything that continues to exist, those knock-offs have a purpose - a destiny, if you will.  Like when you forget your wallet in the car and you find a $1 bill stuck in a remote pocket of a fleece you haven't worn for at least a year.  What luck!!  That single dollar may now be exchanged for a carbonated, artificially-colored, sugary drink in a unique convergence of space and time.

This article has that same type of significance.  

So...Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) en route to winning a record seven consecutive Tour de France titles.  Titles which he won in the past, but no longer holds because they were recently stripped from him.  

Usually these type of statements would require a source to back them up.  But somehow, adding the notation "EVERYONE" to the bibliography seemed superfluous. Like adding an actual address on a letter to Santa Claus.  It just goes there, OK?     

But as the surprise and shock (for those that felt it) of this saga fades, there are still some unanswered questions.  Questions like, why did anyone ever believe a non-doping cancer survivor could beat other doping, healthy cyclists in a race throughout the French countryside?  Or, more pointedly, why would anyone care?    

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These questions, and others like it, may remain forever unanswered—except possibly in the recently and timely commissioned movie about Lance Armstrong, which will undoubtedly reconstruct an accurate, unbiased portrayal of events.  

If anything is certain, it's that Lance Armstrong's confession on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) signaled the official start to a new race.  The race for which Armstrong supporter could backpedal the fastest from their position.  

An unofficial start to this race started back in October 2012 when the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released a report detailing Lance Armstrong's use of PEDs in support of their decision to ban him for life from competition and strip him of his titles. 

Supporters of Lance Armstrong that read or heard about that USADA report must have felt a bit like they got caught with their pants down.  Especially those people that had fervently supported the athlete throughout the years.  

Many corporate sponsors of Lance Armstrong were apparently especially displeased and immediately started their respective campaigns to win the prestigious backpedaling race with Nike, Oakley, Trek Bicycles, Anheuser-Busch, 24 Hour Fitness, and Honey Stinger all coincidentally retracting their sponsorship of the athlete shortly thereafter.   

Doesn't the old saying go "real friends are there during the worst of times"?  Given recent events, I'm sure Mr. Armstrong is getting a much better notion of his real friends.

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The Tour de France, on uncertain ground after the Armstrong confession.

Following quickly in the backpedal race were members of the media.  Although some of the them got off their blocks much slower than the corporate sponsors, waiting for the actual confession by the athlete to kick-off their respective backpedaling tours.  This after some media members had even defended the cyclist after the initial USADA charges were released in June of 2012.  

For example, On September 4, 2012 Rick Reilly, a well-known featured columnist from ESPN.com, wrote an article entitled "Lance still worth revering."  In the article, Reilly tells readers: "I'm wearing something yellow Friday for Lance Armstrong.  

"Not because I think he's innocent.  He just gave up his chance to prove his innocence, so I suppose he isn't.  But I don't care.  I'm wearing yellow just to say thank you.  If he cheated in a sport where cheating is as common as eating, then I'm wearing yellow to thank him for everything he's done since he cheated."  

Reilly makes his own opinion abundantly clear in this column and even goes on to encourage other people to support Lance Armstrong along with him when he asks "Want to join me?"

Reilly clearly states that even if Lance Armstrong cheated, he's still on his side.  He's more than on his side.  He's honoring him, and encouraging others to join along.  

I read that column the day it was published and felt it was the wrong message.  At that point, pre-confession, I was willing to give Lance Armstrong the benefit of the doubt.  Innocent until proven guilty, I thought.

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However, I certainly wasn't ready to suggest that Lance Armstrong was beyond public scrutiny—that we should look beyond past follies if they came to light.  Far from it.

On January 17, 2013, Rick Reilly exploded onto the backpedaling scene in a column titled "It's all about the lies" on ESPN.com.  

In this new column, Reilly details how he had been lied to by Lance Armstrong saying: "And the whole time he was lying.  Right in my earpiece.  Knowing that I'd hang up and go back out there and spread the fertilizer around some more."  

Reilly goes on to tell readers how disappointed he was: "And I guess I should let it go, but I keep thinking how hard he used me.  Made me look like a sap.  Made me carry his dirty water and I didn't even know it."  

The January column essentially details Rick Reilly's sense of betrayal and how he won't soon be able to forgive Lance Armstrong, "I guess I should thank him for finally admitting his whole magnificent castle was built on sand and syringes and suckers like me.  But I'm not quite ready.  Give me 14 years, maybe."

Talk about a lightening-fast backpedal.  Maybe Reilly should enter the Tour de France himself and just ride it backwards the whole way?  In the September 2012 column, Reilly details why we should all revere Armstrong, whether he doped or not.  

That's the key element, whether he doped or not.  Then, when Armstrong admits to doping, Reilly sounds off on his shock, sense of betrayal, and anger.  Reilly is so upset that he claims he can't imagine forgiving Lance Armstrong anytime soon.  

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Hopefully this yellow card wasn't misinterpreted as a showing of support for Lance Armstrong.

What happened to revering Lance Armstrong whether he doped or not? What happened to wearing a pair of yellow boxers to thank him?  The only difference between September 2012 and January 2013 is that Armstrong had confessed to doping.  

The "whether he doped or not" simply became "doped."  Not one single thing changed regarding all the good Lance Armstrong had done, the basis for Reilly's call to reverence.  

As confusing and irrational as the dislocation between the two columns by Rick Reilly is, they might actually serve as a reasonable example of how many people are feeling on the subject.  

Maybe it's difficult for us to resolve the screaming dissonance between our hearts and our minds on the subject of Lance Armstrong.  He lied to us.  But he also helped and inspired so many people.  Lied—Helped—Lied—Helped.  It's an endless loop that may never provide true closure.  

Lance Armstrong was more than a person to many people.  He was almost pure inspiration made flesh.  His battle against cancer and other cyclists was something tangible, something we could all use as motivation in our own lives.  And his fight for the people with such a terrible disease was the stuff legends are made of.  

But he certainly profited from this fight for good, even more so given what we now know about how he achieved success.  His mistakes were therefore oppositely and equally terrible.  Cheating, lying, and bullying to further his own personal agenda. Reprehensible is a understatement.  Like calling the Titanic a "boat."

Trying to calculate the net good or bad from the deeds of Lance Armstrong story therefore seems virtually impossible.  Through personal inspiration to cancer patients, as well as the incredible amount of funds he raised to fight the disease, Lance Armstrong undoubtedly added seconds, minutes, hours, and years to an incalculable number of people's lives.  

These actions are inherently good, and always will be.  However, destroying even one person's psyche and/or career through bullying and manipulation is pure bad.  As is cheating to achieve greatness.

The net result is immeasurable good against immeasurable bad.  An impossible quandary at best.

In American culture, it's difficult to stop the train of a hero once it's left the station.  An inspirational story has too much value in today's culture of 24-hour news and popularity-driven economic success.

With the downfall of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, two previously impeccable sports stars, maybe the lesson is moderation.  Better stated, the word might be temperance—not surprisingly one of the four cardinal virtues, along with prudence, justice, and fortitude.  

Rather than recklessly thrusting our heroes up onto a mile-high pedestal, or throwing our villains to the wolves, maybe we could all recognize that nobody is perfect.  

Perfection is a great goal, but one that can never be achieved.  The heroes and villains amongst us are merely on a more extreme part of the path.  And that's neither good nor bad, it just is.

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