All-time cycling champion Lance Armstrong will apparently retire – again – this time for good. But Armstrong’s latest departure from cycling leaves me extremely conflicted. One part of me wants to say – so what. But another more cynical part of me believes there are much bigger issues and questions that our fascination with Armstrong bring to light, most importantly why we choose to blindly celebrate some athletes, and go out of our way to vilify others.
To many in this country, Armstrong is an American hero, an unselfish athlete, whose multi-million dollar charitable efforts and his miraculous victory over cancer, permanently inoculate him from accusations of cheating or anything else that would tarnish his image.
Most of his supporters believe it is impossible for Armstrong to have used performance enhancing drugs. While others don’t care, simply because they like what Armstrong stands for.
We may never know for sure whether Armstrong won his record-setting seven Tour de France titles legitimately or whether he cheated, using performance enhancing drugs, or submitted to illegal blood doping to gain his winning advantage.
Like most premier athletes, Lance Armstrong wanted to win, and he did so spectacularly. Yes, there are doubts, but honestly, I‘m not as troubled by the questions as I am with those who choose to selectively persecute and judge some suspected drug users, while giving those they like, such as Armstrong, a virtual pass.
Armstrong has perhaps benefitted the most from these selective and hypocritical judgments. Armstrong, who has never failed an official test for doping or PEDs, initially faced most of the doubts and scrutiny about his achievements from international watchdogs. Now US federal authorities are targeting him.
It is well known that cycling is rife with so-called “cheating”. The most recent winner of the Tour de France, Alberto Contador, tested positive for PEDs, but blamed his positive test on contaminated meat. Floyd Landis, the last American to win the Tour in 2006, was stripped of the title when tests for PEDs turned up positive. Later, after years of insisting officials were out to get him, Landis finally admitted to doping. But the disgraced Landis really became a pariah when he accused the popular Armstrong, a former teammate, of also being a PED cheat.
What we do know is that professional cycling is extremely physically demanding and beyond grueling, so much so that it seems almost reasonable to assume that the best cyclists need an edge in order to win. But I’m just speculating and rationalizing.
In this country, we pick and choose who we want to believe and support without much evidence either way. Usually its based on how we feel about the person. If we don’t like a particular athlete, heaven help him or her. Just ask Sammy Sosa, one of baseball’s all-time home run hitters, how he has been treated. Sosa, like Armstrong, never failed an official PED test. But Sosa is now almost universally condemned and ridiculed inside and outside of baseball, largely because most people just don’t like him and point to his shaky congressional testimony six years ago as a reason to believe, without a shred of actual evidence, that he took steroids. The same goes for Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens, two other unpopular baseball figures who in the court of public opinion have already been convicted. Making matters worse, the biggest irony of all about our skewed judgement regarding PEDs, is the fact that when the accused steroid users are NFL players we don’t seem to care at all.
You can choose to believe whatever you want to believe, and support whomever you want, but please don’t tell me that you are basing your beliefs on facts, because you simply don’t know what the truth is. None of us do.
But we should keep in mind that Armstrong and other glory seeking sport stars are neither heroes nor villains. They are just athletes trying to win – sometimes at all costs. That’s the truth.