Lance Armstrong: Why It's Still Okay to Consider Him a Hero

Jeremy Dorn@@jamblinmanAnalyst IIIJanuary 16, 2013

AUSTIN, TX - JANUARY 14:  In this handout photo provided by the Oprah Winfrey Network, Oprah Winfrey (not pictured) speaks with Lance Armstrong during an interview regarding the controversy surrounding his cycling career January 14, 2013 in Austin, Texas.  Oprah Winfrey’s exclusive no-holds-barred interview with Lance Armstrong, 'Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive,' has expanded to air as a two-night event on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.  The special episode of 'Oprah’s Next Chapter' will air Thursday, January 17 from 9-10:30 p.m. ET/PT (as previously announced) and Friday, January 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The interview will be simultaneously streamed LIVE worldwide both nights on Oprah.com.  (Photo by George Burns/Oprah Winfrey Network via Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

According to multiple reports, Lance Armstrong will admit to doping during his cycling career in an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey, airing on Thursday night. 

Winfrey also confirmed as much recently, meaning it's likely just a waiting game at this point. We wait to find out how Armstrong will confess, how he will defend his choices and what is going to come of it.

Immediate reaction upon the news being broken this week was a storm of hate, shock and disappointment across the internet. And I'm here to tell you that as deceptive, dishonest and disgusting as Armstrong might be in the public eye now, that it's okay to still consider him a hero.

Let me start with some background: I've always personally looked up to Armstrong. I believe the Tour de France is the pinnacle event of one of the most physically grueling sports known to man. The fact that Armstrong was able to conquer the rest of the world's best athletes not once, not twice, but seven times in a row blew my mind.

Add in the fact that he was diagnosed with, fought and beat testicular cancer and minimal odds of survival before the winning streak began was even more reason for me to praise the man. Armstrong and his triumphs became the subject of my first published work.

I've spent the last decade defending Armstrong, who I deemed an unfairly hunted man, intent only on riding off into the sunset with his family and legacy at his side.

Obviously, I was wrong. I'll admit it. And all that time I spent coming to his defense seems foolish now. But hear me out; there are reasons why Armstrong still deserves respect.

First of all, the word "hero" has plenty of different meanings to plenty of different people. It's technically defined by Merriam-Webster as:

1. a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability

2. an illustrious warrior

3. a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities

4. one who shows great courage

To me, Armstrong qualifies as a courageous warrior. Similar to Barry Bonds in baseball, Armstrong still had to be immensely talented to be the best of the best in his sport, especially when so many others in his era were also doping. Performance-enhancing drugs did not bless Bonds with a perfect swing, fast hands or a great eye.

Similarly, no amount of testosterone could have made Armstrong's will and determination to beat cancer, get back on a bike and embark on a record-setting string of victories in the Tour de France any higher.

But that's no excuse. I will not forgive Armstrong for cheating in sports, something I never have and never will condone. He very well may have cheated his way to seven yellow jerseys, even if he was still a fantastic, mentally and physically athletic specimen.

By definition though, Armstrong is nowhere near a hero. He once was admired for his achievements and noble qualities. Now that reputation is shattered at his own admission. If the speculation proves true, and Armstrong was a monster to people that could have smeared his name, potentially ruining their lives along the way, then the damage is even worse.

If Armstrong is conceding his PED usage on Thursday, it's fair to assume that he is doing it for financial reasons, or because the seven-year statute of limitations has expired, or to clear his name and get back into the sport he loves.

It's fair to assume that Armstrong is a selfish, hateful, intimidating bully and to wrap him up into one wife-leaving, drug-taking, money-stealing package.

That doesn't mean said assumptions are correct, but they are definitely understandable. So why allow him to still be worshiped, as I suggested in the title and at the beginning of the article?

Well, for one, the man spearheaded the Livestrong foundation that has netted around $500 million for cancer research. Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients have benefited from what he did in a formerly irrelevant sport (at least to the mainstream sports fan). 

So, yes, he stole his way to the top and likely duped millions of dollars for himself out of endorsements and race winnings. The reason I'll be more inclined to forgive Armstrong is because of the way he used his stolen fame and money.

You've seen the wristbands. Hell, you've probably bought and worn one. Knowing what you know now about Armstrong, would you give that wristband back and demand the reimbursement of your dollar?

Are you going to tell me the moral value of cheating in a bike race outweighs the good that comes of such an epic philanthropy mission? I don't think it's possible.

Cancer is an evil, deadly disease with no known cure. Armstrong is one of the lucky few who beat it and used the fame and money he acquired, no matter how dirty it be, to turn in a gigantic check in the name of researching a cure so nobody has to suffer in that way again.

All I'm saying is that in order to strip Armstrong of his hero status, one must be more than disappointed. If he was embezzling money from the Livestrong foundation, that's one thing. If he's lying to the public, cheating in his sport and duping sponsors, it's terribly immoral. But at least compared to most people like him, he made something good happen out of it.

To some, Armstrong is still a hero. While he may no longer be one to me as an athlete, he is as a cancer research ambassador. 

I presume that to many people who have been affected by cancer, he is also a hero. 

So no matter what Armstrong says on Thursday, and no matter what you think about him, can we all agree that $500 million donated to charity for cancer research is inherently a good thing?

Hate him as much as you want. I do. I hate him for lying and deceiving, and proving that he is not an immortal athlete, and for rendering my proudest piece of writing irrelevant. 

But I'll never be able to do as much good, no matter the resources, as he has done for the world with Livestrong. And for that, he will be a dark, twisted hero of mine.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.