Thoughts on Lance Armstrong

I’ve been asked a few times by people who know how much I enjoy cycling about how I feel about the Lance Armstrong situation and the latest revelations. It’s obviously a complicated situation given what he’s accused of and what he has come to mean to millions of cancer patients and survivors around the world. To me, that’s the distinction: you can condemn Armstrong the man for his failings (and given the amount of evidence that has piled up against him, I don’t see how you can deny the fact that he not only doped during his seven Tour de France victories, but was the central figure in a massive doping conspiracy that reached the highest levels of the sport) but still admire Armstrong the symbol and support the work of the Livestrong Foundation.

The part of the document that I linked to above that really hit home for me was the section detailing the affidavit of George Hincapie, one of my favorite riders and Lance Armstrong’s longtime teammate. So, as much as I’d like to believe that Armstrong won all of those Tour de France titles cleanly through sheer will and determination, it is painfully obvious that he didn’t. Does that change what Armstrong has accomplished away from cycling? In one sense I suppose it does, since there is little doubt that without the notoriety gained from those victories that he would not have been able to use his fame to push Livestrong to the heights that it has reached. In the end though, should that matter? Should I worry about the fact that an organization that does a lot of good is more well known that it probably should be because of how its founder achieved notoriety? (And by the way, you often hear people say that Livestrong has raised millions of dollars for cancer research. Well, that’s not exactly true. Livestrong focuses more on outreach to those who have been diagnosed with the disease. I point this out not to criticize or downplay what they do – it’s massively important work – but just to clarify a misconception. Read this for further details about how Livestrong spends the money it raises.)

In the end I say no. Lance Armstrong’s story as a cancer survivor is still compelling, and many millions of people (including friends of mine) have taken solace and strength from it. Lance Armstrong the symbol is still viable and worthy of our respect. Lance Armstrong the man made his choices, and now must face the consequences of them. I hope the fact that sponsors like Nike and Anheuser Busch have distanced themselves from Armstrong the man but are continuing to support Livestrong means that others are able to make that distinction and will continue to do so.

One thing I believe that clouded this issue unfortunately is Armstrong’s defenders constantly using his work with Livestrong to try and shield him from the doping allegations. How could someone who has done so much good have been involved in such an evidently massive doping culture? I do believe that Armstrong is passionate about his work for Livestrong and believe him when he says that reason that he stepped down as chairman of the organization is that he does not want the negative association his name now has to interfere with the work his foundation continues to do.

For those of you out there who see Armstrong the cancer survivor as a source of strength and inspiration or have benefited from the work of the Livestrong foundation, wear those yellow wrist bands proudly and continue the fight. The failings of the man do not detract from the real and continuing good he has done in this part of his life. It’s undoubtedly sad that we have to make that distinction though, and that is a consequence Lance Armstrong will have to live with now and forever.



Posted on October 18, 2012, in Cycling and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Jimmy-

    I figured you’d be writing about this at some point. I agree entirely with your points above and the important concept of making a distinction between the man and his Livestrong work. I also love Hincapie (and did even before he set up headquarters in our home town). He is one of the most respected cyclists with the rider community and I honestly believe that once Lance realized Hincapie wasn’t going to lie for him, Lance knew he was done for. But the more issue you bring up above is whether his ill-gotten notoriety takes away from his other accomplishments and I firmly believe it does not. If he had used that fame for some selfish goal (winning a public office position, perhaps?) then I would condemn him for it. However, he used his fame to promote a very unselfish, altruistic motive, one that as far as I can tell hasn’t benefitted him personally (well at least monetarily…I sure hope that he’s not jaded to the point where he doesn’t enjoy the warm feelings that founding such an organization should bring to someone). The fact that he stepped down tells me he truly does appreciate the work that Livestrong does and wouldn’t do anything to harm that.

    I do get a very, very small amount of satisfaction in the entire Armstrong thing, simply because I was never a huge fan of him. I respected him and thought he was an incredible rider. However, I have always been partial to Greg LeMond. He was by far the best American cyclist, and on top of the world, when I was first getting into cycling in high school. He had an inspiring story of his own, recovering from a shotgun blast to the back to win two more Tour de Frances. The Lance Armstrong story has made LeMond a faded memory in most American’s minds, but until someone else comes along, I will continue to view LeMond as America’s greatest cyclist.

    • It’s funny, the one thing I didn’t really think about is what I thought of him as a cyclist. Given the number of people who were doing the same thing, I suppose it makes his accomplishments still pretty impressive. He was the best of the doping era. I saw a graphic that showed who would have won the Tour in each of the years Lance won if you excluded people implicated in doping. It was pretty astounding. Each year the vast majority of the top ten would have been excluded.

  2. The other note on this, from a personal standpoint, is during the Armstrong era, my favorite rider was actually Contador. When he was stripped of his TdF titles ( as well as trophies from other races) based on doping, it really didn’t have that much effect on me, perhaps because I knew deep down that everyone was doing it. So in some convoluted way, I guess my suspicion of Lance’s cheating helped dampen the disappointment I would have normally felt when hearing about Contador.

    SO, let me open up another angle on this:

    What is cheating? What is doping? And should it all just be opened up in all sports and let society stop worrying about it?

    “What? That’s crazy, Parker!”, some might say. But follow me here.

    If I put steroids or HGH in my body to increase my performance (strength, speed, recovery time, endurance, etc), that is verboten in just about every regulated sports association.

    But if my eyesight needs improving in order to hit a fastball, I can go have lasers improve my eyes. If I blow out an arm as a pitcher, I can take a tendon from a cadaver and have it inserted into my arm, bringing me back to new. Or a different angle: If I am a dominant player with a particular, well documented testosterone level, and I get hurt. If I can be back to playing at my SAME performance level in 4 weeks with no illegal augmentation, but I can be back to doing the job that I am being paid millions of dollars to do in 2 weeks if I take HGH, why is that not allowed?

    These are the issues I am struggling with. I don’t have the answers, but would love to hear people’s thoughts on this.

    • I see the point but I look at it this way. I plug in contacts or get surgery to improve my vision, I’m improving a deficiency that brings me back to close to equal to other competitors in my field. Ditto a surgery, etc.Steroids, HGH, etc take me to a level beyond what I can naturally produce and what my competition can as well. And most of the time it isn’t that those things makes me bigger or stronger, it’s that I can recover faster and perform at my highest level longer or more often. And remember also that if I have surgery to repair damage, often times that area is permanently diminished. It may be fine for a while but odds are I’m going to suffer degradation of that area in the fairly near term. How many athletes do you see that have only had one surgery? Usually once they have the first it just starts the ball rolling.

      Here’s the other part to consider – The latter is not only against the rules but is illegal in most places. That was what always made me laugh about baseball players who claimed what they were doing wasn’t specifically banned by baseball. IT WAS AGAINST THE LAW THE ENTIRE TIME. I know that doesn’t mean much in our society but at least humor me that the rule of law means something occasionally.

      • Very good points. And like I said, I’m not advocating this…I’m just interested in other people’s opinions.

      • Of course. I don’t think the line is really that blurry, though I imagine it would be a lot harder choice if you had a career and millions of dollars at stake.

      • And economics will always drive this…not sure if you are a baseball fan or not, but look at the case of Alex Rodriguez. He has FIVE more years on his ridiculous -guaranteed- contract that Texas signed him to years ago. He is still owed $114 million dollars, and looks like he should have hung up the cleats last year. At this point all he has to play for is pride. He has already been implicated in cheating previously. Why wouldn’t he do a little “something something” next year to get him back to a competitive level? Best case, he returns to his form and gets the Yankee fans off of his back. Worst case, he gets caught and is suspended 50 games under baseball’s incredibly lax policy. So doing rough math, with a 162 game schedule, getting caught takes away 12 of his 114 million upcoming dollars and he already has $150 million + whatever he made in Seattle (I don’t recall…memory is the second thing to go you know)…so in his situation, why wouldn’t you break the rules (and law) and do this yet again? The argument here is that I don’t think sports associations can win this battle long term. The dollars will always rule.

  3. My view: illegal performance enhancing occurs regularly. In all sports. But I am jaded. I am more interested in the cultivation of the vehement, public denial of the athlete’s involvement in this illegal activity. And the public’s acceptance of the denial. And the sporting governing body’s purposeful ignorance of the illegal activity. Until it is determined to be an acceptable time to acknowledge the illegal activity (i.e. large span of time between the achievement and the discipline). The public (rightly) assumes the denial is crafted to maintain an image. In Lance’s case, the image existed for good (Livestrong). Why bother with the song and dance? Did the cycling community comply with the deception in order to boost interest/investment in the sport itself? Probably. I agree w/you, Parker. Dollars always rule.

  4. Sorry that this is completely off topic but I couldn’t figure out a better way to contact you.

    I produce an e-newsletter called WDW 140 and I wanted to use the photo of your escargot, etc. from Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival in an upcoming issue. I will certainly give you credit at your Twitter username. I was hoping that this would be ok.

    If you could get back to me at ASAP, I would really appreciate it.


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