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.