Lance Armstrong in the 2010 Tour de France

Thoughts on Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong in the 2010 Tour de France

Late last night came the news that Lance Armstrong was dropping his fight against the latest doping charges. This will surely lead to the stripping away of his Tour de France and Olympic achievements, making him the latest example (right or wrong) of an athlete who cheated and didn’t get away with it.

On his website, he posted a statement to the public and his fans, including me. In that statement, he said:

There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, “Enough is enough.” For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart’s unconstitutional witch hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.

When I heard the news, I was very upset, because Lance Armstrong is one of our family’s biggest heroes. Everyone is aware of his greatest achievement, which had nothing to do with cycling: suffering from metastatic cancer and beating it into remission. This alone earned Lance a spot in our family’s hearts, as we regularly deal with disease that doesn’t easily give up the fight.

Lance lived, and winning a record number of Tour de France titles was just icing on his cake. From the sounds of his statement he feels the same way. His closing quote:

Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances. I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities. This October, my Foundation will celebrate 15 years of service to cancer survivors and the milestone of raising nearly $500 million. We have a lot of work to do and I’m looking forward to an end to this pointless distraction. I have a responsibility to all those who have stepped forward to devote their time and energy to the cancer cause. I will not stop fighting for that mission. Going forward, I am going to devote myself to raising my five beautiful (and energetic) kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year old on the planet.

In essence, the entire statement reads, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” The USADA’s inquiry (or witch hunt, if you’re solidly Team Lance) had one of two outcomes: proven innocence or loss of athletic records. And now Lance is all but guilty — because if he wasn’t, why wouldn’t he have fought this to the end like any other person convinced of their own innocence? With his resignation, the USADA will proceed down the path of ruining his athletic record anyway.

Or at least that’s one way to look at it.

Understand that I have a bad history of sports heroes letting me down. It’s been seven years since the greatest of my youthful idols Rafael Palmeiro took advantage of my naiveté with his admission of steroid use. Others have also done the same since then, so it doesn’t surprise me anymore when athletes I admire end up being less than perfect. But Lance is an important hero to me. After a string of so many other athletes disappointing me, I wanted him to retain one last unblemished hero. That’s why his surrender upset me so much last night.

However, there’s a mantra repeated often in my household: “You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond.” I imagine that’s equally burned into Lance’s psyche, since one doesn’t overcome cancer as severe as his, plus its associated treatments, without some internal fortitude (just ask my sister). So in the end, I remember what matters in this life, just like Lance. Yes, Lance’s sports achievements are amazing. But what’s more admirable is that he’s alive, not six feet under, and that he’s fighting the disease for the benefit of others. He’s living a purpose-filled life not defined by what the USADA wants to take away. In other words, it’s not about the bike.

So who gives a shit that he’s in danger of losing all of his professional cycling titles, the things that most define his public persona? I don’t — at least not anymore. It feels good to know that he’s still a hero to me.

There are more-important things in life when you’ve walked away from a showdown with disease, as my family is all too aware of. So go hug your kids, Lance. Keep living your life in service of others. But try not to disappoint me again, pretty please, ok?

Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Lance Armstrong”

  1. I don’t think giving up the fight shows him to be guilty. I think it proves he is tired of the bullshit. I’m not let down. Everyone has that uncle at the family reunion that no matter how wrong he is, he won’t quit arguing. Eventually you have to say “Okay, you’re right”, just you can be done and move on. Why would a man, who fought a disease process like his, who began eating and living a more a healthy lifestyle decide to put banned or illegal substances in his body? Just to win a bike race or 8? He is innocent and I’m not disappointed. I’m prouder of him now than ever. Sometimes it takes a lot of balls to walk up to the bully and say FU!, turn your back and walk away. Now we just have to wait and see what the bully will do.

    1. I think it proves that he could go down and lose everything, or go down, just lose his reputation on the sports circuit, but continue to do the good work via his foundation. In other words, it was a calculated loss.

      To answer the question about why he might have done it, that’s pretty easy: everyone else was doing it. You’ve probably seen the stories about what might happen if his titles are revoked by the right authority…who do you give them to? The 2nd place finishers, most or all of whom are also on record as having doped during those Tours? Or the 3rd place finishers, which are just as dirty?

  2. I agree with you Matthew, Mr. Armstrong should just take his ball and go home. Screw them! Why is it that a man cannot defend himself? Because the USADA simply took up a siege mentality and let the court of public opinion rule. Whatever happened to a speedy trial? How can the USADA say that he cheated when they could never prove HOW he cheated? How can you pass all those piss tests and still be cheating? The burden of proof is on the USADA and they failed – miserably. But they couldn’t leave a man’s life and achievements alone, no matter that they couldn’t prove anything.
    But I may be a little biased. I’m a survivor (Hodgkin’s, 1979) and have only ridden two years and I can honestly say that my romance with the bike is still very fresh and new, kind of a “honeymoon” stage. I wish, with everything I am, that I could’ve discovered the sport much sooner – I’d have liked to aspired to emulate Mr. Armstrong. And now that I think of it – REALLY HOW can any man, doped or not, win the races he’s won? It’s not the dope. It’s not the incredible team that he rode for. It is his HEART! And the USADA is simply unwilling to acknowledge that he is so far superior in that regard to let the charges go – whether they agree or not.
    So Mr. Armstrong did the next best thing. Congratulations sir! And we clip in every Saturday morning at 7:30 for a quick flat 55 mile ride. You can ride with us – anytime!

    1. You can call it a siege mentality, or you can describe it as going after the big fish in the pond. We don’t know yet that the USADA failed miserably, as you put it — even though the process didn’t end in a verdict, the USADA will need to release a report detailing the evidence they had. Once that report is issued, I’d be interested in hearing how your opinion of the USADA holds us.

      Great job fighting cancer. My sister is fighting it right now, which contributes to my attitude about the whole Lance affair (there are much deeper things to worry about).

  3. I’m glad that you see the bigger picture of his purpose driven life however, I still think he’s innocent (and that could be proven wrong as some point). I do not believe that his decision to not fight the charges against automatically make him guilty.

    “Why wouldn’t he have fought this to the end like any other person convinced of their own innocence?”

    He’s not fighting for his life or against prison time, in which I would expect someone to fight to the end in that regard. He’s fighting for metals & trophies which don’t really matter, we already know who won those. And even if he did dope, he still had to work his ass off to get where he was.

    And lastly, those who would/will testify against Lance Armstrong have everything, everything to gain from his failure. They are not a neutral party, so how can we trust that they will tell the truth? Perjury? Nope. Even Roger Clemens lied under oath.

    1. It’s no different than Mark McGuire copping out under oath — there is no equal burden of proof like a criminal trial, and since the USADA will need to release a report documenting their evidence, it’s going to look bad for Lance despite not having a verdict in place.

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