While we’ve have never been ardent fans of Lance Armstrong, we’ve never been detractors either - not even now. It’s hard to ignore his presence as a major player in sports, namely cycling, and his still celebrity status in Texas. With Lance’s fall from grace many wonder what will become of his reputation and ultimate legacy. While that determination is still being played out we wonder if there is some good that can be mined and passed on. How about raising-up the indomitable spirit of Man by giving hope to those with cancer? The conundrum and question that folks are now asking - who is the real Lance Armstrong and is he even worth the effort? Some say that he’s a narcissistic controlling jerk full of himself (not a nice guy) while many others see a courageous individual who has inspired millions, founded and donated over seven million US dollars to the LIVESTRONG Foundation and motivated the medical community to readdress cancer treatment issues. Both perspectives speak to us.
Unashamedly, we remain wide-eyed though cautious supporters of Lance Armstrong even with all his faults, foibles and his almost Icarus-like meteoric fall from the sky. Lance’s successful fight back from adversity and testicular cancer that spread to his brain, lungs and abdomen requiring aggressive surgery and chemotherapy was heroic by anybody’s estimation. The fact that Lance is still alive, let alone had the capacity (drug enhanced or not) to compete with the best in the world at his sport, provides us all with an inspirational message. The supposition and widely held surmise that he cheated doesn’t diminish the fact that he had to work harder than anybody else to win and, most importantly, still lives and breathes among us. His survival alone gives us pause for reflection and (we’ll say it again) inspiration for millions of cancer patients around the world.
This year the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the International Cycling Union (ICU) stripped Armstrong of all competitive results (win or not) from August 1, 1998 and banned Armstrong from professional cycling for life. The ICU stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles from 1999 to 2005. Despite that Lance remains in the minds and hearts of many The Champion and the empty record books remain testament to and harken the spirit of a man that probably would never have been defeated those seven years, drug use or not. The empty spaces in the record books will all still say “Lance” to many that follow the sport despite the chest-beating and posturing of former competitors. Pat McQuaid, ICU President recently opined that Armstrong, “deserves to be forgotten.” We heartily disagree. We need to remember all – the good and the bad.
Lance has proved that he is but a mere mortal though one who achieved an iconic status with or without the help of drugs. He is my Billy Budd though I find strange and deplorable his mix of sideways personality that embodies the worst arrogance coupled with an earnest willingness to help those less fortunate. We hope that the LIVESTRONG Foundation prevails and survives unlike Susan G. Komen (SGK) which (despite all their good works) appears to be suffering through a slow, inevitable decline because of their belittling, stupid politics. Lance, while he deserves his just desserts, just might be worthy of the opportunity to move beyond that. God, if Michael Vick gets a second shot at life, why not Lance?
Lance has joined a not so elite fraternity that includes Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Marion Jones, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Michael Vick, among others who didn’t hesitate to demonstrate their humanity and an incredible lack of common sense. This lady and gentlemen were stupid to a fault and they got caught. While Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and Jones deserve an asterisk in the record books we wonder whether any “advantage” gained in the athletic arena would have made a difference as they were so far ahead of us mere mortals. While they demonstrated bad judgment, we as fans and fellow members of the Human Race share in the blame. Many offer that we motivated them to do what they did. Our success at any cost approach to life - including cheating - seems to pervade our society today.
We do not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any shape, form or manner though we do mourn the loss of our heroes. We need to clean house and level the playing field for all athletes but wonder about the pit bull tenacity of those who keep pursuing Armstrong even though the die is cast and he is fallen. We concede that this is not a black or white issue and remains like the rest of life – varying shades of gray. If Armstrong cheated and, if we are to believe, brought others down too, then he should be punished. Having said that we cannot dismiss the good Lance Armstrong has accomplished and encourage compassion and rehabilitation. That said, Lance will first have to admit he was wrong though no mea maxima culpa appears to be forthcoming.
Award-winning sportswriter Jonathan Horn who has covered the Olympics and the Tour de France has commented, “Armstrong is a true giant of the sport and one of the most significant sportspeople of all time. He offers hope and he brings joy to many lives. But so does Santa Claus. And most of us stopped believing in Santa Claus when we were about five.”
We still believe in the spirit of Santa Claus and, yes, Father Christmas and if Lance wants a lifeline tossed, then we should make that happen. Acceptance of that opportunity may be Lance’s biggest test and contribution to the world yet – contrition, humility and yet another recovery and miracle.