Yesterday, I wrote about the decision that Lance Armstrong has to make, now that he is facing formal doping charges and is at risk of losing all of his amazing Tour de France titles.
I suggested that Lance basically has two choices.
First, if he is innocent, as he has always maintained, he could tell his entire story, from beginning to end, instead of just denying the charges. Given all that has come out about that era of cycling in the past 10 years, including confessions from many of Armstrong’s teammates, to not have done what everyone else in the sport appears to have been doing–and to still keep clobbering everyone else–would have been even more remarkable than Lance’s story already is. And now that there is no one left to protect, Lance should be free to tell that story.
Second, if Lance did dope, he could just come completely clean. Although drug use and doping in cycling has been framed in hindsight as the behaviour of a few “bad apple” cheaters, the reality appears to have been that everyone was doing it, that it was an open secret, and that you had to do it if you wanted to be competitive. In that environment, it is perfectly understandable why someone would do it–and would then be more than a little frustrated when authorities who knew it was happening and had looked the other way for years suddenly announced that they were shocked to discover what was going on.
I also pointed out yesterday that regardless of what happened during Lance’s cycling career, he has inspired and helped millions of people around the world with his accomplishments and cancer foundation and that an after-the-fact crackdown on an entire sport shouldn’t take anything away from that.
After I wrote the post, I heard from many readers who protested that Lance shouldn’t have to “prove his innocence”–that his passing 500+ drug tests was all the proof he should ever need.
That is certainly a valid point, and my response to that was that was twofold: First, that many other cyclists and athletes who never failed drug tests later admitted to doping, so the tests obviously weren’t foolproof. And, second, that the USADA has concluded that Armstrong doped and that, to prevent the loss of his titles, he now has to persuade a review board to over-rule the USADA’s findings. I don’t know who has the burden of proof on that review board (if you do, please tell me) but it seems that, fair or not, it’s now up to Lance to clear himself. And to do that will likely require more than an angry denial and mention of the drug tests. It will require a full story and explanation.
After I wrote the post, I also heard from a couple of good friends of Lance’s, both of whom I know and respect. One was furious at me for not accepting Lance’s denials. The other explained why he believes Lance and will always support him either way.
All of this feedback helped me think about this situation from a different perspective, and it left me feeling like I had been unfair to Lance Armstrong. So I wanted to share some of it with you.
Below is part of an email exchange I had with a friend of Lance’s. I would love to hear from more of you who have special insight into this situation:
Lance is a long time friend. He is an inspiring person who has given hope to millions of cancer survivors around the world… I try not to get involved in the controversies. There are certainly lots of cyclists who have an axe to grind against Lance. I don’t give anonymous hearsay much credence. The reason I believe him is, he has so many people who look up to him and what he’s done for cancer, and he feels such a responsibility towards them, I don’t believe he would jeopardize all that by doping. He’s a loyal friend who has been there for me during tough times and I am the same for him.
Thanks. Great to hear from you. And great to hear personal stories about Lance, who is extraordinarily inspiring. I wish I knew him.
Lance has always been one of my heroes. I used to follow those Tours every day–including the last couple. And his comeback story is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard.
As more and more has come out about cycling in the past 10 years, I’ve just gradually come to assume that they all doped and that, if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have been competitive. And if they all knew that and it was an open secret, then I can certainly understand why he would have done it.
That said, given the vehemence and clarity of Lance’s denials over the years (to his credit, he never hid behind the “I’ve never failed a test” statements that most athletes use), I have also wondered about the truth. And as more and more of Lance’s teammates have come out and admitted what they once denied, I’ve felt sympathy for them. And I’ve also wanted to hear a more detailed story from Lance about what happened and, if he never did it, why so many of his teammates were all lying under oath about him. One or two I could rationalize away. But now there are apparently more than 10 (I understand that some people in cycling were jealous of him, but these guys were his teammates.)
Lance probably does more good for the world in a day than I’ll do in a lifetime, and he will always be one of my heroes. But at this point, I really do want to know the truth.
What I don’t get is, why would he jeopardize all the good will he has created? … I see how much fighting cancer means to Lance and how seriously he takes the role he plays in giving people hope around the world.
Yes, some of the accusers were teammates. Lance ran the team with an iron fist expecting others to sacrifice their own ambitions for the sake of his winning the Tour. He was feared, not necessarily liked. Landis, Hamilton, Andreu – I don’t give them much credibility.
Because of my friendship with Lance and knowing who he is, I believe him and I give him the benefit of the doubt. But whatever the outcome, Lance will remain a friend.
Based on everything that has come out about cycling in the last decade–that pretty much everyone at the top level was doing it–my assumption has been that no one thought of it as “cheating,” at least not in the beginning. Therefore, at least without knowing Lance, I can see the process as being both gradual and just a fact of life. (ie, if you want to do this, this is what you do–and anyone who thinks otherwise is a romantic idiot).
The situation in baseball seems to have been similar. Yes, steroids/HGH, etc, were “against the rules,” but no one was enforcing the rules, and everyone seemed to be doing it, and everyone seemed to know everyone was doing it, so why not. Then, suddenly, one day the world woke up and decided that “drugs in baseball” were bad and criminalized it in hindsight.
So I guess I don’t see it as if there were a clear black line at which he would have said “If I cross that, I risk all this.” More that it was “yes, this is what we do in this sport.”
And that’s also why I really don’t think of it as “cheating,” at least not in the early years. When everyone on the playing field is doing something, you aren’t gaining an unfair advantage by doing it–you’re just remaining competitive.
If Lance didn’t do it, and everyone else did, his already astounding accomplishment becomes positively transcendent. And if so many members of his team were doing it, and the team doctors were managing the whole thing, then Lance had to know about all that. So if it really was a case in which the whole team and the whole rest of the sport was doping, and Lance wasn’t, there is an unbelievable story to tell there. And I would love to hear that story.
I hope Lance is telling the truth, because I want to believe that it’s possible to do everything he did when everyone he whipped was doped while still maintaining complete integrity and honesty. And the part of me that holds out hope that that’s what happened will be disappointed if it turns out otherwise.
But if I were friends with him, it wouldn’t change a thing. He’s amazing, regardless.
What you describe is a possibility, too.
He knew he was being targeted like no other athlete in sport to get caught, so why bother?
Lance fully knew what was being risked, and that the risk of getting caught far exceeded any possible benefit. He was already a legend. Why make the second comeback – and it makes no sense whatsoever to dope then. It makes no sense, at an extreme example, for him to be doping in 2010 and 2011 for triathlons.
After you have just cheated death – his doctors tell me the chances were 2% not the 30% or 50% or whatever was reported – why would you do anything that was a risk to your health?
I don’t buy that his cancer campaign is just to inoculate himself from prosecution. I see how deeply he believes in it, from the very start.
I believe what Lance says and I give him the benefit of the doubt. But either way, I will stand by him and the friends I’ve made in pro cycling through Lance.
If you know more about this situation that would help us all understand the story better, I would love to hear from you. My email is [email protected] I will keep all names and correspondence confidential unless we agree otherwise.
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