Everyone has strong feelings about the Lance Armstrong case.
Either they’re furious that the government is wasting time and taxpayer money pursuing an American hero for breaking cycling rules that they (justifiably) think almost everyone in cycling was breaking–especially after so much time has passed that “no one cares anymore.”
They think Armstrong might have cheated and lied and tried to cover it up, and they want to have the truth established once and for all.
Both those feelings are understandable.
But regardless of which feelings one has, the US Anti-Doping Agency has gone ahead and done its job (investigated the question and brought its case).
So that leaves Lance Armstrong with a decision to make.
That decision, it seems to me, boils down to two choices:
- Lance Armstrong must tell his full story–not just to the USADA, but to the world. Armstrong has always categorically denied the allegations, and he has also always said he welcomes an investigation as a chance to demonstrate his innocence. So, if Armstrong really didn’t dope, he now has his chance. Importantly, though, given the massive amount of evidence the USADA has accumulated, proving his innocence is likely to be tough. And as far as Armstrong’s future reputation is concerned, if he doesn’t prove his innocence to the public, it won’t matter much whether he officially gets to keep his Tour de France titles or not. Everyone knows he won those races. If he can’t tell a compelling story about why so many of his former teammates are lying and framing him, those victories will always be tainted.
- Alternatively, if Armstrong doped, he could come completely clean about it and accept the consequences. This would be the honorable and courageous thing to do. And it would arguably set Armstrong up to do even more good in the world than he already has (and he’s done a ton of good.)
Which way should Armstrong go?
It depends whether he doped or not.
He certainly shouldn’t admit to doing something he didn’t–that wouldn’t help anyone. If Armstrong didn’t dope, he should try to come up with the most complete and compelling explanation he can for why all his former teammates are lying about him and how he was able to compete at such an extraordinary level even though so many of the people he was competing against were on drugs. This story will be hard for a lot of people to believe, but many people will take his word for it. What Lance Armstrong overcame and accomplished is mind-blowing, whether he doped or not. And if he tells a persuasive story, millions of people will give him the benefit of the doubt.
But if Armstrong did dope, which the evidence suggests he did, the right thing to do would be to come completely clean about it. The Justice Department has dropped its criminal investigation, so there is much less risk that Armstrong will be prosecuted for previously lying about this. He’ll lose his official Tour de France titles, but those have now been tainted anyway. Yes, he might get sued by ex-sponsors and others, but these lawsuits will seem preposterous to the public (Seriously? Nike didn’t know?) Given the prevalence of drug use in cycling, most people will understand why Armstrong did what he did, and they’ll forgive him for it. And they’ll admire him a lot for finally admitting the truth, accepting responsibility, and facing the consequences.
And after admitting the truth, Armstrong would actually be in a position to help even more people with the rest of his life than he already has.
Doping or no, it is impossibly hard and inspiring to come back from cancer the way Armstrong did and go on to do something that no one else has ever done.
But it is arguably even harder to finally own up to a truth that you have always denied–a truth that means renouncing those extraordinary accomplishments.
If he comes clean, Armstrong could become a champion of the right side of this issue–using his own experience and story as inspiration. And his public story of how and why he made the decisions he did–and how and why he finally decided to tell the truth–could help millions of others avoid taking similar short-cuts.
And not just in professional sports. In life.
Lance Armstrong has been a huge inspiration to me and millions of other people–and he still will be, regardless of what happens here.
But it’s time to hear the full story, one way or the other.
After writing this post, I heard from a couple of people I know who are good friends with Lance Armstrong, one of whom was very angry at me for writing it. I also heard from a lot of people who say that Lance’s passing 500+ drug tests is all the proof he will ever need of his innocence.
So let me add this:
Lance Armstrong is one of my heroes. I don’t know him, but I wish I did. After reading all that has been written about cycling over the past decade, my assumption has been that pretty much everyone in the Tour de France when Lance was winning it was doping and that you had to dope if you wanted to be competitive. And so if it turns out that Lance was doping, too, I’m certainly not going to get on some high horse about how he’s an evil cheater among angels. If the USADA strips him of his titles, the guy they give them to instead of him will almost certainly have doped, too. And he will probably be much less deserving of the title than Lance.
That said, I also have respect for Lance Armstrong’s teammates, several of whom have subsequently admitted what they once denied. And I would like to know the truth about Lance, too. And given all that has been revealed about cycling over the past decade, as well as the testimony of Lance’s teammates, I don’t think it’s fair for Lance and his supporters to trash anyone who doesn’t just take his denial as gospel.
I will respectfully listen to whatever Lance has to say in his defence–as, I hope, will the USADA. And if he is innocent, I hope that he will be able to produce some neutral witnesses who know that and will say that (a couple of former teammates, for example). Even one or two would go a very long way.
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