Saturday, March 22, 2014

Unfinished Works: Lance Armstrong


The time is summer of 2010. We were in the midst of that year's edition of the Tour de France. It was to be Lance Armstrong's final tour. He had won seven straight Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005, then came back in 2009 and finished third. He would ultimately finish in 23rd place in 2010.

One day during the Tour, I checked the news on my phone and had a very powerful thought: "Fuck Alberto Contador!" Why did I have that thought? Who is that guy? He won the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Tour de France. In 2009, he and Armstrong were teammates. By 2010, the two had a contentious split and were now rivals.

I realized that I felt a sense of pride for Lance Armstrong. He had gone through so much, overcoming cancer and winning all those races. And people were dragging his name through the mud, saying all these things about how he was a cheater and how he had rigged all those drug tests.

Armstrong put over how many tests he had taken and how strict they are, saying that there was no way that somebody could consistently cheat and not get caught. As the years went on, Armstrong seemed to be in the clear.

I decided to write a blog post about all of this. I mapped out my outline, a picture of which is above. Here is what it says:

Lance Armstrong

Intro
- noticed him, didn't pay attention until 3rd tour

Lance's Accomplishments, sports
- 7-time tour
- attention to dead sport
- coming back from cancer

Lance's Accomplishments, cancer
- Livestrong
- money
- attention

Disgraced Peers
- Steroid Era
- Tiger Woods

What he's dealing with
- Landis allegations
- Past allegations

Implications
- Last honest athlete left
- Inspires so much personal pride
- Cancer work

And, so there's that. I'm not sure why I never got around to writing it. Laziness? Probably. 

I guess it's pretty clear to see what I was going to do. I knew the name Lance Armstrong during the first couple Tours, but didn't follow what he was doing closely until his third race. I was going to write about his sports accomplishments, then transition that into what he had done to help raise awareness to cancer. We were going to look at some other tarnished "heroes," like all of the baseball players who had tested positive for performance enhancers, then the recent Tiger Woods issues, maybe throw Kobe Bryant in there.

One line sticks out to me that I wrote in 2010. I wrote that Armstrong was the "Last honest athlete left." If we can't trust Lance Armstrong, who can we trust?

If you've followed the news to any degree over the last couple years, you know where we're going with this. It came out that Armstrong had cheated. He was stripped of his 7 Tour de France titles and banned from competitive cycling for life. Armstrong initially denied the allegations, but eventually admitted in an interview with Oprah that he had cheated all those years.

I guess the issue that people keep looking at is whether or not we should be mad at Lance Armstrong. He cheated a lot, but it's not like he took the money he won and hoarded it all for himself. Not even counting the money he has raised for cancer awareness and treatments, the attention alone he brought to it is amazing.

Should we forgive him for doing something wrong if the end results are good?

Those who err on the side of reserving judgement also point out that it wasn't as if Lance Armstrong was the only cyclist in the history of the sport who was cheating. It was a culture among the cycling community. Basically, nobody has won a Tour de France in the last decade because they all keep getting stripped for failing drug tests. Everybody did it, Lance Armstrong just benefited the most.

Is there a right or wrong to this? I guess, technically, yes. There were rules put in place and he did not follow those rules. The broader argument is whether those rules should be in place. Should it be illegal to pump out your own blood, wait a day or so, then put it back inside you? Your body has extra blood, which theoretically gives you more oxygen, which means you don't get tired as quickly. It's natural. Natural-ish.

Baseball finally cracked down on steroids, aka "performance enhancers." But, I read a study a few years back that said baseball players had a higher ratio of being diagnosed with ADHD than the general public. Why? The article theorized that these baseball players were faking their symptoms to get pills to keep them focused, Ritalin and Adderall, etc. So, you can't take steroids, but you can - allegedly - fake your symptoms and get another pill to enhance your performance?

Again, is there a right or wrong? Is it wrong to be a cheater in a competition filled with cheaters? If he hadn't done it, somebody else would have.

I don't know. Thoughts?

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