The Tour de France stripped Lance Armstrong of all seven of his titles this week because, well, they do not tolerate drug cheats in cycling.
And if you believe this, I have a yellow bracelet to sell you.
The list of frauds grows daily with regards to Armstrong. Nike is shocked — shocked, they tell you — by Armstrong’s blood-doping dalliances detailed in the damning report recently released by The US Anti-Doping Agency. And they were merely one in a long line of adherents distancing themselves from what had once been one of the most revered names in sports. Even Livestrong, his outstanding foundation geared toward helping and inspiring cancer patients everywhere, gladly accepted his resignation.
They are hypocrites, every one of them. What they are not is wrong about Armstrong. He has forever destroyed a good hunk of the hope and admiration and respect he accrued by beating cancer. What I keep reading courtesy of Armstrong apologists is, because Lance Armstrong gave hope to millions by battling back from an almost certain death sentence of a cancer diagnosis, whatever lies were told and drugs injected are immaterial. He forever gets to be the athlete that taught us “just because the doctors give you a death sentence does not mean you have to die.” This is tidy and sugary and complete B.S.
As Will Rogers most famously said: “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.”
What Armstrong did was destroy his reputation, lie after meticulous lie. It is not only about the blood doping and steroid-using and clandestine injections. This hardly makes him alone. It was the denials, the anger at anyone who dared suggest otherwise, the leaning on his recovery from cancer as a weird response to any accusations.
The intimation was “I am not lying. I had cancer.”
This line of thinking had me wearing my yellow Livestrong bracelet long past when evidence suggested otherwise. My argument was a person who had chemotherapy poison pumped into his body and somehow survive would never do anything to jeopardize the health he had fought so valiantly for. I did what I am guessing so many of us did. I gave Armstrong all of the attributes of the person I knew battling cancer. My mom was all of the things you hear — scared, determined, exhausted. Mostly, though, the disease had humbled her with its sheer ferocity and meanness. She woke up thankful for every day, until the day four years later she did not wake up.
So I know how beating cancer, especially an advanced case like Armstrong had, is amazing in and of itself. I know what Armstrong stood for. I know what his story meant to people like my mom. The thing is, if Armstrong had just competed, just beat cancer then got on his bike and attempted the mountains in France it would have been inspiring. He could have finished last and they would have been on their feet in cancer wards everywhere as he made his way down the Champs-Elysees.
Something has gotten crossed up for us in the country. We think the only inspiration can come from winners, guys with huge contracts, the guy with the gold medal, despite how fervently we preach the fine art of competing. It is this web Armstrong got caught up in. He would have been able to provide hope by just competing, by being alive on and on the bike. He would not have been able to date Sheryl Crow and Tory Burch. He needed the lie for that, for all of the endorsements and riches that followed. And the ugly truth is liars forfeit their ability to inspire us.
There are few things more damaging than lies and liars. They steal away a sense of what is real and our ability to trust, but mostly though they diminish themselves. This is what Armstrong did when he cheated, when he lied again and again about doing so, when he painted his former teammates as liars, when he bullied and shamed any and all detractors.
I know the argument that Armstrong does not become an international icon and thereby is able to help so many if he does not win the Tour de Frances. What I know for sure is there is no hope in lies. There can be nothing good that comes from even the most well-intentioned lie. And liars relinquish their ability to be heroes as a result.
Lance Armstrong always will be the guy who beat cancer. And eventually was defeated by himself — his ego, his hubris, his lies.