Tuesday, August 28, 2012

To Bury Armstrong, and to Praise Him

Unless you've spent the last week staring red-eyed through the lens of of the Mars landing probe, you know by now that Lance Armstrong has given up the fight against the United States Anti-Doping Agency's investigation of him. High-profile witnesses were lined up out the courtroom door; no doubt his lawyers whispered in his ear that it was time to bite down on the poison pill hidden under his forked tongue. He gave in, and will likely be stripped of all seven of his Tour wins, as well as an Olympic medal.

George Vecsey over at the Times wrote a pretty good wrap-up, comparing L.A. to Pete Rose, Marion Jones, and the rest of the asterisked idols of our time. Vecsey underscores my biggest beef with Armstrong:
Of all the legion of the lost, Armstrong most compares to Rose, who had a swagger and a crude charm and made his sport come alive. I still like some of Pete, too, but he did his complicated image a terrible disservice by not cutting his losses early and admitting that he had gambled on his sport. His hits were enough, he felt, but he was dead wrong.

I don't fault Lance for doping nearly as much as I fault him for aiming that infamous accusatory stare at every person who ever dared question his sterling character, as if merely asking the doping question were a violation of his human rights.

To dope is human. Plenty of champions have done it. Doping is not right, it's as wrong as it gets, but I've been very clear in these pages that it is fiendishly hard to prevent, and its influence is as pervasive as the plague.A doper is not necessarily untalented, or unworthy of any admiration. I still love to watch Ben Johnson's astonishing 100 meter Olympic victory, years after the whump of disappointment about his cheating hit my stomach.

It's another thing altogether, however, to answer perfectly fair inquiries with vitriolic accusations and operatic claims to the higher ground. For all his posturing, Lance was as abusive of the public trust as any dirty politician. He used his fame and enormous power in the industry to manipulate coworkers (including friends) and cover up wrong-doing (see a very relevant example here). When it came back to bite him, he wrapped himself in his seven yellow jerseys, and then threw on the Anti-cancer Hero flag for good measure, knowing perfectly well all the while that -- to put it in terms a fifth-grade bully like him could understand -- he was lying.

That's for chumps. Plain and simple.

His Tour video clips will always be astounding. He will always be the guy who returned cycling in the U.S. to a lucrative and popular standing after years of irrelevance. And he will always be the greatest rider of his time. I hope that's enough; I hope that he doesn't need his integrity in order to sleep at night, because if so, he's going to be one tired dude.


Human Wrecking Ball said...

Great post. I don't know what is dumber, people still believing he is an angel or the millions spent to prove he isn't.

Scott said...

I've read this like three times. I wanted to say something pious or poignant. I can't help but feel sadness.
I remember Charlie Hustle running out walks. Sliding headfirst into first on close plays.
I don't know a lot about biking. Comparing someones contribution to it in terms of what Micheal did for hoops, then throwing stuff at him as he heads to the gallows.
I don't know.

Velosopher said...

HWB, thanks, and I know how you feel.

Scott, not sure exactly what you're saying here. Pete Rose was something else, for sure, I remember him too. I think Vecsey's point is simply the confusion that results when great talent gets blackened by wrongdoing.

I don't think we can separate one from the other. There's tremendous talent, and there's integrity. The first is God-given, the second is a choice, every day. My old man was an example of the second -- he taught me, by example, that you simply don't fudge the edges of integrity; to him, it was the core of a person's worth.

Scott said...

V- I guess I was just thinking out loud. A sense of sadness and loss. "Say it aint so Joe". I understand the integrity part. I'm no saint. To feel is human. Thanks for making me think.

Velosopher said...

No worries, Scott. Thanks for the comments.