(Editor's Note: The news that Lance Armstrong has stepped down as chairman of the cancer support charity he founded has rocked the sports community. Nike Inc has dropped the disgraced cyclist over the doping scandal that will cost him his seven Tour de France titles and other sponsors are reviewing their partnerships. Pro triathlete Joanna Zeiger weighs in on the Armstrong controversy. ~js)
The Lance Armstrong saga had me riveted from the start. I watched agog as he swept the top step of the podium so many years in succession. I eagerly participated in the circular discussions of “did he or didn’t he dope.” On the one hand I wanted to believe his accolades came from the combination of God given talent and relentless hard work. But, on the other, as a professional athlete not only at the pinnacle of my sport but also privy to training regimens and heartache of countless Olympians and World Champions, I knew from the point of view of an insider, what he accomplished was not physiologically possible without pharmaceutical aid.
Credit Image: © Manuel Bruque/EFE/ZUMApress.com
The speculation of decades of wins at the mercy of so many dopers finishing behind him has now been laid to rest. The verdict is in via USADA’s in depth analysis: Lance is guilty. This was not a revelation for me, but for many others this information was a slap in the face as a hero has fallen. There are still those doubters who insist he never failed a drug test so he must be innocent. Or those who want to give him a pass because he survived cancer and has become the disease’s most coveted spokesperson. Others paint a picture of a victim of a witch hunt, “leave him alone!” they say.
My opinions on the Armstrong case are strong and unwavering: cheaters in sport deserve to pay their penance. In cycling, many great riders endured an exile from their sport for making the faulty decision to dope. Why should Lance be above them? As a leader of the doping program on his cycling teams, his crimes were abundantly worse than the brave riders who came forward with their tales of drug use.
There are some that are still riding the coattails of the Lance Armstrong brand. This is what bothers me the most. With all of the cards on the table, the evidence is now irrefutable. By continuing to align with Lance, it sends the wrong kind of message to fledgling athletes; it is ok to cheat in sports as long as you have a compelling back story and then do something benevolent. Would Bernie Madoff’s crimes have been less heinous if he had been a charitable sporting hero? I think the hundreds of scammed people who lost millions of dollars would not give Madoff a pass under any conditions. Yet, Armstrong’s years of fraud are not any different. He scammed companies out of sponsorship dollars. He scammed riders out of prize money. He scammed riders that wanted to race clean. He scammed the hearts of the general public who viewed him with awe and wonder. It is incongruous to be anti-drug and laud Lance.
You may take my comments as unduly harsh. They aren't. Drugs and sports have been contentious partners for decades. Undoing this illicit partnership cannot occur without making changes, and changes have to occur at the very highest level. Exposing Lance and his systematic doping program sends a blatant message: eventually you will pay the price for dishonest activities. USADA has been called all sorts of unseemly names and their actions have been described as unconstitutional. I applaud USADA’s efforts. It was not in the best interest of American sports to bring down an international hero, yet they forged on to grab hold of the truth. Undoubtedly, there are flaws in the USADA system, but every organization has its faults. Ultimately, they did what they were mandated to do: catch drug cheats.
It is always a sad day when the skeleton’s in an icon’s closet are paraded around in the public eye. Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Michael Vick. The ones that confessed have been able to pick up the pieces and resume their stature, albeit wounded. So, to Lance I say this: please, come forward and confess; it will make the end of the movie so much better.
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