Well, it’s over. 13 years of dominance, accusations, bullying, cheating, lying and false hope ended last night with the airing of Lance Armstrong’s admission to using performance enhancing drugs.
Another hit was dealt to the no-longer-fragile hope of sports fans-a hope that heroes can really be heroes. A hope that human beings can regular human beings can do extraordinary things like hit 80 home runs or win 14 majors or win an unprecedented seven straight Tour de France titles after overcoming a nasty bout with cancer. A hope that maybe a sports icon could transcend sports and lift millions of people going through the hardest times of their lives.
All of that is broken.
Eerily similar to the way that Tiger Woods delivered a series of canned responses after being backed into a corner, Lance delivered an almost cold rendition of responses when Oprah asked the tough questions:
Oprah Winfrey: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?
Lance Armstrong: “Yes.”
OW: Was one of those banned substances EPO?
OW: Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance?
OW: Did you ever use any other banned substances such as testosterone, cortisone or Human Growth Hormone?
OW: In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?
OW: Was it humanly possible to win the Tour de France without doping, seven times?
LA: “Not in my opinion. That generation. I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture.”
In seven yeses Armstrong confirmed the truth that he had long hidden. The truth that he turned on others and used to ruin their lives in order to enhance his. The ice in his eyes was similar to the look we have seen over the past decade as he has denied the flood of claims indicting him.
The worst part isn’t even anything that happened on a bike. The fact that he doped in order to win the world’s most grueling bike race seven times in a row pales in comparison to the lives he ruined and the millions of cancer patients and survivors he let down. He sued teammates, friends, and journalists, bullying them into coercion.
I was indifferent to Lance’s doping until I read this.
As sports fans, often we have to look past the dark side of sports in order to be able to enjoy them. Every sport has become a contest to get an edge, however unfair, over the opponent. Every sport has competitors who care less about integrity and more about the fame and fortune that come with legend. But this went so much deeper. The victims here weren’t just his opponents or cycling fans. The victims here are people whose lives were ruined. Their character was called into question, and they were bullied by one of the biggest bullies of all-time. Their motives were questioned, while a blind eye was turned from the man who was changing how we view cancer. The victims were Rick Reilly and others who supported Lance’s integrity, putting it above even their own, convinced that he could do no wrong.
The victims are the millions of people who have looked up to a survivor, only to realize now that they fostered false hope in the most vile of human beings. While he changed lives of cancer patients everywhere, he has now changed our ability to trust and hope-something he can’t give back no matter how “sorry” he is.