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Monday, May 23, 2011

Lance Armstrong: so courageous, but…

It’s rarely, if ever, fair to judge something or someone when you don’t know “the facts”.

When it comes to Lance Armstrong, the public always knew about the heart-tugging and inspirational side of that story—an athlete who battled against cancer and along the way became an international superstar, a true legend in the world of cycling.

Nothing can diminish what he accomplished, in that it took incredible talent and dedication to become the athlete that he was and achieve what he did. Unfortunately though, it’s difficult to divorce oneself completely from what we continue to see, hear and read from many of Lance’s long time competitors, foes, friends and teammates.

We all recognize that athletes are under enormous pressure to succeed. Professional or amateur, from high school to the NFL, from young amateurs to the Olympics, there has been for decades now a seeming reality that since “others are doing it”—that is, taking performance enhancing substances of some description, if you want to stay competitive, you have to do it as well.

We see suspensions regularly in football, and you have to believe it’s only the tip of the iceberg. It seems illogical that only a small percentage of NFL’ers use substances, given the size, strength and speed of today’s players and the transformed bodies on display.

Baseball has been heavily impacted too, of course, over the past twenty years. We remember the admissions from the late Ken Caminiti, a one time MVP. We also well recall the hype around Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and their marvelous Home Run record-chase, only to realize later that both have been accused (though “unproven”, still, technically) as having taken substances for years.

Many former track and field sprinters denied, denied, denied then finally admitted “using” or were finally caught. The story is almost always the same: allegations, denials—and then more denials against increasing evidence.

Finally: guilt.

Now, Armstrong faces the same music. There have been many allegations over the years, but they have always been swept away. Now, two recent reports may prove to be far more damning: This Associated Press story http://www.tsn.ca/cycling/story/?id=366282  tells a concerning tale—if one cares whether or not Armstrong was among those athletes that may have used banned substances. An even more recent story comes from another former teammate http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/cycling/news/story?id=6571826 and just adds to the snowballing story.

Does it matter to people if Armstrong is ever proven to have “used”? Does it, or perhaps it is best to say would it change how you view his accomplishments in the world of cycling—a sport riddled with “cheaters” over the past twenty years or so?

Does it change how young people who looked to him as a role model will feel about him, or what he has accomplished, or what he says he stands for?

As importantly, should it?

It’s easy to accuse, to make allegations. But recent history in sports tells us it’s also easy to deny. Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens.
Eventually, the “truth” often comes out.

When it does in the case of Lance Armstrong, will his defenders still be standing at the gates, defending their man?