It’s been months of rants, and counter-rants on Lance Armstrong.
Tell me it ain’t so, Lance…
I have mixed feeling about the whole lance armstrong thing. On the one hand, my dad who wrote a book on lung medicine was surprised to find out that Lance was able to compete at the highest possible level given his medical history. My dad more or less convinced me that he was probably cheating.
On the other hand, I saw those races. And in those races his team was the best prepared, organized and trained. Yes everyone else took drugs, yes everyone else cheated, but he did everything better than them. When Jan Ullrich was a fat ass who couldn’t attack, Lance wasn’t. When Pantani was unhinged, Lance was not. When the rest of the field was getting caught cheating because they were a bunch of amatuers he didn’t.
My wife and I often remarked Lance probably cheated better than anyone else. And looking at what the documents said, we were right: he did cheat better than anyone else.
Professional sports is a form of entertainment. And Lance entertained me. He was the greatest cyclist of his era, and he remains the greatest cyclist of his era. And because cycling has had cheating since, well forever, he is the greatest cyclist ever.
Let me repeat that. Cycling has had the use of banned substances since for-ever. The cyclist who died on mont-ventoux, Tom Simpson, had more junk in his blood than a junkie… And I wish I could remember the cyclist from the 1930’s, Fausto Coppi, who said; One does not win the tour on water alone. And there is my all time favorite: Age and treachery will always win out over youth and talent…
And what really infuriates me is the self-righteous journalists who spew…
There is this unbelievable hypocrisy by folks who have other options than to cheat, to say that Lance should never have cheated. If he had never had cheated he would be yet another frustrated athlete who never amounted to anything, may never have found the medical coverage to survive, may never created the Lance Armstrong foundation.
They’re saying he should have accepted a life of irrelevance because that was the right thing to do…
Every great success is achieved in part by exploiting the accepted rules of the game. And Lance did that better than anyone else. He operated in an era where drugs were not considered cheating. And then we changed our minds and said: HOW DARE HE! HOW DARE THEY!
Those self-righteous journalists KNEW what was going — and if they didn’t they were deaf blind and mute. And then when it was impossible to hide they acted like the Captain Renault: I am shocked shocked to discover that gambling is going on…
Lance is the greatest professional cyclist. And unless we want to vacate every champion since Fausto Coppi, we have to just admit that our *morality* changed, and not punish Lance. He’s right it’s a witch hunt. It’s our new morality punishing Lance because we changed.
And now time has passed … and I’ve been thinking about what I will tell my son about cheating and winning and losing.
What I will tell him is that cheating is wrong. That in the end, cheating gets you a short term advantage but in the long haul you can’t fake what you don’t have. And that he shouldn’t cheat, and I’ll respect him more for losing than for winning while cheating.
But I’ll also tell him that there are some activities where cheaters do win, and that he’s probably best served by not participating in them. That in some human endeavors you can’t avoid getting dirty, you can’t avoid cheating because the people enforcing the rules have decided to not enforce them. That when the stakes are very high, things get ugly, very ugly. And he needs to understand that point. That sometimes cheaters do win. And that people do cheat. And that he can’t just assume people will play fair.
And it’s not just in sports. It’s everywhere. Consider what’s going on with the attempts to disenfranchise poor voters with voter registration laws…
As for Lance, I understand why Lance did what he did. He wanted to win, and the people enforcing the rules chose to not enforce them. They chose to ignore what was going on. And so he had to chose to make an impact on the world OR be a man of high integrity.
No amount of his cheating can change the fact that when Saku Koivu needed inspiration to come back from Cancer he read Lance’s book. And Lance gets credit for that. And no amount of his cheating can change the fact that he inspired me to finish the Death Ride. And he inspired countless other people whom I don’t know. And he gets credit for that.
And I look at guys like Bill Gates who pushed the rules to the very hairy edge. He’s helped eliminate malaria from India. And you know what, I’m okay with what he did. And he helped eliminate a company I loved (SGI) and an industry I loved (UNIX) – so it’ s not like my life wasn’t impacted.
And I look at guys Muhammed Ali, and Arthur Ashe who did something with the fact that they were champions, something the mattered.
So I’ll tell my son: Don’t cheat. That integrity matters. But that more than cheating and winning, what matters is what you do with what you’ve won. That the world will remember you more for what you did with your winning more than they will that you won. But if you cheat they will also remember that you cheated.
And the real lesson in all of this mess is that Lance did something with the fact that he won that was meaningful. And that the money he raised and the people he helped are real and for that he deserves more credit than any other winner. And that if you admire Lance, don’t admire him for winning the Tour de France admire what he did with the fact that he won.
And that the people who hate him now and want to discredit him now, well they can not take away all the good that he did. And that that good matters a lot more than any silly tour-de-france victory.
But that all that good he did will never change the fact that he cheated. And that his good will always be tainted. Much like Mr Gate’s good will always be tainted… So don’t cheat.
Because as much good as Lance did, he will still always be a cheater, and that reflects poorly on his integrity. And integrity matters.
And that as great as Lance was, he will never be as iconic as Muhammed Ali or Arthur Ashe, because well he cheated.