What They Can't Take From Lance Armstrong

If Joe Paterno represents the greatest fall from grace in the history of sports, then many are saying that Lance Armstrong might now have won the silver. On Thursday, Armstrong was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France cycling crowns and will be banned for life from any connection to the sport he made famous. Why? Because he withdrew his appeal against the US Anti Doping Agency’s contention that he time and again rode steroids and performance enhancing drugs to victory. Armstrong quit the fight against the USADA but issued a statement without contrition, accusing them of an “unconstitutional witch hunt.”

As Armstrong said in a statement,

“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now,” Armstrong said.“I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today—finished with this nonsense. Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances…I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities.”

With the swiftness of a pro cyclist going seventy-five miles an hour down a steep hill, the USADA acted immediately, treating Armstrong’s surrender as a legal admission of guilt. Travis Tygart, the USADA’s chief executive, spoke as if a jury of Armstrong’s peers had voted to convict, saying, “It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and athletes. It’s a heartbreaking example of win at all costs overtaking the fair and safe option. There’s no success in cheating to win.”

Tygart maintained that Armstrong didn’t give up the fight from exhaustion but because he knew that the USADA had ten former teammates ready to testify that he was doping. Armstrong it should be noted, made clear that no matter what any witnesses had to say, “There is zero physical evidence to support [their] outlandish and heinous claims,” Armstrong said. “The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of [drug tests] I have passed with flying colors.”

I don’t know about Armstrong’s guilt or innocence, but anyone who writes off Armstrong after the USADA ruling and thinks that he’s about to enter some sort of Paterno–Pete Rose–Barry Bond pantheon of infamy doesn’t quite understand his appeal or why he connects so strongly with his army of fans. Of the seventy top ten finishers in Armstrong’s seven Tour De France victories, forty-one have tested positive for PEDS; Armstrong is a hell of a lot more than just number forty-two.

The Texas native came to public consciousness not just for beating the Pyrenees but for beating stage-four cancer. In our increasingly toxic world, I don’t think a family exists that hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way. Lance Armstrong, and his ubiquitous LiveStrong bracelets, are twenty-first-century totems of survival, and the USADA isn’t going to change that. Nothing ever could.

No adult male saw Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa in 1998 and thought, “Someday I’m going to hit seventy home runs.” No adult female saw Marion Jones and thought, “Someday I’ll win gold at the Olympics.” But legions of adults have watched Lance Armstrong and thought, “Someday, I’m going to beat this damn cancer.” That’s a deeper connection than fandom or even the virtual-world of fantasy sports could ever provide. If Lance Armstrong has been able to further the connection because he’s white, photogenic and politically connected (and did I mention white?), then, to his credit, he’s leveraged those advantages to raise over $500 million for cancer research and access to treatment in poor and minority communities across the United States.

Armstrong, a religious agnostic, was once asked how his belief in God helped him beat cancer. He answered, according to the great sportswriter Robert Lipsyte, “Everyone should believe in something, and I believe in surgery, chemotherapy, and my doctors.” That response in the end is why he won’t go into hiding. He won’t live in self-imposed exile. He won’t slink to the margins of US society and he won’t lose his fans. Call him a doper. Call him a cheater. Call him the dirtiest player in a sport that’s as dirty as they come. He’ll call himself the guy who keeps fighting to make sure people have the surgery, chemo and doctors they need. For people like those in my own family who have, through trials of unimaginable courage, earned the right to wear that LiveStrong rubber bracelet, that will always matter more.

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I'm staggered that you took this angle Dave. Not about the doping nonsense (who cares) but in regards to Armstrong's role in the exploitative cancer charity industry and the scam that are his bracelets. This guy runs one of the most deceptive and greedy "charities" on the face of the earth and we are going to pat him on the back because a lot of people are taken in by it? Disappointing.

Wow! is right.

Mike-Got a link to back up that statement?

Cite your source please.

sure thing


"But the foundationís financial reports from 2009 and 2010 show that Livestrongís resources pay for a very large amount of marketing and PR. During those years, the foundation raised $84 million and spent just over $60 million. (The rest went into a reserve of cash and assets that now tops $100 million.)"

"For example, when he spoke at the inaugural Pelotonia cancer ride in Columbus, Ohio, in August 2009, he charged the startup charity his usual $200,000 speaking fee, including $100,000 worth of NetJets time, courtesy of Pelotonia sponsor and NetJets founder Rich Santulli. "

USADA jurisdiction

Someone should check and see if the USADA has jurisdiction to strip LA of the TdF titles. I doubt they do, since the owners of the tournament would be the only ones that can do that.

I've thought he's been enhancing early on, but I think it's kinda hilarious since he retired from the sport and the USADA was going to ban him for life.

DZ is missing something(s)

So 42 of 70 top-ten finishers in seven tours were found to be using PEDs--that's six of the top-ten for each of Lance's seven victory years. That means any of four of the top-ten in each of seven Tours may have deserved the glory of victory, or of competing better and having the spotlight make them better-known around their nations and around the world--well, the world that cares about cycling, which isn't exactly futbol. More respect, money, fame, opportunity and inspiration would likely come along. And who knows what good those riders might have done with those advantages?
I give Lance his due: He played the game and busted his butt to beat a bunch of other over-amped competitors, and he was always gracious about his teammates helping make it happen. And even if his foundation work to fight cancer is somewhat opportunistic for him and/or others, the inspiration to fight through pain and despair that his story offers has helped people, and will continue to help people--easily a net good.
But the bottom line is the basic chastisement: Cheaters deny the real champions their championships--and for people who respect sacrifice and true competition, that stinks.

So Some Other Cheater is now the Official Winner

I think Floyd Landis made a great point when he noted that ALL of the top riders were doing something illegal. ALL OF THEM!

I always find people like Jose Canseco and Floyd Landis to be quite refreshing and worthy of respect. But Americans overall tend to hate them both. We hate them because they have pulled back the curtain and revealed to us that a Superman we have all come to love is a fraud.

Missing the Point

Chris, what you're forgetting to mention is that Lance still beat all the others in the Top 10, regardless of whether or not they used PEDs. We could talk all day about which second place finisher could have become famous, but the bottom line is that Lance was the champ seven times.

Live Strong Foundation

Just want to note that Charity Navigator gives the Lance Armstrong Foundation its highest rating overall and for transparency and accountability. Here's the link: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=6570.

And he did pass all those drug tests while competing.

LiveStrong Foundation

Thanks for your link to Charity Navigator, Matthew; I was going to put up the same one. Charity Navigator has a set of criteria they use to measure a charity's performance; I think there are also legitimate issues raised in the Outside article, but it's possible some staff there also have an axe to grind with Armstrong.

For whatever its worth, LiveStrong ushered in a new age of "awareness advocacy" with the now ubiquitous wrist bands that allow wearers to show support of a multitude of causes. And for some people, having that easy way to show support for loved ones experiencing cancer, or other problems, was personally empowering and inspiring. And I don't think that effect is necessarily negated by whether or not Armstrong was doping (it's not like he made his rep/money on protecting a pedophile), and at this point, his foundation and its work might be bigger than him.

Non-profits achieve their status by not enriching themselves, although it is a legitimate expense to pay staff and have some overhead costs - it cost money to raise money, especially if you are raising a lot of money. If Armstrong was enriching himself (alluded to in the Outside article), that's a problem, although it does seem he had enough personal wealth to support his lifestyle without the foundation (doesn't he have pretty hefty endorsements, at least for now?). And yes, it is legitimate to call the org out on its "awareness" mission if it seems it is time to move on to a deeper level of advocacy (i.e., policy changes, corporation accountability, legislative advocacy). But all large orgs are in danger of losing sight of their mission if they are not careful (and many aren't); and in a society that prefers quick fixes to hard questions, it is usually pretty difficult for orgs to move beyond the "awareness": mission to the harder questions even if they wanted to (people usually start to get offended when you suggest there may be more that they personally can do). So I don't know either one of those issues are necessarily a reason to sink LiveStrong, at least not at the moment, although Armstrong himself may need to step aside.

Simply Put, He Lied, Bottom Line

The point is not whether the culture of cycling is saturated in PED's, there is no debate over that and there never has been. Of all professional sports, no athlete stands to benefit more than a professional cyclist. Lance Armstrong is just as guilty as Floyd Landis and others, yet Lance will not admit his guilt because he has too much to lose. As a famous sportswriter put it, "I've seen a lot of sausage made in sports media." Where athletes are publicy portrayed as fair and gracious when in reality they are ruthless, selfish, tyrants of their sports who will stop at nothing to dominate their competetitors. Lance is more and more becoming the poster child of this mentality, where he esentially launders money through "charity work" and aggressively pursues attacks on any former teammates or competetitors whom could become whistle-blowers. Shame on him, and only he will have to continue living with the lies and guilt he truly posseses.

Okay enough is enough z

I get what your trying to say. That lance Armstrong is a inspiration to many a cancer victim which lets face it he has. And I also get that treating his withdrawal as a guilty plea is absrub(though I personally think he is guilty and should be stripped). However I want to share a personal experience.i have been othe live strong email list for at least 7 years now and I was getting them maybe twice three times a month. He withdraws his appeal and all of a sudden I am bombarded with at least 7 emails a week. It went on like this for two months before I finally had to unsubscribe because my email server was close to crashing. Sounds to me like he's trying to save his public image, which if we are to believe his withdrawal, he said he doesn't care about anymore

Just curious

Hey having just finished reading the SI expose on Armstrong, did you willingly leave out the evidence that shows that Armstrong was doping even before he was diagnosed with cancer, that it might have contributed to speeding of the growth of the cancer, that he essentially bullied other riders on his team saying either you take EPO or your off the team, encouraged other riders to spit on fillipo Simeoni for testifying against him or did you just on your infinite insight into armstrongs character that yu somehow never came across this information? Oh and I'm assuming you heard that he"voluntarily" stepped down from live strong.okay he beat cancer and that takes guts, but that does not mean he is anything more than a selfish, conceited, cheating, egotistical, dbag,

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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