January 17, 2013

Liar, Liar, Cycling Pants On Fire


So Lance Armstrong admits he lied about taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). This is a revelation? I’m supposed to be surprised? We’re supposed to be surprised?

Remember when you were a kid and the more you professed not to have lied the more your parents (or teachers) though you were lying? As a parent, when your child pleads mercilessly with you about not having lied, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Do you start to think the whole point of all this drama is to deflect your concern and interest in what is being lied about and focus on why there is such an intense focus on professing innocence?

Lance Armstrong’s story is one we all bought. Athlete cancer survivor steals his life back from the jaws of death to go on and perform to the highest level in a sport he was once pretty good at. Of course, there is information that Mr. Armstrong was using PEDs prior to having been diagnosed with cancer. Yet, his performance wasn’t dominating the sport yet. It was a mere 18-months after being diagnosed with testicular cancer and going through a near life-ending treatment that he went from being “cancer-free” to winning what would be the first of seven Tours de France.

What an amazing story! One we all rallied around. One that seemed too good to be true. I’m sure most of us have been told, and probably have said, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”. But we still want to believe. There are no more heros. There are few people to look up to.

But Lance seemed to be someone we could. Surely a man who just escaped what was likely to be sure death wouldn’t risk the negative side effects of PEDs. Surely a man who nearly lost his life would realize how precious life is and how amazingly blessed he was to be given this second chance.

As the wins rolled in and the sponsor money flowed, he did what any good cheater would do. He began building a legacy beyond the lie. Surely we could look past the corruption in the sport to realize he’s a good guy. Right?

He started a foundation, Livestrong. Lance made speaking the word cancer possible. He showed a different face of cancer. He gave people hope. Livestrong drew in millions of dollars, not for research but for helping cancer patients and their families. Livestrong gave cancer another color. Cancer wasn’t just pink and pretty and for women. The Livestrong foundation brought the conversation about cancer front and center and washed it in a bright yellow – the yellow of the Maillot Jaune. In cycling, yellow is the color of winners. It’s the color of hope. It’s the color of perseverance in the face of adversity. Yellow is the color of beating what’s chasing you, of not looking back at anything trying to stop you. Cancer had a new color.

Only, we find out now, yellow is the color of cheaters. Not in the “I cheated death and beat cancer” kind of way. But in the, “I cheated because everyone else was doing it” way. That’s the excuse of a child, not a grown man. It’s that statement most parents shake their head at and follow up with the “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?” question.

Lance sat down with the softball-throwing Oprah Winfrey to confess his sin. She’s pretty powerful, but she’s no Pope-rah™! And if there are few repercussions in a legal court, there will, and have been, many in the court of public opinion. Where do I sit in all of this?

I’ve supported Livestrong from the beginning. CycleGuy even rode with Lance in a fundraiser for Livestrong. We know some of the staff and administration of the foundation. They’re good people. They’re working to make a difference, just as Lance did in the cancer-support community.

We all drank the lemonade. We all believed in the story. But I can separate what the foundation does from the choices Lance made as an athlete. Was the foundation salve for the hole burning in his heart, knowing that he was lying and cheating? Maybe. But in this case, I think we, those who support those fighting cancer, are winners. Cancer is no longer spoken in a whisper or offered up with a lower-case “c”. Thousands of people have raised their yellow-bracelet clad arms in triumph because we’ve made cancer speakable.

As a student of ethics, I wrestle with all of this. No only did he lie about what he did, he continued the lie and hurt other people. You have to wonder if his lies led to his divorce. If the lies have hardened his heart toward the men who gave every ounce of their energy so he could win. If the lips across which those lies flowed are the same lips he speaks with love to his children and teaches them to speak the truth.

Lance stopped caring what we think about him long ago. He likely doesn’t care now whether we have any empathy or sympathy for him. This confessional was made to Oprah, not a hard-hitting journalist or someone in sports journalism likely to take him to task or ask hard questions. Oprah’s safe. She appeals to women who are more likely to remember their own struggle with cancer or that of a friend or family. The audience is softer, less cynical.

But the truth is, Lance doesn’t really care what we think. Or whether we love him or not. The people he loves will continue to be the same small group. The people who love him is not relevant to him, outside of a very few people.

Lance didn’t sit on a bike 6+ hours a day for 20 years for me, or you, or cancer or the US psyche. He did it for him. This was about Lance being somebody.

This was all about the bike, despite him saying otherwise.

In the end, does this really affect me? No. Does it affect us? Sure, to some degree. It will affect us more if the mission of Livestrong ceases because it’s done so much for so many, despite the lies. What does affect us is a sport full of liars and cheaters. The athletes who give false hope to the kids who look up to them. The athletes who say that you can’t win without cheating. In cycling, cheaters won all the time.

Until now. We’re not as stupid as people think we are.



Shifra January 18, 2013 at 6:05 am

Love the title of this post! I agree with what you wrote. My biggest issue is I don’t want my kids to think they need to do what others do to keep pace. I don’t want them to think it’s ok to do something because everyone else does it. We all make mistake. And we need to forgive people. But it is impossible to forget. Frankly, I hope I raise my kids to not care so much about what other people think, to not risk their precious lives, to admit their mistakes, and to try to be honest with themselves and with others. I hope their happiness will come from inside and not be dependent on awards or accolades. I hope they do good work. I hope they are proud of themselves. I hope they are happy and healthy. I want them to know everyone can make a difference…and I hope they will use their lives for good.

Sara January 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Thank you, Shifra. I’m not sure when Lance got off the path of honesty and accountability, but I wonder how many times little lies were told and never questioned. I think your kids will greatly benefit from a mama who values integrity and teaches them the importance of self honesty as much as being honest with others.

I appreciate you adding your thoughts!

~ Sara

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