Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lance the Fraud

I guess I'm supposed to say I'm not surprised.

After years of vehement, adamant denials, lawsuits and fights, Lance Armstrong publicly admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he did, in fact, participate in illegal doping during ALL of his 7 Tour de France victories.  It's been a long time coming.  But it still took my breath away.

Over the last few years, I have been one of the foolish ones.  One who not only believed Lance, but DEFENDED him.  VIGOROUSLY.  TO A LOT OF PEOPLE.  And tonight, I feel betrayed. 

Call it what you will, but I tend to believe the best in people. I truly believe that while no one is perfect, most of us, at the core, are good. And for me, the best part of sports is watching people do things we NEVER thought possible. I find so much inspiration in my fellow man, and this, THIS was the ultimate.

For as long as I can remember, my father has loved the Tour de France.  He's the reason I even started watching it.  For the entire month of July, I'd hear the British voices of the commentators as they narrated the treachous climbs through mountains, while my father STOOD in front of the TV, watching in fascination at the incredible feats of these riders...and of one in particular.

Lance Armstrong was his everything.  The ultimate sports hero.  A man who had overcome adversity so great, he could inspire even the biggest cynic.  My father, a surgeon, would express his infatuation for Armstrong, telling anyone who questioned Lance's ethics--"Don't you KNOW how amazing he is?  How he survived that cancer?!  That kind of cancer, as advanced as it was, has a TWO PERCENT survival rate.  TWO PERCENT!!  If he can beat that, of COURSE he can win the TDF!" 

And I had to agree.  I watched those races with him--the Tour is underappreciated in the U.S. but don't get it twisted--that race is GRUELING.  I LOVED Lance Armstrong.  And anyone who accused him of doping got to hear about it from me. 

Surely, I thought, a man who is so passionate about this CAN'T be lying.  Look at the lengths he's going to fight it!  He's NEVER failed a drug test! He beat cancer!  How do you know those samples aren't tainted?!  These people got caught and now they want to blame him.  Publicity-seekers.  Bitter losers.  He's denied it for SO MANY YEARS!  The list went on.

Due to the nature of my job, I worked on a project with the organization that runs the TDF (a company in France called the ASO).  In doing so, I had the opportunity to spend time with many of the men and women who work for the organization and we engaged in many conversations about the topic.

"How do you feel about Lance Armstrong?" they would ask me. 
"I love him!  He's amazing!" I would respond.
"How do you feel about his doping?" they would question.
"I don't believe it!  And here's why..." I said, rattling off my laudry list of reasons. 

Looking back on those conversations, I'm surprised that my peers were so gracious during that time.  Things were always respectful and never got heated, but I can't help but think how foolish I sounded.  Can you imagine?!  DEFENDING him to people who had more information about the situation than I could ever HOPE to be privvy to. 

When Marion Jones admitted doping in the Olympics many years ago, I was shocked and saddened.  Who would have thought?!  I remember wondering.  I loved her and frankly, she was never someone I would ever even THINK about doing something like that.  (not that I knew her personally, but you know what I mean)  When that went down, some friends and I talked about it and I remember saying, "it shook me a little bit, but not as much as if it were Lance Armstrong.  If it ever turns out that he's lying, I'll be devastated."

That day was today.  One of my ultimate sports heroes, a man that I viewed as an incredible inspiration, is a fraud. 

Even though I'm almost 30, my head and my heart still believe in the power of sports.  In the power of the impossible.  And Armstrong, with his lies and his deception, stole a large piece of that belief.  After today, I'm going to be a little more skeptical.  Question a lot more.  Give everything a second glance before I commit to being impressed. 

In his interview tonight, Armstrong said the following:

“These are people that supported me, believed in me, believed me — not just believed in me, but believed what I was saying — and they have every right to feel betrayed, and it’s my fault. I will spend the rest of my life ... trying to earn back trust and apologize to people for the rest of my life.”  

Well-said, Lance.  You somehow manage to say all the right words. 

I just don't believe you.