I really dislike cheaters. Except when I don’t. Mabye it’s because I’m a guy, or maybe it’s because I’m an American and wired to like rebels and scoundrels, or mabye it’s because I’m an African American and derive puckish joy when I see someone who manages to beat the system when the whole system is corrupt. This gets even muddier when it comes to professional sports. Lance Armstrongs’s confession to Oprah (conveniently leaked from a taped interview last night) that he used Performance Enhancing Drugs is at one point a triumph and also a horrible inditement of the entire sports industry. In the midst of that wide range, I can’t find much energy to actually dislike Lance Armstrong himself.
There are different types of cheating in professional sports and the level of vitriol lobbed at the cheater varies depending on the type of cheating and the perpetrator. Nobody likes it when cheating allows an athlete to do something that they never would have been able to do otherwise. By all accounts Mark McGuire was a past – his – prime slugger when he suddenly started hitting balls into the stratosphere in 1998. Finding out that he was a big fat cheater was dissappointing to say the least. On the other hand there plenty of other cheaters in professional sports where the impact is not so clear. Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were all hall of fame level althetes before they got heavily into the juice. The New England Patriots may have cheated with SpyGate but they still had to execute on the field and have broken scoring records and been to TWO Superbowls since getting caught. When you look at Lance Armstrong, you’d have to place him in the second category of cheaters, and thus less deserving of scorn and hatred. Unless he was taking Popeye’s Spinach there is no way that Lance wins 7 straight Tour De France Championships JUST because he was using PEDS. Especially when you consider that a large number of his top competitors were blood doping as well. Somewhere in there while he was huffing through the mountains was some innate ability that you couldn’t just find in a bottle.
Lance Armstrong finally admitting on national television (Well, Oprah’s network but you get the point) that he was a cheater is a triumph of sorts for professional sports and cycling in particular. USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) has a day in the sun and proves that even the biggest most powerful names in sports still have to follow the rules. Eventually…. Sortof….. Well….Not really. At the same time this is a supposed triumph of sports it is a shameful example of just how disingenuous and corrupt cycling and the Tour and professional sports really are. Let’s be honest, the public is supposed to believe that the World Doping agency and Cycling have been on some Captain Ahab like hunt for Armstrong all these years and he just managed to outsmart them every time? We’re supposed to believe that he and his plucky band of conspirators on the U.S. Postal Team evaded the watcheful eye of USADA, The World Doping Agency, and press outlets from all over the world for almost 10 years? Hundreds of tests came back “Not Positive” throughout Armstrong’s career, he was tested more than any other athlete on the tour. That suggests that either the World Doping Agency is historically incompetent, OR they were in on the whole sham from day one and only went after Armstrong once his career was leveling off. Face it, the Tour De France made billions of dollars during Lance’s 7 year run as Americans finally cared about cycling, whole television networks arranged themselves around the Tour as linchpin programming, and tours around the world made millions as well for Lance just appearing. Does anyone really think these outfits didn’t know he was dirty? Of course they did, you can’t pull of a conspiracy this large for this long without help from the inside. Nothing Armstrong did would’ve stuck without someone inside all of the cycling “oversight” organizations covering for him. That is shame of this, and that is why I can only be so displeased with Armstrong.
There are those that argue that the Cyclist was a bully, and a jerk who intimidated and threatened others who testified against him or outed him as a doper. These are all true facts but they don’t make him the scum of the Earth. First, most of his accusers were dirty too and were simply mad that they got caught and he hadn’t and second most world class athletes are jerks so what else is new. My hope is that after this Oprah interview airs, (now in TWO Parts!) that Livestrong will survive and Americans will go back to forgetting cycling and get about the business of forgiving Lance Armstrong. He was a cheater in a system that wanted a star. In other words, don’t hate the player hate the game. Or just ignore the game entirely because that’s what we were all doing before we heard of Lance Armstrong.