Unless the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is the most extraordinary collection of vindictive, strong-arming thugs and manipulative weasels in the history of bureaucracy, Lance Armstrong was among the many accomplished competitive riders who broke the rules.
For years, Armstrong and his attorneys have argued that those of his former teammates who said he’d doped were vengeful malcontents and serial liars. Who knows? Maybe one or two or three were. But 11 of them? The report released on Wednesday indicates that’s how many of the men who rode alongside Armstrong have testified that he participated in what USADA is calling “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that the sport has ever seen.”
Armstrong claims he is innocent, though he has stopped fighting the charges. Maybe one day he’ll acknowledge that an intensely competitive spirit and a work ethic few athletes could imagine, let alone endure, were not the only things he brought to the starting line. Maybe he won’t.
In either case, the good that he has done will stand beside the evidence that he cheated. His efforts to raise money on behalf of the fight against cancer have been extraordinary. He has inspired many people. Some of them may feel less inspired today than they did before the USADA report came out, but I hope not.
An argument can be made that we need heroes, or role models, or whatever we choose to call them. In part because it’s easy to quantify success in sports—easy, that is, to identify who’s won more often and made more money than anybody else—athletes get chosen to bear that responsibility.
Winning doesn’t make them perfect. It doesn’t even make them good. It makes them famous. Some of them utilize their fame to promote good causes. Are the results of that good work diminished if the athletes turn out to have been dishonest, and, in Armstrong’s case, inclined to smear those whom he has accused of smearing him?
Before the appearance of Wednesday’s report, evidence had long been mounting that nobody could have competed as successfully as Lance Armstrong did without violating cycling’s rules. Evidence had been mounting for an even longer time that Armstrong has done a great deal to help fund the fight against cancer, which, against long odds, he beat to return to competition.
It may be difficult to hold those two propositions in mind simultaneously. Now those who would think about Lance Armstrong at all have no alternative.