My first reaction to the news that Armstrong has stopped fighting the many doping charges against him was disgust. This action is pretty much an admission of guilt on his part. He was backed into a corner, ran out of tricks, maneuvers, and probably realized that the evidence against him was overwhelming. Reportedly, about ten of his former teammates were prepared to testify that he not only used a variety of doping agents (including blood transfusions), but he was a purveyor of these techniques to others. Not only did he engage in the unethical and illegal behavior, but he spent years lying about it. And the price he will pay is a very heavy one–losing his seven Tour de France titles and his reputation as a role model who transcended sports.
This is incredibly sad because Lance Armstrong is an American sports hero of the first order–right up there with Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, Cal Ripken, Danica Patrick, Serena Williams, and LeBron James in the American consciousness. He is a household name, well known even to those of us who do not follow cycling on a year round basis. However, he is more than a sports hero; he is a folk hero because he won the Tour de France (seven times) after battling testicular cancer and beating the disease through sheer will power and physical endurance. He also created a foundation to raise awareness about cancer that has raised more than $450 million. You would have to have been living under a rock not to know about the yellow LIVESTRONG silicone gel bracelets that netted $25 million for the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 2004.
Lance Armstrong has been far more than a successful athlete in a relatively minor sport. Because of Armstrong, we Americans know that the Tour de France is the big, big race for serious cyclists and that having an American dominating the field for seven years was unprecedented. We also know about his first child who was conceived with sperm frozen prior to the cancer treatments, and the breakup of his marriage. We also followed his relationships with rocker Sheryl Crow, actress Kate Hudson, and other celebrity girlfriends. His most recent girlfriend has given birth to his fifth child. And through all this he was inspiring millions of cancer patients to LIVESTRONG.
Although we fans knew about the accusations of doping made against him by French cyclists and reporters for years, most of us assumed he was innocent. The conventional wisdom was that it was just sour grapes–resentment that an American had been able to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles on their home turf.
However, during the past few years when the accusations of taking performance-enhancing drugs escalated and charges were leveled by American anti-doping officials, the drumbeat grew deafening. It was harder to believe he was innocent. And as of today, we know that he was not innocent. Just as the Watergate tapes nailed Richard Nixon, the testimony of his teammates was about to nail Lance Armstrong. An innocent person does not simply “stop fighting” and allow his titles to be vacated. He is banned from his sport for life. This is what it means to be disgraced. He owes all his fans and all the millions of cancer patients who were inspired by his story a huge apology.