Monday, October 29, 2012

Lance Armstrong's Yellow [Blood-Stained] Jersey

By Conor "S. Quire" Flahive (@ConorFlahive)

In the past few weeks, Lance Armstrong has crashed harder than a pile-up of cyclists on the downslope of the Hautes-Pyrenees. That's a cycling joke, and you don’t get it because no one pays any attention to cycling. That is, until the world’s most famous cyclist is stripped of his seven Tour de France titles amid allegations of doping in what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency called the most "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program" in sports history.

To date, Lance Armstrong has become the most ridiculed and harshly treated athlete accused of cheating in the history of sports. The question is whether all of the contempt is justified in light of the bigger picture?

Barry Bonds, a known steroid user, is still listed in the record books as baseball’s all-time home run champion. Before Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were widely credited with revitalizing baseball’s popularity during their home run chase in 1998. That season, both would eclipse Roger Maris’s long-standing and highly coveted single-season home run record. Years later, McGwire and Sosa would become proven steroid users, yet neither have been stripped of the home runs they hit.

Ok, cycling and baseball are two different sports, right? Well what about the fact that since McGwire's and Sosa’s home run race in 1998, more than a third of the top ten finishers of the Tour de France have admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in their careers, or have been officially linked to doping? In fact, from 1998 to 2010, only once has the Tour de France winner not been implicated for doping. And for what it’s worth, there is almost no evidence against Armstrong besides the testimony of other riders, all of whom were doping. As USA cycling coach Jamie Staff recently put it, Armstrong has “been kind of a scapegoat...a lot of people have done it, probably everyone in his generation. If you wanted to finish the course you had to jump on board.”

After being stripped of his athletic achievements, the final blow came when Armstrong lost all of his endorsement deals from companies like NIKE. Well, at least we know where NIKE draws the line. If you’re sent to federal prison for one of the most cruel and inhumane crimes in the book, NIKE will stay loyal (Michael Vick). If you cheat on your wife like Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant, you’re in the clear. But if you cheat on your sport, you’re out. In NIKE’s defense, it is a sports company, not a church. Thus, the broader implications of Armstrong’s disparagement lie off the playing field anyway.

For a decade, Armstrong, who is a cancer survivor himself, has been almost universally admired in the cancer survivor community as an inspiration and a symbol of the hope. Since its inception in 1997, Armstrong’s foundation Livestrong has raised $470 million to fund cancer research and empower those affected by it. Now, the future of Livestrong is in jeopardy. Despite Armstrong stepping down as chairman, major donors to the cancer-fighting charity are now asking for their money back.

Whether or not Lance Armstrong used steroids is a foregone conclusion. He did it, and he lied about it along the way. But let’s not forget that injecting sheep’s blood into your body doesn’t turn a mediocre athlete into Superman. Lance Armstrong was just competing on equal footing in an era where the use of steroids across the sports world was rampant.

Although he has been stripped of his cycling accomplishments, no one can take away what Lance Armstrong has done for cancer patients and research across the world. I hope you will join me in believing that the good done by Armstrong’s advocacy for cancer outweighs the damage he did to his sport.

Catch Conor currently out in San Diego, where he is the President of the Sports and Entertainment Committee at UCSD's School of Law, and in the future in the front office of the luckiest team in the NBA...

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic read dude. I agree 100% with everything you said.