Lance Armstrong is the greatest cyclist in recent memory. Perhaps more importantly to this article, he is the only American cyclist most of us know and don’t know for sure is a cheat. He has been a champion of the Tour de France 7 times, but also has been a champion for cancer. Great. Let’s get to the controversial side.
There have been clamoring for a while now among French scientists claiming positive tests for steroids, but no one really paid attention because, frankly, the reports seemed baseless and no evidence was ever brought against Armstrong. Now we have notorious cheat Floyd Landis coming out and saying that Lance used drugs, blood transfusions, and the like. Landis was on the US Postal Service team with Lance during his hey-day, and so his claims would seem to carry some weight.
However, no one seems to take him seriously at all. He is written off because he was a cheater and a liar, and maybe because he looks like he could play Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a movie. Let’s leave it there for a second, so hold that thought.
In 2007, Barry Bonds was poised on the precipice of greatness. He was sneaking up on the most hallowed record of all time, but there was an ambivalent reaction to it at best. He was a cheat and everyone knew it. He was never formally caught by MLB for using steroids, but his indictment on perjury charges looked bad enough to most, among other fairly clear signs, that Bonds was not the real deal. He broke the record, and no one was happy for him. We hated him for cheating to break the most hallowed record in sports. Some of it had to do with the fact that he was a pompous ass, and that there was tons of evidence against him, despite never getting caught by MLB.
While there had been question marks from the start, a new old face was on the scene to throw some dirt. Former ballplayer and admitted cheat/steroid user Jose Canseco was here to sell a book and indict every single baseball player he could. It reeked of greed and slander. He was obviously trying to sell a book and while no one really thought Bonds was clean, people wrote Canseco off as yet another athlete running out of money trying to sell a book. A few years later, every single thing Canseco has said has been right. A-Rod, McGwire, Clemens and scores of other guys have been discovered as steroid users, and while we still despise the snakiness of Canseco, we have come to the grips with the fact that he was right about most everything he said.
Alright, back to Lance. Remember that thought you were holding about Floyd Landis? Bring it back. I ask you the following: what is the difference between Landis and Canseco? and “what is the difference between Bonds and Armstrong?”
There are a couple differences, but they are not nearly as substantial as fans of Armstrong might like. Landis and Canseco were both cheats, but they also had looks at things that no investigator had. Tons of people on the US Postal Service team have come up dirty, or at least have been informants. Landis was one of them, and absolutely had access to Armstrong in the same way Canseco had access to McGwire. Now there are some differences between Armstrong and Bonds, but they are not at all exonerating. Bonds was hated, and Armstrong was loved. He overcame all the. odds and became a champion. He singlehandedly made us pay attention to cycling for a couple weeks a year, and seemed to be the All-American kid we could all root for. Bonds was really an aloof jerk who few rooted for outside of San Francisco. We gave Lance the benefit of the doubt because we wanted to like them. I will leave any racial questions there to Jason Whitlock or someone more qualified to talk about them, but I wouldn’t count it out.
We gave Lance the benefit of the doubt. However, the “Spoiled Milk Defense” is less than convincing. To me, it sounds more like “please don’t listen to the rest of what he has to say” than “you don’t have to drink the whole gallon to know it is spoiled”. Lance has done great things for cancer research and cycling in America, but to blindly believe he is clean when there are people with inside knowledge saying otherwise is not responsible. We expect more of our heroes, and champions, right? Do not just blindly believe Lance because you want to believe his incredible story, believe it because it is true, if it is true.
All in all, I think the Landis-Canseco analogy still fits. It may turn out that Landis was not right about most of it, but I think he will ultimately be right about this. It does not make him a hero, just as Canseco is not a hero, but it does make him somewhat credible. There is nothing wrong with admiring Armstrong’s cancer contributions, or with being inspired by his ability to overcome the disease, but perhaps we should put a hold on admiring him as a person. Lance may be the only face we know in cycling, and we may just be used to liking him, but before we praise him next time, take another look.