The big news today in cycling is that Lance Armstrong will quit fighting doping charges brought by the USADA. The news follows the dismissal of a lawsuit he filed contesting the charges in federal court.
Though he has framed it as simply being weary of continuing to fight a witch hunt, it’s hard to view this as anything but a tacit acknowledgement of guilt. Folks that follow cycling with anything more than a passing interest have believed he was guilty of doping for some time. Indeed, its likely that pretty much anybody contending at the top levels of cycling for the past 15 years has been doping.
This sports year has given us plenty of opportunity to determine when the good outweighs the bad in the legacy of admired athlete. In Joe Paterno’s case, the man had a blemish free record on the football field and by and large did things the right way. Ultimately, however, a sin of omission only tangentially related to football will erase much, if not all, of his legacy.
In the case of Armstrong, the story is a little different. In his free time, Armstrong has been a huge contributor to the fight against cancer, through funding, heightened awareness and advocacy, as well as inspiring countless folks that are battling cancer. Its hard to say if these great works outweigh cheating for the better part of your career, even if everybody else was doing it at the same time.
Part of the frustration with Armstrong is that he is so brand conscious that he will never admit guilt. He knows he cheated, we know he cheated, and we know that everybody else was doing it. If he’d just own up to it, maybe it would be easier. But when he smears anybody that challenges his legitimacy, he comes off looking like a colossal asshole. Indeed, by most private accounts, the guy is, in fact, a colossal asshole.
Incredible natural talent or not, this guy cheated better than anybody ever. Seven wins in a row. Certainly it got easier to cheat and win later tours given the money and sponsorships he accumulated after his early wins. On the subject of money, he’s obviously given a ton of it away, but he’s kept his share. He has profited enormously from these tour wins. Even if you want to discount the scale of the cheating because that was the environment in cycling at that time, its hard to give him a free pass.
Obviously, you can tell I don’t think highly of the guy.