November 21, 2012

Drafting Lance Armstrong. ~ Lauren Walker

Those seven jerseys are yours. You earned them. You were the best of the best.

I have to step in here to defend Lance Armstrong after the current, dispassionate discussion in this Sunday’s New York Times about the ethics of either continuing to revere anything Armstrong did or to resign him completely to the trash heap of infamy.

I cry foul play. People always want a scapegoat when they feel let down by a hero and how easy it is for that someone to be the highest and most venerable in his field.

He who rises the highest has the farthest to fall.

There’s no way Lance can be blamed for the horrific, widespread corruption in professional cycling.

Nor do we have any idea the amount of pressure that was exerted on him to start doping, or to continue doping, and to find ever more creative ways to hide it. He’s an athlete, not a scientist, so I find it hard to believe that he devised the extremely intricate system of scientifically evading detection. That had to come from somewhere. The U.S. team? The sponsors?

Several weeks ago there was an article in the sports section where one of Lance’s teammates talked about the incredible pressure he was under to use these performance enhancing drugs. I’ve read more than a handful or articles, by pros, and semi-pros, who talk about the incredible pressure to dope. So are we to assume, against any evidence, that Lance Armstrong created the U.S. teams doping ethic single-handedly?

There are hundreds and thousands of people who are making millions of dollars off of international elite cycling. And these aren’t the men and women pushing the pedals.

We all know the pressure to succeed by any means possible is intense, and the more so, when there are so many people counting on you for a big paycheck.

Lance was pushed as much by his own willpower and desire to win, as by the forces drafting in his wake—the entourage stealing the momentum of the front man who does all the work. Lance took his drugs, managed to evade the “dog and pony show” that was drug testing, when every single person at every single level of pro-cycling knew exactly what was going on. With many, many people encouraging it and profiting off it. But so did many other men.

The fact still stands that Lance is superhuman.

Look, if everyone is doping then the playing field is still equal. I’m not saying it’s fair, or right, but if the whole peloton is on drugs, then that is the new baseline for the sport. And Lance was still the fastest and the best of them all. Stricken with a body devouring disease,fighting and winning that battle, he laid low because of chemotherapy and radiation, he healed from that, and came back to win the most grueling race—seven times in a row, against men intact, men with two balls!

So what’s a little blood transfusion between friends? I don’t begrudge the guy some fresh blood.

I say this again: they were all doing it too. The ones who hadn’t lost one testicle, hadn’t suffered through radiation and chemo. And he was still beating them. All of them. Every year. For seven years.

And now Lance is also forced to fight the cowards, who barely have balls at all, who are using him as a scapegoat for their own inability to clean up the sport. Yes, the sport is dirty and should be cleaned up. But not by destroying the men who were pawns in the game within the “Roman Coliseum” system of sports superstars.

The writer asks if Lance’s post career good deeds are still worth praising. To that, I say: come on! Are you serious?

The man is an unbelievable human. When he came by millions of dollars, he turned around to raise more money to help hundreds of thousands of people stricken by a horrible disease. He could have just retired to the beach.

Our system is made to build people up onto the highest pedestal, and then to rip them down as obscenely as possible. It’s a game of cat and mouse we play with celebrities over and over again to satisfy the boredom of our own quiet lives of desperation.

Do I respect his doping? No. But do I respect the man as an athlete? Yes I do. And do I still look at him as an icon and a hero? Absolutely. And do I still desire to LiveStrong? You bet.

I say it is not only ethical to forgive him, but also ethical that we ask his forgiveness for running him through the “meat grinder” of the corruption of professional cycling. Then we should thank him for all he’s given back.

And hey, Lance, those seven jerseys are yours. You earned them. You were the best of the best.

 Lauren K. Walker runs the yoga program at Norwich University. Her article about teaching yoga there to military cadets was featured in The New York Times in April. You can find more of her work here.




Editor: Evan Livesay


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