With Lance Armstrong appearing on Oprah this week to admit to taking performance-enhancing drugs, I can officially be classified as a fool! Lance wouldn’t take drugs – after beating cancer, he would never risk his life for sport. Yeah, right! How can he possibly be doping? He’s never failed a single drug test, and he’s been the most tested athlete in history? Yeah, I fell for that one too.
I wasted way too much time watching liars and cheaters receive accolades for their performances over the past dozen or so years. It started during the 1998 baseball season. We watched and cheered for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they battled for the single season home run record. The Cardinals and Cubs captured my attention in a way major league baseball never had before. McGwire set the record with 70 home runs and Sosa earned the 1998 league MVP award for their efforts.
Then my addiction to the Tour de France began in the summer of 1999. We watched and took great pleasure in Lance Armstrong and U.S. Postal as they claimed the yellow jersey and team title. The summer of 2000 started with a repeat by Lance and U.S. Postal and concluded with Marion Jones winning five Olympic track and field medals and Tyler Hamilton taking the Olympic gold in cycling.
The first chink came later in 2000 when it was reported that Tyler Hamilton tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs following his gold medal performance, but we all defended him…waiting for an explanation or mistake. But instead, Hamilton was stripped of his medal and suspended from cycling. Then we learned Marion Jones husband’s withdrawal from the Olympic games was due to a positive test, not an injury. Of course, that didn’t mean Jones was involved and in fact, she divorced her husband because he tainted her good name.
The Tour became a must watch event every day throughout the month of July for the next six years. We cheered Lance and his teammates for all seven titles watching many of the races more than once, and then were elated in 2006 when another American cyclist took over where Lance left off. Floyd Landis and his amazing ride on day 17 resulted in an American ending the competition in the yellow jersey for eight years in a row.
We wore yellow Livestrong bands on our wrists (as did both George W. Bush and John Kerry as they campaigned for the presidency in 2004). We purchased T-shirts with the signature yellow sleeve. We read It’s Not About the Bike, Lance’s autobiography. We laughed when he hosted Saturday Night Live. We criticized Greg LeMond when he questioned Armstrong’s cycling feats and then accused him of cheating. LeMond, who we’d cheered in the 80’s when he won three Tour titles of his own, was not behaving like a champion. We accused him of being jealous of Armstrong’s success and popularity. Wasn’t it sad that he had become so bitter?
Of course, by now, both McGwire and Sosa had been identified in the MLB doping scandal and Marion Jones had tested positive for doping. She was fighting to retain her Olympic medals and the ability to continue racing. (Did you know that Marion Jones had been accused of doping all the way back to her days in high school? In fact, Johnny Cochran – O.J. Simpson’s attorney “If it does not fit, you must acquit.” – successfully had a four year ban overturned when she missed a random drug test in high school. How did I miss this?) Then Landis tested positive, and we knew that had to be a mistake…not, Floyd!
So I don’t know why I continued to defend Lance Armstrong. Yes, he had a compelling story…raised by a single mother, against all odds fought and beat cancer, won the Tour seven consecutive years; but a compelling story does not mean he’s not a cheat and liar.
It’s hard to learn a lesson here because while the saying goes, “Cheaters Never Win.” These cheaters did win. They won awards, titles, and our hearts. They were rewarded with endorsements and financial success, but nevertheless, they are cheaters. They are liars. They are an emabarrassment.
I think I’ve learned a lesson. I can’t know someone based on his or her athletic performance or appearance on a talk show. I can’t know someone based on an autobiography or news reports, and I certainly won’t be watching as Lance tries to convince us he’s good guy and misunderstood and just doing what he had to do to compete when he talks to Oprah. I’ve heard enough.
I’ll still watch sporting events and cheer for my team or a particular athlete, but I won’t defend them or buy their merchandise. I certainly won’t schedule my day around their performance. After all, they’re just doing their job. I’ll always be skeptical, and I hope you’ll be skeptical as well.
Don’t cheat. Don’t lie. You’re better than that.