Why I Am Angry At Lance Armstrong
Last week, Sally Jenkins - the co-author on Lance Armstrong's books, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life and its sequel, Every Second Counts broke her silence regarding the U.S. Anti Doping Agency's Reasoned Decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles with a column entitled Why I'm Not Angry At Lance Armstrong. Judging by the rationalizations, equivocation, and hypocrisy displayed by Ms. Jenkins - whose opinion might or might not be clouded by her friendship and business association with Mr. Armstrong - she seems not to care what fueled his considerable accomplishments both on and off the bike. Ms. Jenkins says she's not angry. But I am. Maybe I am angry at Lance Armstrong because he played us for fools. Make no mistake about it, I was once a fan. Long before he was a household name, when he was first diagnosed with testicular cancer, I got all the members of my cycling team to sign a get well card to him. When he beat cancer and made his implausible comeback I cheered him at the Tour as I watched on TV. I was ecstatic when he won the stage following the death of his teammate Fabio Casartelli. I practically jumped out of my seat with excitement when he gave Jan Ullrich "the look". Three times I excitedly led runs with Armstrong at Niketown in New York City. I bragged about it on these pages. I had a framed photo of us displayed in my home. I proudly wore the fancy limited edition yellow gear that Nike gave me, and had an autographed Livestrong shirt. I donated to Livestrong, and helped organize fundraisers. However, had I known then what I know now, I'd have been far less enthusiastic.
Maybe I am angry at Lance Armstrong, for cheating. All of the "everyone was doing it" equivocation doesn't change the fundamental fact that Armstrong doped. Even if one supposes that all Tour riders were dirty - something which I can easily believe - the notion that therefore the best rider still won is overly simplistic nonsense. According to the USADA decision, not only was Armstrong doping, but he was able to lie and cheat his way out of it when he tested positive. Other testimony suggests that Armstrong and the other USPS riders had other advantages because they were routinely tipped off in advance of tests, allowing them to elude and stall testers, inject saline, and mask in other ways. In other words, Armstrong may well have had advantages that even other dopers didn't, and it was therefore not a level playing field. Furthermore, the systematic and pervasive doping culture which he helped perpetuate, if not lead, left no room for clean cyclists at the top of the pro ranks. Upon realizing this, many others gave into temptation and took the easy way out. And those that did the right thing found a new line of work. (If you doubt that how many young riders have their dreams destroyed that way, glance at the record books and see how few previous junior champions made the grade at the pro level.)
Maybe I am angry at Lance Armstrong for lying repeatedly, and doing so with such conviction. Over and over he told us about the hundreds of negative drug tests. He questioned the motives of those who called him a cheater. And in the holier-than-thou tone that he perfected, he told us that his work was too important to ever risk tainting it. He didn't just lie to the general public. Here's Ms. Jenkins herself in a June interview: "Everybody has their version of Lance Armstrong, and I have mine. The things we've heard don't line up with the guy I know. That's my best answer. He told me point blank, 'I didn't use performance enhancers' and I accept his answer because he's my friend and that's what you do with friends." In the CNN documentary The World According to Lance Armstrong, we see his testimony from 2005, in which he's asked if he'd lose sponsorships if he was caught doping. "All of them. And the faith of all the cancer survivors around the world. So everything I do off of the bike would go away too. And don't think for a second I don't understand that. It's not about money for me. Everything. It's also about the faith that people have put in me over the years. So all of that would be erased. So I don't need it to say in a contract you're fired if you test positive. That's not as important as losing the support of hundreds of millions of people." Amazingly, some of the "hundreds of millions of people" who Armstrong himself claimed he knew he'd lose have stuck by him. Not I.
Maybe I am angry at Lance Armstrong for being a vindictive bully who was willing to vilify, slander and attack those who crossed him. When Ms. Jenkins published her column, Armstrong's former teammate, Jonathan Vaughters - a man who admits to being a former doper despite never having failed a drug test - responded with this tweet:
That may sound like hyperbole, but not if you consider how Armstrong threw his considerable weight around. He called his former soigneur Emma O'Reilly a "whore" and suggested that she was an alcoholic. His motivation? She dared to speak the truth about the systematic doping by the U.S. Postal team. (He also hauled her into court along the way - a tactic he used to dissuade many of his adversaries who couldn't afford to fight him.) When Greg Lemond - now the only American to have officially won the Tour de France - publicly questioned whether Armstrong was clean, Armstrong saw no problem with sabotaging Lemond's deal with Trek bikes, effectively eliminating the Lemond brand. When fellow rider Fillipo Simeoni testified against Armstrong's "doctor" Michele Ferrari, who has a lifetime ban for USADA for "numerous anti-doping violations including possession, trafficking, administration and assisting doping, Simeoni claims that Armstrong told him "You made a mistake when you testified against Ferrari… I can destroy you". And there's the time that Armstrong went after Tyler Hamilton, another former teammate and doper, who testified against Armstrong. According to Hamilton's testimony, Armstrong told him “When you’re on the witness stand, we are going to fucking tear you apart. You are going to look like a fucking idiot.” Hamilton also testified that Armstrong said, “I’m going to make your life a living… fucking… hell,” according to the USADA statement.
Maybe I am angry at Lance Armstrong for not having the decency to come clean. Pragmatically speaking, I understand that admitting that he cheated and then repeatedly lied about it would not only hurt him among his remaining fans, but would likely cost him millions from the countless lawsuits that would ensue from sponsors and those who paid him prize money and appearance fees. So no, I don't expect an admission, or even an O.J. Simpson-esque "If I Did It". But rather than laying low and tacitly showing a little remorse, Armstrong defiantly tweeted a photo of himself lounging around in front of his seven yellow Tour de France jerseys.
Maybe I am angry at Lance Armstrong for hiding behind cancer. Mr. Armstrong went through a brutal bout with cancer, and lived to talk about it. No one in their right mind would diminish what he went through or suggest that he was not brave for doing so. But time after time, Armstrong played the cancer card to deflect criticism. As Frankie Andreu, another former teammate who - along with his wife - saw firsthand how vindictive Armstrong could be put it "If you accused Lance Armstrong of something he would say you were a ‘cancer lover.’” When doubters would accuse him of doping, Armstrong would express anger toward those who were taking him away from his work on the Lance Armstrong Foundation (now known as Livestrong), and he'd remind everyone that the suggestion that he'd risk impurities in his body after having beaten cancer was disrespectful to him and others with cancer. All a great argument if not for the minor technicality that he actually was doping.
Maybe I am angry at Lance Armstrong for hiding behind Livestrong. I don't doubt that Livestrong has done some good. Maybe a lot of good. (And for the sake of argument, I'm willing to overlook accusations that he personally profited from it.) But the suggestion that Armstrong should be forgiven because Livestrong has done good is offensive to all who have done good that wasn't built on lies and cheating. Jenkins is quick to laud Armstrong for "raising $500 million for research and donating $7 million of his own fortune" but conveniently neglects to mention that his fortune was built on a lie, that the foundation has helped pay his legal bills, and that there are numerous accusations of payments that donors thought were being made to the foundation were in fact not fully tax deductible , and large portions were going to Armstrong himself. And her statement that Livestrong's funds were used for cancer research is inaccurate and contradicted by their own mission statement.
Maybe I am angry at Lance Armstrong for his apologists and defenders who deflect and obfuscate rather than addressing criticisms head on. I wish they'd stop telling me that everyone who testified against him is a lying drug user out to save their own hide. It's simply not true. O'Reilly and Betsy Andreu - two women who Armstrong spent years vilifying - have no history of PED use, yet they endured years of abuse and threats from Armstrong for no reason other than the fact that they of spoke the truth. Others who testified against Armstrong - including his most trusted friend and Lieutenant George Hincapie, David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer - admitted to drug use though they never had a positive test. And yes, some did likely avoid charges by testifying. That's the way drug cases often work. As for Hamilton and Floyd Landis - two of Armstrong's most high-profile accusers - they most certainly doped, got caught, and lied about it for years. Despite being a fan of author Daniel Coyle, I have not and will not purchase The Secret Race, because I don't want Hamilton to profit. You won't see me inviting Hamilton or Landis to my next group ride or team slumber party. I don't respect them. But that doesn't mean that they're not credible. I wish the apologists and defenders would stop telling me that Armstrong beat cancer. That's great. But it's not an excuse for being a doper, a bully and a liar. I wish they'd stop telling me about all the good Livestrong did. It's not an excuse for being a doper a bully and a liar. I wish they'd stop telling me - as Ms. Jenkins did, that "putting rapists on your college football team" is a worse offense. Of course it is. But exactly what does that have to do with anything, and am I really expected to absolve Armstrong's actions because others do worse? Stop, stop, stop. In defense of Armstrong, she also wrote "I’ve long believed that what athletes put in their bodies should be a matter of personal conscience". Apparently her definition of "long" doesn't extend back to 2007, which is when she condemned Barry Bonds and his drug tainted record breaking performance, writing "Bonds' testimony in the Balco steroids scandal has weakened public faith, and his every swing has seemed to strike at the integrity of the game.... A happy ending? After all this damage and notoriety? It was an impossibly naive thing to say."
I don't expect anyone to be pure or perfect. Much as I don't like it, there are lots of shades of gray in this world. But there is nothing even remotely nuanced about repeated doping, pathological lying, and cruel bullying; and all the charity work in the world doesn't excuse such behavior. I recognize that sometimes good people do bad things. But by that same token, Ms, Jenkins and the other remaining fans would be well served to recognize that sometimes bad people do good things. Despite what Ms. Jenkins depiction of Armstrong's critics, I am not an wide-eyed former fanboy who was shocked to find foibles or imperfections in his hero. I am a grown man who knows right from wrong. Armstrong's actions have not left me disillusioned. They have left me angry.