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Friday, May 21, 2010

Cheater: The man who stole your sporting heart

Lance Armstrong is not an athlete. He's not a comeback story or a role model, he's not a record breaker or a champion, and he's anything but a hero.

Lance Armstrong is a cheater.

Lance Armstrong is a liar.

Lance Armstrong is a doper.

Lance Armstrong is a criminal.

Notice the word alleged missing from all of those statements.

He is all those things rolled into one, yet virtually all of America continues to give him the benefit of the doubt. So why is it we blindly side with him time and time again when people with potentially credible information speak out against him? Why is it the first thing we do is search for motive and try to defame those speaking out rather than question the man in question?

CANCER: A CREATOR OF ATHLETIC SENTIMENT

Lance Armstrong is a survivor. He took a deadly disease he didn't deserve and fought a fight no person should wish upon another. But then he wrapped it around his wrist on a yellow band, grabbed our needing emotions for athletic heroism and took us all on a supposed ride to greatness we'll soon learn is fraudulent.

We all had it in the back of our minds this could be too good to be true, but we ignored those thoughts so we could join in adoring what seemed to be the most remarkable championship story, comeback story and personal survival story turned athletic triumph all rolled into one functioning combination of man, handlebars, wheels and frame. That means Lance Armstrong is a manipulator, and when you allow a supposed symbol of sporting greatness to play chess with the minds of the sports world, you have a major, major problem.

His accuser, Floyd Landis, who recently admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs for a great deal of his career and during his 2006 ride to short-lived glory in the Tour de France, is a disgraced cheater. Armstrong is still a glorified cheater. Aside from confession, that's the only worthwhile differentiation between the two. Armstrong and Landis are as similar as the phrases "alleged guilt" and "supposed innocence." It's just that one got caught and one got caught and had the means to cover it up.

Armstrong is Landis' doping, Roger Clemens' denying, Barry Bonds' delusion and Alex Rodriguez's ego all wrapped up in one slender frame. And by now, with everything that has come out on him, if we still want to think he is innocent, then we better think the same about Clemens and Bonds. They've taken the same deny 'til you die mentality without anything being proven definitively. If we still think Armstrong is a legitimate seven-time Tour de France Champion, then we better still believe Bonds is a clean and rightful home run king. We better believe Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers we've ever seen and that he got to that point naturally. Because if we don't see these people as apples to apples, our judgment has been completely skewed by one thing – cancer.

It sounds terrible to say aloud and looks terrible to see in print, but it's the only difference between him and the others. It's what has created the sentimental hall pass we continue to give him, and all the while our public scrutiny sends the others to the guillotine. Cancer, just like any other life-threatening disadvantage, has the ability to ooze sentimentality in sports quicker than it can multiply its deadly cells.

Sports fans are so attached to the appeal of the sentimental story, the intoxicating aroma of the against all odds champion, that their ability to decipher true from false and magical from fabricated is completely flawed. Armstrong has made a living legend out of himself by realizing the power of what he claims to be – a sports miracle.

And the biggest problem with all of this is these major cheaters in sports are ruining sports as we know them. Much of why we follow professional athletics is to see someone deliver on the unthinkable. And when time and again the person giving us the alleged sports miracle is a fraud, we systematically begin to detach from wanting these things. Value is lost in the once-invaluable dimension of the sports world, and we begin to assume the worst of the very best.

IF EVERYONE'S DOING IT

Armstrong's sport of cycling is littered with performance-enhancing drugs. Scandals come about nearly as frequently as a Tour winner is crowned. For some, it brings to mind the old question of if everyone's doing it, isn't it an even playing field?

Without question, no.

It's the most ridiculous argument in the history of sports because it completely ignores the entire idea behind sports. In simple terms, any sporting event can be classified as a test of who is the best at following the rules and coming out ahead. If one guy is breaking the rules, it's an uneven playing field. If everyone's breaking the rule, there's no playing field to stand on.

Baseball has foul lines. If a player hits the ball on the wrong side of the line, he cannot advance to first base. That's a rule. You have to abide by it to win, and if he decides he wants to take that lap around the bases regardless, people will look on with utter confusion. In hockey, if a player slashes someone with a stick, they have to go to the penalty box. That's a rule everyone playing knows, and if that player simply ignores it and tries to play on, he'll be laughed at, ridiculed and sent to the dressing room faster than than Lance has ever pedaled.

It is no different with cycling. You can't elect to take a shortcut or hop on the train. If you do, you've broken the rules and you can't win. It's the same with cycling and PEDs. If you come to the race with equipment that doesn't play by the rules, you can't win. If that equipment happens to be your body, you've likely broken one of the most serious rules of all.

YOUR FELLOW TEXAN'S PRECEDENT

Armstrong fell off his bike Thursday, scraped his knee and walked it home from his friend's house, only to answer questions about Landis' accusations.

If Armstrong plans on going through with his script, he better do so proactively and defend his supposed innocence the way Clemens has with legal action against those who have spoken out. At this point, he has to file a defamation suit against Landis because, as anyone who has ever told a lie knows, it doesn't work if you don't go at it 100 percent.

Armstrong has to take it to that level. He has to turn this into a legal matter. He says he has nothing to hide, but he has to remember he dabbles in a sport built on cheating since its beginning. That should tell us no matter what he says about not having anything to hide, he shouldn't be surprised when people expect him to approach this like he has everything to defend. And this time, he can't just spin this as the French Vendetta.

This is an American athlete he supported in 2006. An American athlete who won his race in his absence. Floyd Landis has no reason to make things worse for himself, and by fabricating something about Lance Armstrong, that's exactly what he would be doing. He'd be opening himself up to everything Armstrong now has to do from a legal standpoint. And Landis has been through hell, high water, and high water in hell in the court system to defend his own lie. He wasn't dumb enough to disclose this information without having his lawyers dissect every word of it and make him understand he is now the Brian McNamee to Armstrong's Clemens.

Yes, he's probably looking to sell books. But he's not looking to sell books from behind bars or sell books in order to afford restitution checks made out to one Lance Armstrong.

THE WAR AT HOME

I fear the worst part about all this is no matter what Landis says, people and American media will still remain in Armstrong's corner. The way he's perceived in America is comparable to that of wartime propaganda. Things are always made to look better by patriotism and your own country. It boosts morale, makes believers.

Apparently, his disease-driven persona has that big of a hold on our perception. People are already writing about Landis as a disgraced cheater whose motives now are driven by trying to drag everyone else down with him. Their columns make it sound like telling the truth is wrong if it's about another person. These are the same writers who ripped MLB players for not speaking out against each other and adhering to the code of silence when their sport was suffering. It was their innocence first, the sanctity of their sport second or never.

But there's no such thing as dragging someone else down for something they did, and the only time we try to make it that way is when we're grasping at sentimental spokes.

I am 100 percent convinced this man is a manipulative cheater. And if you're not quite there with me yet, I'm not going to get too worked up about it. Give it time. You will be soon. And when you get there, you'll feel this letdown, and you'll better understand where these words came from.

Lance Armstrong is a cancer to the sporting world.

2 comments:

melinda said...

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Toby Z said...

great article. i only wish there were more who would break from the pack.