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The Shame of Lance Armstrong

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong has confessed his doping practices.  Joe Bianchino shares his disappointment.

Riccardo S. Savi, Getty Images

I was 11 years old when Lance Armstrong was first crowned champion of the Tour de France.  I didn’t understand a lot about the world back then, but even at that tender age the cyclist’s story – really, what we then thought was the story – resonated with me deeply.

The cancer diagnosis.  The staring contest with the Grim Reaper, who eventually blinked first.  The comeback.  The victory.  The victory.  The victory.  The victory.  The victory. The victory.  And the victory.

For seven years, my Julys were spent following a sport I cared nothing about, and rooting on what was the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.  It wasn’t about a bike race, it wasn’t even really about a man.  It was about what Kevin Garnett would put into words years later: Anything is possible.

That sort of a childhood connection isn’t one easily broken.  So when accusations swirled about blood doping, I brushed them off and defended the symbol – grateful that in a world of “no comment” and, “my lawyer has advised me not to speak on that,” one was willing to aggressively stand up for himself, to attack his attackers.

Childhood is a weird thing.  Often, we don’t appreciate it while we’re in it, but we cling to what’s left of it when we’re out of it.  For too long, I clung to the symbol to which I responded in my youth.

But in recent months, the charges I was so quick to dismiss became too much, too specific, and too well documented – culminating with the loss of Armstrong’s titles and eligibility, and a couch confessional with talk-show-queen Oprah Winfrey.

It was all true.  Every allegation was true.

What I find myself focusing on, however, isn’t the cheating – everybody cheats – it’s the denial.  More to the point, it’s the aggressive, hateful, vitriolic denial that wasn’t as much about making people believe him, but about destroying the lives of those who dared question him.

As Dan Wetzel noted in his column for Yahoo!, Armstrong bullied, threatened, and strong-armed his way past allegations.  Slandering a woman as “a prostitute with a heavy drinking problem;” threatening to make a fellow rider’s life “a living hell;” and a graphic voicemail to another woman mentioning the caller’s (admittedly, not Armstrong himself) wish to see a bat broken over her head are only three of the examples Wetzel mentions.

There are more.  More than I care to think about.

And each time another surfaces, called into specific relief is the sad fact that this “triumph of the human spirit,” as I called him earlier, turned out to be, in many ways, nothing of the sort.  In fact, this “triumph of the human spirit” turned out to be, in many ways, its lowest common denominator.

…In many ways.

Though few would call into question the reprehensibility of the spiteful nature with which Armstrong defended a lie, it must still be noted that the man beat a disease most were sure would claim his life, and went on to raise millions of dollars to fight that very disease, helping and perhaps saving countless others.

Ironic, isn’t it, that a man whose life was so shrouded in mystery continues to be, even now, an enigma?

In the end, I don’t know if Machiavelli was right.  I haven’t a clue whether or not the ends truly justify the means.  What I do know is that a man who was supposed to be different, proved to be worse.

And I know that it’s a damn shame.

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*Information from Dan Wetzel’s article on Yahoo! contributed to these writings.

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