Toppled: Lance Armstrong Comes Crashing Down
It comes like a mule’s kick to the stomach, leaving you gasping for breath and scared to death. Your world has tumbled out of control, and fear plus anger grip you in a vice of despair.
That was my reaction and the feeling of millions of other folks that moment when we were told by a doctor, “You have cancer.” This initial jolt is followed by a sense of hopelessness.
You have met your enemy and it is your own body.
Where possible, each of us turned to others for strength and help immediately. In my case it was my wife, who, more than anyone, got me through it all.
But for those without loved ones or good friends at hand, there are many local and national care-giving groups that offer great help and hope. One of the most prominent of these organizations over the past 15 years has been Livestrong, the short name for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Founded in 1997 by the Texan who survived stage 4 testicular cancer to become the world’s most famous cyclist, Livestrong has been a blessing for thousands of cancer survivors around the world. They credit Lance Armstrong’s group for giving them the strength and courage to win the fight against this life-threatening disease.
Although I had gone through the worst of my own battle with stage 3 cancer in 1990, well before Armstrong became ill, I learned much about living with cancer from Livestrong. Here was a man with the ability to share and the financial wherewithal to carry the message to millions of survivors.
Armstrong was a hero to us all. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has provided millions of dollars for cancer research, has supported palliative care programs for folks living with cancer, provided underserved foreign populations with information and access they need to fight cancer and, in Armstrong’s home state of Texas, campaigned for Proposition 15, which passed and provides more than $3 billion in Texas funds for cancer detection, research and prevention.
Millions of cancer survivors wear the yellow bracelet denoting support for Livestrong and its programs.
How could Armstrong be anything but a hero to us all?
Lost It All in a Minute
But in the most devastating of all modern role reversals by a celebrity/hero, Armstrong’s reputation suddenly and completely shattered as if he plunged from the highest peak in the Alps he conquered during his seven Tour de France victories. Armstrong has crashed to the depths of total disgrace as the worst liar, cheat and bully in sports history.
Will Rogers said, “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation. But you can lose it in a minute.”
For years Armstrong vehemently denied using drugs or blood doping during his epic run of seven consecutive victories (1999-2005) in the Tour de France, cycling’s No. 1 event each year, and while competing in other major bicycle races around the world.
Nevertheless, the Union Cyclist International announced last Monday it would go along with the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s findings that for many years Armstrong led a conspiracy of cyclists using doping as a way to win for the United States Postal Service team and achieve personal triumph for Armstrong.
As a result, the UCI stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him from the sport for life.
In making the announcement, Pat McQuaid, president of the UCI, said, “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling.”
Now millions of people around the world, particularly those cancer survivors who took solace from Livestrong and its helpful caregivers, are asking, “Will the real Lance Armstrong please stand up?”
Is he a villain of singular evil intent or is he a compassionate man who has experienced near death from cancer only to survive and share his wealth with other cancer victims in hopes they recover as he did?
President McQuaid of the UCI said Armstrong had to win at all costs and that he and his mates used “deceit, intimidation, coercion and evasion” to dope and avoid detection.
Armstrong has rightfully claimed he was tested hundreds of times for drugs and doping and never once came up positive. But the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency claims Armstrong developed very sophisticated systems of doping and then covering it up from any test detections.
During years of investigative work, the USADA got one after the other of Armstrong’s fellow cyclists and teammates to spill the beans about what Armstrong did and how he led the doping operation. One of these was Floyd Landis, who admitted to doping when he tested positive after winning the 2006 Tour de France. A former teammate of Armstrong’s, Landis is an American who was not believed at first when he loudly proclaimed Armstrong was cheating.
Landis was stripped of his Tour de France victory.
Even a young woman from Ireland, Emma O’Reilly, who served as a masseuse for the U.S. Postal Service Team, gave evidence against Armstrong. She claimed she was responsible for carrying many of the drugs from country to country and seeing that they were not detected by nosey officials.
Ironically, the UCI decided that it would not award any of the seven Tour de France victories to cyclists finishing runner-up to Armstrong because too many of them tested positive for drugs.
Crumbled Before our Eyes
While Armstrong’s career and reputation crumbled before our eyes during the last couple of weeks, his big corporate sponsors such as Nike, the Trek cycling company and Oakley sunglasses dropped him as if he had the plague.
These high and mighties of industry want us to believe they knew nothing about Armstrong’s activities over the last dozen or more years.
However, Armstrong stands to lose millions of dollars of income, and his foundation and Livestrong will suffer the same fate as these companies and other sources of donations back away from the one-time heroic cancer survivor.
Armstrong may also be sued by bicycle racing promoters looking to regain the prize money they awarded to him.
This can amount to many millions of dollars and create lengthy court battles involving international rulings since so many of Armstrong’s victories came outside the United States.
Armstrong stepped down as chairman and CEO of Livestrong last week.
Emily Cousins, a member of the Huffington Post staff, wrote of her breast cancer survival and her vision of Armstrong as a hero when she started chemo just as her son was born.
“Now my son is 10 years old, and he cried when he learned Lance had been disgraced by his doping. My son had admired Lance so much. He had a picture of him on his wall, and he wore the yellow bracelet. But when I explained Lance had taken performance enhancing drugs and lied about it, my son yelled, ‘That’s wrong’ through wet, angry tears.”
This tragedy has left many other folks in tears and completely undecided whether to stick by Armstrong and praise him for his charitable works involving cancer, or to curse the devil in him that drove him, through greed and ego, to subject himself and others to illegal practices in order to win fame and fortune. After all, it is that fortune he won that supported Livestrong to a great extent.
I am not going to jump on the hate-Armstrong bandwagon just yet. I am not going to look up to him, either.
I need time, particularly since there are too many rumors and stories around that bicycle race officials and even some of the investigative body members were well-aware of what was going on in the sport only to turn a blind eye to it as the money rolled in from sponsors.
Even if bicycle racing turns out to be as phony as pro wrestling, Lance Armstrong’s reputation is forever in ruins.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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