Tuesday, January 15, 2013


TBD readers will know that for years I have wanted to suspend my disbelief of Lance Armstrong's protests of innocence.  It became harder and harder to support those protests the more it became evident that doping in professional cycling was not the exception but the norm; and that to win a race as grueling as the Tour de France would be impossible against a field of doped-up competitors.  The sport claims to be cleaning itself up, but that's still hard to believe.  Can we really trust in the British rider, Bradley Wiggens's assurances that his team was entirely dope-free, and that he himself managed to triumph, clean, over others who were not?

Back to Armstrong.  Am I completely bamboozled by his story, or is there still something honorable hiding behind the years-long history of cheating and deception?  I hope so.  His spectacular recovery from testicular cancer and return to competitive cycling was certainly inspirational; as was his ability to create a "brand" devoted not only to the promotion of his own image--though it was certainly that--but also to a foundation that has made such a notable contribution in the fight against cancer and the support of those who suffer from it.  These achievements cannot simply be wiped out, along with his athletic record.

And yet... we return to the question of whether bad actions are justified by good intentions or good outcomes.  The years of cheating and lying affected not only himself but the entire sport of competitive cycling, not to mention its millions of fans throughout the world.  It can't help but reflect also on his philanthropic work. Armstrong built his reputation on a trust that has turned out to have been unfounded from the start.  I choose to see his current confession as an attempt to salvage some small thread of integrity from the tangled mess.  Others see in it only as more self-interest and damage control.

I would be interested in knowing what is going on in the man's heart, but that's not a reasonable expectation.  He has made it his way of life to subordinate heart to an iron will to succeed at any cost, and to a steely mental discipline that controlled not only his own actions but all those of everyone around him.  It's a discipline that appears on his face, in his eyes, and in the words he has uttered in the course of countless interviews--and it's not a happy look.  It looks more like containment than ease.

A commentator noted this morning that Armstrong's confession is like an announcement that the ocean is deep.  At this point, who can be surprised?  My wish to believe in him in the past says more about my willingness to suspend reason than about my reasonable self.  Like any expert con man, his deceit depended on those many willing, against all evidence to the contrary, to believe.  What was in it for all of us?  The need for a hero, certainly.  The need for the example of superlative achievement in a world of often paltry performance.  And perhaps, more deeply and more disturbingly, for an exemplary stand-in on whom to project responsibility for the petty deceptions and lies that we ourselves indulge in on a daily basis, in order to get ahead, to stand out among the crowd, to shine.  Viewed in this light, Lance Armstrong is all of us, writ large.

And so I send him metta, and not condemnation.  May he find ways to restore the integrity he has so sadly and so abjectly surrendered.  May he find his way from public humiliation to true self-respect and happiness.  In the storm of ill-will he has brought upon himself, I wish him well.  May he "livestrong."

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