Last night part I of the Oprah "No Holds Bar" interview with Lance Armstrong aired. I found myself compelled to watch. I don't think it is a big secret that I am a huge sports fan. I can't say I like all sports, but I do like many. Cycling is not something that I would watch, ever. But, as a cancer survivor I was always in awe of Lance Armstrong. He was a hero to me.
Which of course was mistake #1 that so many of us around the country made. But he wasn't just hero for winning, he was a hero because of all the people who he did help with LiveStrong, and LiveStrong will continue to help; at least I hope they will.
But the arrogance of the man is truly stunning. A few
LA: "I didn't know everybody. I didn't live and train with everybody. I didn't race with everybody. I can't say that. There will be people that say that. There will be people that say, 'OK, there are 200 guys on the tour, I can tell you five guys that didn't, and those are the five heroes', and they're right."
OW: How were you able to do it? Walk me through it. Pill deliveries, blood in secret refrigerators… how did it work?
LA: "I viewed it as very simple. There were things that were oxygen-supplying drugs that were beneficial for cycling. My cocktail was EPO, but not a lot, transfusions and testosterone.
"I thought, surely I'm running low [on testosterone following the cancer battle] but there's no true justification."
OW: Were you afraid of getting caught? In 1999 there was not even a test for EPO...
LA: "No. Testing has evolved. Back then they didn't come to your house and there was no testing out of competition and for most of my career there wasn't that much out-of-competition testing so you're not going to get caught because you clean up for the races.
"It's a question of scheduling. That sounds weird. I'm no fan of the UCI but the introduction of the biological passport [in 2008] worked.
"I'm paying the price and I deserve this. That's okay. I deserve it.
"My ruthless desire to win at all costs served me well on the bike but the level it went to, for whatever reason, is a flaw. That desire, that attitude, that arrogance."
There is a part of me that really feels that society is just as much to blame as Lance Armstrong is. I am in no way trying to remove his responsibility for what he did, but this made me think:
LA: "I understand that. And while I lived through this process, especially the last two years, one year, six months, two, three months, I know the truth. The truth isn't what was out there. The truth isn't what I said, and now it's gone - this story was so perfect for so long. And I mean that, as I try to take myself out of the situation and I look at it. You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times. You have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean, it's just this mythic perfect story, and it wasn't true."
Now, it is perfectly true that Lance did a great deal to keep that myth going and was also responsible for helping to create it, the fact remains that our society wanted him to be "perfect", wanted him to be the "hero", the man we could all look up to and strive to be like. There is this prevalent thing in our society that we look at sports people as some kind of hero's. Little kids grow up thinking "I want to be like Mike". That isn't just unhealthy for our children, but it is also very unhealthy for that person as well. The expectations of having to stay on that pedestal must be very exhausting, as well as almost impossible to do. I mean just look at Joe Paterno. Now, I personally know Penn State grads who refuse to accept that Paterno had anything to do with the cover-up and he was just the fall guy. I think the evidence is quite clear that he was more than that.
Our children hear so little about the true heroes in our society, the first responders, the people who volunteer their time at homeless shelters to help the needy, the teachers who use their own funds to help keep the classroom stocked with the proper supplies, the neighbor who comes and brings the little old lady who can't get out much on her own, some soup when she is ill, and countless others that do the right things everyday without any press and without huge payoffs from corporate sponsors.
I think one of the biggest lessons of this whole mess is that our society continues to put our admiration in the wrong places. Lance Armstrong never deserved all the praise he got even when people didn't know he was cheat and a liar. He rode a bike well. Granted, that isn't something that I could do, but can he make a really good cheesecake that people just love to eat? I can.
It is time that we start teaching our children to value different things. To strive to be a good person, not the best athlete. We should be teaching them to be kind and considerate, to realize that there is a whole world out there we people are less fortunate than they are, and it is the not only the right thing, but the Godly thing to try to help.
I sincerely hope that LiveStrong will survive this. I am glad that he walked away from the board so that the work can continue. We need research into cancer, we need services for people who don't have family members to help them during their illness, we need a place that people who can't afford the expensive medications to turn to so that their much smaller life compared to Lance Armstrong can continue. That smaller life usually isn't as full as the arrogance that Lance has so clearly demonstrated and is now paying the long over-due price for.