You don’t need to be a cycling fan to know that Lance Armstrong is in trouble (again). My local newscast covered it. It showed up in my Google+ feed. And of course, there are keen analyses at all of the usual places. (See any of the stories at VeloNews.com or Neil Browne’s excellent (and cynical) analysis. The Fat Cyclist posted his take, which comes from a fairly non-cycling point of view.) And even though I started this post several days ago, I wanted to finish it up. I want to get it off my chest and I think it’s a little different take than the ones that focus on the doping itself.
For me it comes down to what the purpose of USADA is. Expanding the acronym yields part of the answer: the United States Anti-Doping Agency. So they’re clearly out to combat doping in sport. Living with young children means answer the question “why” a lot. It also means you start asking the question yourself, if only preemptively. So why does USADA oppose doping? Their website leaves no doubt: “Preserve the Integrity of Sport,” “Inspire True Sport,” and “Protect the Rights of U.S. Athletes.” I don’t think the last two goals are relevant to this situation. It’s all about the so-called “Integrity of Sport.” Again, why? Integrity is a noble end, to be sure. But integrity as it applies to sport? So what?
Nobody wants to play with a cheater. By eliminating the cheaters, you encourage participation and spectator interest in sport. That, I believe, is the true reason USADA exists. They encourage the participation in and spectating of sport.
And that is why it feels like USADA is shooting itself in the foot with this on-going investigation. Lance Armstrong spurs interest in everything he does. After he raced Leadville, interest in that race shot up. While he was winning his Tours de France, he did more for road cycling in the United States than any other individual. With his attention turned to triathlon, people were paying attention to that. I can’t be the only person in the world who actually started paying attention to Ironman competitions after he started taking part. Part of the sanctions levied against Armstrong at the moment include prohibiting him from competing in those events until the investigation is complete. And that means people will stop paying attention.
Maybe Armstrong did dope in 1999. That was 13 years ago. What do we gain by rewriting that sporting history? Does that fall into USADA’s scope of work? What has Armstrong done since then? Started a foundation that has helped thousands of people negotiating cancer treatment. Inspired thousands of athletes to engage in various sports. What will bringing him down accomplish (provided they actually can do that)?
I am beyond caring what Armstrong did in 1999. I am all about what Armstrong is doing now. He continues to inspire me to more. USADA seems distant and out of touch, clinging desperately to an ideal that is hurting them more than helping them.
Like the Fat Cyclist said, we have only opinions and they are well-set now. Mine is that Armstrong is an imperfect hero and we really need to focus on today and the future instead of revisionist history.
My mother saw me wearing my new Livestrong “Road to Kona” shirt last week and asked if I had heard the news. I told her I was wearing it in spite of the news.
I remember reading that Floyd Landis’ parents showed up to a race with a sign that simply said, “We support Floyd Landis.” Call this post my “I support Lance Armstrong” sign.