The long overdue freefall of Lance Armstrong has finally begun, and who knows when he will reach the bottom.
After years of denials from Armstrong — it turns out he was (big surprise) lying — his world is unraveling.
In recent weeks and days, the following developments: The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released 1,000 pages of evidence and testimony from 15 former teammates describing him as the mastermind of his team's use of performance-enhancing drugs. He was banned from cycling forever. He was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. His sponsors (Nike, Oakley, etc.) dropped him (according to Forbes, he lost endorsement deals that could cost him $150 million in speaking fees and sponsorships that he would have earned in the years to come). He relinquished chairmanship of his own Livestrong Foundation.
There are other future ramifications, as well: Various race organizers and sponsors could try to recover millions of dollars in prize money and bonuses (one insurance company alone paid him a $5 million bonus for winning the 2004 Tour de France).
Armstrong will be wiped from the record books, and years from now he will be only a footnote in the history of sport. Shoeless Joe, without the sympathy.
If you read "The Secret Race," authored by Daniel Coyle with former Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton, you'll find it difficult to feel sorry for Armstrong. To put it simply, he is not a nice man. Hamilton paints a picture of an egomaniacal bully who fired longtime friends and associates when they challenged him on or off the bike or when they committed some imagined offense.
He believed that first place was his right and everyone else should stick to his role as an extra on the set. We're talking about a man who had his girlfriends vetted to ensure they were trustworthy.
So another legendary sports figure tumbles in the drug game. What did we learn this time?
Ignore those heartfelt denials athletes offer up when challenged by drug suspicions. Armstrong is a world-class liar, like Marion Jones and Barry Bonds and the rest of them, a man who could look you in the eye and not only deny doping but scold you with imperiousness and condescension for the question. When it came to lying, he outlasted all of his cycling peers, just like he did on the bike. Armstrong, like many PED users, subscribe to the George Constanza philosophy: "It's not a lie, if you believe it."
What's disturbing is how many people — fans, sponsors, media, the International Cycling Union (UCI) — gave Armstrong a free pass. Anyone who raised suspicions in recent years, including USADA — and there were many others — were attacked. Even when Floyd Landis and Hamilton went on national TV with their accusations, they were denigrated by an outpouring of support for Armstrong.
The problem with hero creation and worship is that it ignores even the most glaring red flags. Armstrong's career deserved a healthy dose of skepticism years ago, considering the parade of former teammates and rivals who were busted for doping and the number of detailed accusations that came from friends, associates and teammates. Almost every top cyclist in the world has been busted for PEDs or blood doping. Of those who shared the Tour de France podium with Armstrong during his seven-year win streak, only one hasn't been busted by drugs.
To believe Armstrong was clean, as Deseret News columnist Lee Benson noted, was to believe that he not only beat every cyclist in the world in the sport's biggest race during an unprecedented winning streak, but he did it while they were on drugs.
But look what he's done for charity, ran the final argument. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. He deserves some sort of leniency. Wrong. It was all built on a lie.
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