Of all the strongly worded denials issued by cyclist Lance Armstrong through the years whenever allegations of doping emerged, the most haunting one, now that he has reportedly confessed to television personality Oprah Winfrey, had to do with his own battle with cancer.
As is widely known, Armstrong recovered from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. He said, "I was on my deathbed. Do you think I'm going to come back into a sport and say, 'OK, doctor, give me everything you've got. I just want to go fast.' No way. I would never do that."
Apparently, however, he would.
Winfrey emerged from a 2½ hour videotaped interview with Armstrong on Tuesday and said he had been forthcoming on questions about doping. Her interview is scheduled to air in two segments later this week. Earlier in the day, he apologized to the staff of Livestrong, the charity he founded. Already, companies and the government are lining up lawsuits to recover endorsement money or to investigate whether he defrauded the U.S. Postal Service, which once sponsored his team. The athlete's tangled web has only begun to unravel.
But the statement Armstrong made earlier in reference to his cancer speaks to the depth of his deception. It implies he understood the health risks posed by performance-enhancing drugs. Being a competitor, he also must have understood how worthless winning is when cheating is employed. He weighed these risks against the adulation and attention that winning would bring, and he chose fame.
He may even, as so many others do, have decided that using fame for good would compensate in some way for how it had been achieved, the ends justifying means. His Livestrong Foundation has done much good for cancer victims and has benefitted from its connection to the cyclist. Unfortunately, however, Armstrong's fall from grace hurts everything with which has had an association.
There is a second haunting aspect to the Armstrong saga, almost as troubling as the one associated with physical health. It has to do with friendship and integrity. Armstrong apparently cast aside one of his best friends, Frankie Andreu, because he chose not to go along with the cheating. Andreu was one of the first to publicly accuse Armstrong of doping. Sometimes, honesty can be a difficult choice, but no sport can afford to have those who insist on playing by the rules treated with contempt.
Armstrong's confession is a good first step toward making amends for betraying so many people. It is a good first step toward dealing with a problem that apparently plagues cycling as well as many other sports. It vindicates the decision to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles, and it serves as a lesson for others who may wish to pursue the adulation of the victory platform above all else.
Armstrong may be able to rehabilitate himself and resume fair competition on some level, but the sporting world can ill-afford to allow such a swindle, on a worldwide scale, to happen again.