Lance Armstrong: Why does the case against him matter?
Some prominent members of the media want to give him a pass. That's funny, because the media gets a fail.
Why does it matter? First, consider the genesis of the question.
For years, the fawning media failed to look at Armstrong with a critical eye even when teammate after teammate came forward to accuse Armstrong; even after nearly every one of his rivals was busted for drugs, forcing us to believe that he was not only the lone clean cyclist, but that he was somehow able to beat the others while they were on drugs; even when the European press and French racing officials were accusing him; even when law enforcement officials continued to pursue a case against him; even late in the game, when books were written on the subject by former teammates and investigative reporters.
But Armstrong passed all the drug tests, they reasoned, even though there is plenty of evidence to suggest that those tests are routinely beaten.
The trouble was this: Many of the most reputed journalists in the country crossed the line that separates professional detachment from fan and friend.
What is even more difficult to accept is that even after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency presented an airtight case against Armstrong last fall, with more than 1,000 pages of sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 cyclists who knew of Armstrong's doping practices — they continued to defend him. In some cases, even after Armstrong's mea culpa on Oprah, they have continued to be Armstrong apologists.
They want to let his drug use and cheating slide because he's their hero and they are star-struck fans, and, by the way, everybody else cheated, too, and, besides look at all the good he has done for cancer charities and the inspiration he provided. In other words: It's OK to perpetuate the lies because it makes everyone feel so good, and it's what they want to hear, even if it's based on a fairy tale.
ESPN columnist Rick Reilly attacked USADA instead of the cyclist, which is what happens when a journalist becomes the subject's buddy, but at least he came around after the Oprah confession. Sally Jenkins continues to defend Armstrong because they have a friendship, and, oh, by the way, she's his business partner, having collaborated with Armstrong on two books. Jenkins, the Washington Post columnist, doesn't mind that Armstrong used her to build his ruse and carry out his fraud; she says everyone else did drugs, too, and USADA is evil. One of the books she wrote was titled "It's Not About the Bike."
It was about the drugs, it turned out.
Hero worship among journalists has its pitfalls.
Author and columnist Buzz Bissinger, another star-struck fan, refused to believe in Armstrong's guilt before the Oprah confession, not that it would matter. He wrote in Newsweek last summer, "He is a hero, one of the few we have left in a country virtually bereft of them, and he needs to remain one. … Even if he did take enhancers, so what?"
Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that Armstrong was the guy who was smart enough to use PEDS to his advantage, "So is that a bad thing?" Robert Lipsyte, the former New York Times columnist, wrote that he doesn't care if Armstrong did use PEDs or lied about it. T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times wants to give Armstrong a pass because of the hope he provided for cancer patients.
No wonder the media slept through the Armstrong case like Bud Selig during baseball's steroid era. The media came late to the game in the case of Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, etc., and they never offered them the absolution they're offering Armstrong.
So why does it matter that Armstrong did what he did?
It's against the rules, and others who were caught for drug use were punished. The next time someone uses the everyone-was-doing-it defense, ask him what he will tell his kids when they use that argument to justify alcohol, cocaine or wearing their pants backwards. If we're supposed to believe that hiding the truth will inspire kids to overcome cancer and create fake heroes, then we might also reason it will inspire them to justify other habits because "everyone is doing it." Oh, and it will also tell them that lying is acceptable if it's the means to an end.
It's a health hazard. Steroids and human growth hormone can cause a long array of serious health problems too long to list here, but it is believed cancer and premature death are two of them. The drugs are also controlled substances and therefore illegal. Consider this: WHAT IF LANCE ARMSTRONG, celebrated for overcoming testicular cancer before he won his first Tour de France, CAUSED HIS OWN CANCER? Betsy Andreu, wife of a former Armstrong teammate, testified years ago about a conversation she overheard in Armstrong's hospital room during his cancer fight. She testified that when a doctor asked Armstrong if he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs, he said, yes, and named five of them. If he caused his own cancer, and then was celebrated for beating it and starting a cancer charity, well, that's messed up.
He lied. He not only lied for 15 years, he took his accusers, former teammates among them, to court and won. He was mean and vindictive and trampled over people to maintain his lie and his dominance. He used people to tell his lies and enrich himself, and one suspects he is using them still, making his Oprah confession to win sympathy and an audience eager to read another one of his books and hear his "motivational" speeches and buy whatever else he is selling these days.