Lance Armstrong - the ends justify the means

Lance Armstrong - the ends justify the means

Lance Armstrong wins his first Tour de France

There's been quite a bit of negative news about Lance Armstrong lately, and it's pretty much impossible to believe he wasn't involved with any PED (performance enhancing drug) shenanigans at this point.
  • In August, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced it had enough evidence to strip Lance of his 7 Tour de France titles.
  • Armstrong declined to continue the arbitration process with the USADA, which many took as an admission of guilt.
  • The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are in step with the USADA.
This week, Nike has withdrawn its sponsorship of Lance Armstrong and his LIVESTRONG Foundation, and Lance himself has stepped down as chairman of the charity organization he founded.

livestrong banner

My take?

This is much ado about nothing - a lot of noise regarding nothing that matters in the present - and the ends do justify the means.

Let's talk PEDs in cycling

Cycling as a sport has a long history with PEDs. From a Wikipedia entry titled "Doping at the Tour de France":

"For as long as the Tour has existed, since 1903, its participants have been doping themselves. No dope, no hope. The Tour, in fact, is only possible because - not despite the fact - there is doping. For 60 years this was allowed. For the past 30 years it has been officially prohibited. Yet the fact remains; great cyclists have been doping themselves, then as now."

As much as baseball has a black eye from the "steriod era", we still only estimate about one half of the players might have used PEDs, and we're not entirely sure which half. Many of the all-time greats - Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr, Curt Schilling - have never been accused, tested, or even implied as having been on the naughty list.

The same can't be said for cycling.

Lance didn't make a choice of whether or not to use drugs. He made a choice of whether or not he wanted to compete at the highest levels of competitive cycling. Once he decided that's where his goals and dreams lay, the rest was just part of the process of trying to achieve his goals.

Exhibit 1 - Jan Ulrich was one of Armstrong's primary competitors. He won the Tour in 1997, and took second 5 times during Lance's run. Ulrich was later found guilty of using PEDs.

Exhibit 2 - Alberto Contador won the Tour de France 3 times, in 2007, 2009 and 2010, and was considered to be the best climber in the sport. However, he was stripped of some of his victories after being found guilty of doping.

Exhibit 3 - Miguel Indurain won the Tour de France 5 times in a row, from 1991 - 1995. Indurain was found guilty of using a banned substance in 1994, but was not stripped of his titles.

When the sport of cycling is clean, from top to bottom, then I'll join the witch hunt against anyone who cheats. But when the entire sport at the elite level is built around cheating, I'm not getting too worked up about one guy cheating better than his rivals.

Now let's talk charity work

Armstrong has raised $400 Million for cancer-related research and support since 1997. $400 Million! No other athlete has come anywhere close to that amount. Ever.

Barry Bonds used his juiced up numbers from 2001 to earn a 5-year, $90 Million contract in 2002. (after already being one of the highest-paid players in the league.) How much charity work have we heard about from Bonds?

Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252 Million contract in 1997. Then, in 2007, he signed another 10-year contract worth $275 Million. Oh, and by the way, he admitted to using steroids for part of his career. Over a half billion dollars earned. And his charity work? He gave about $4 million to the University of Miami to renovate their baseball stadium, which was then renamed as Alex Rodriguez Park.

Armstrong cheated, and used his popularity to raise $400 Million for OTHERS. OTHERS BATTLING CANCER! How he became popular is immaterial. So is how much money he's earned personally. The Livestrong Foundation is his story - his legacy.

If Armstrong had never used PEDs, and his rivals had won, would Ulrich have raised this much money for charity? How about Contador?

Bottom Line

Lance Armstrong probably cheated. He probably isn't the angel we all wanted to believe he was. But that doesn't diminish what he's been able to accomplish at all. He could have easily won his tours, filmed some ads, pocketed some sponsorship money, and gone off into the sunset. But he didn't. He's continued to work hard raising awareness and funding for those who need help, and fighting against a deadly disease called cancer.

You've done good, Lance. Real good. Keep it up!

(more photos below - all are clipped from recent stories online, and I don't have the copyright for any of them. Hmmm, speaking of cheating...)

-Chris Butterworth

** Updated 10/31/12

Armstrong has now been officially stripped of his 7 Tour de France titles. But the USADA is not awarding his titles to the 2nd place rider, or even the 3rd place rider, from those races. Why not? Because ALL the riders were dirty! Which proves my point exactly - when everybody at the forefront of the sport is dirty, there isn't an unfair advantage. Hey USADA - make the sport clean, legitimately, and then get back to me.

Per a Fox News article:

USADA also thinks the Tour titles should not be given to other riders who finished on the podium, such was the level of doping during Armstrong's era.
The agency said 20 of the 21 riders on the podium in the Tour from 1999 through 2005 have been "directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations" or other means. It added that of the 45 riders on the podium between 1996 and 2010, 36 were by cyclists "similarly tainted by doping."
20 out of 21 riders. And 36 out 45. This whole thing reeks..

/end update