BOSTON (CBS) — We all loved the story of Lance Armstrong. He was a survivor, a fighter, an inspiration. He beat cancer, he beat every other man who hopped on a bike, and he beat those jealous folks who wanted nothing more than to take him down.
He was all those things. Now, he’s just a fraud.
In dropping his appeal, accepting the USADA’s punishment, and relinquishing his seven Tour de France titles, he accepted defeat the way he thought best for his image. Rather than losing a public court battle, he tried one last time in vain to diminish the legitimacy of the charges, calling it a “pitiful charade,” a “witch hunt,” “nonsense,” “one-sided” and “unfair.” He provided a path for any sycophantic fans and believers to throw on a set of blinders and go on, continuing to live their happy lives where Lance is a god among men, worthy of all hero worship he’s brought upon himself over the past 15 years.
Now, realizing he’s been exposed for cheating the system as he gained all the accolades upon which he bases his entire public image, he still can’t let go. He still wants the glory, the worship and the praise.
The fact is, though, no matter what language Armstrong uses to try to dismiss the charges against him, a fighter does not simply say “enough is enough” unless he knows he is guilty. Armstrong saw the end of the line coming, and rather than accept his fate as being a confirmed cheater, he made one last desperate attempt to gain public support and sympathy.
For those who truly want to believe Lance is exactly who he’s always claimed to be, those words likely worked. Really, though, those people were never going to believe the truth anyway.
But that truth is now out. Everything Lance Armstrong used to build his name, his brand, his millions of dollars and his legacy was a farce. He is now a zero-time Tour de France champion. Winning those bike races may seem small in the grand scheme of life, but they are the only reason the world knows his name. Some 8 million Americans have beaten cancer, but only one has been able to use his story to make millions of dollars and gain hero status wherever he goes. Being not only a survivor but also a champion has meant everything to him. His entire image, brand and life is based on being a seven-time Tour de France champion and winning them clean, without cheating. He no longer has that claim, and everything he’s built has been founded upon lies.
Still, none of this is to say that Armstrong has not used his fame for good. He beat cancer, and that alone is enough to offer inspiration to millions fighting battles of their own. And even though he was aided heavily by performance-enhancing drugs, he worked hard against a field of cyclists who were also cheating, and he beat them. Seven times. That’s impressive.
And of course, he created the Lance Armstrong Foundation, raising millions of dollars with his yellow LIVESTRONG bracelets, and he’ll continue to run the organization to help people who are afflicted with the terrible disease.
That in itself is honorable enough. If Lance could just come clean, admit that he was a cheater in a sea of cheaters but that he’ll continue his work to help fight cancer, we’d all be a little less judgmental of his fraudulence. Yet Armstrong still wants to have it all. He wants to keep intact his myth, the one that has made him a cultural hero in the United States and the one that he’s used to accept his role as a hero for more than a decade.
While that tells you a lot about Lance and his own God complex, it reminds us once again that when we’re looking for heroes, we should never look to the world of sports to find them. A great athlete is rarely, if ever, the great person presented to the public. You’re more likely to find a worthy hero within your own family. You’ve got relatives and friends who have beaten cancer, who work two jobs to provide their children the same simple luxuries of their friends, who helped you in times of need. The people who go about their lives, do the right things and never seek credit or praise. They are the ones who simply do what they do because it is right. These are your true heroes, and these are the ones who you’ll never see boasting, bragging or lying about what they did.
The problem with Lance isn’t that he cheated; it’s that every single thing he’s claimed to be for the past decade has been based on a lie. His enduring legacy was built on integrity, hard work and an inability to ever quit. Yet when faced with the obstacle that proved him to be a liar, he simply gave up. “Enough is enough,” he said, sheepishly accepting the reality that the public persona he’s allowed to define him has been and always was phony.
His competitors were all nabbed for cheating, but he never spoke up for them. Now that he’s the one ultimately at the end of the road, it’s now suddenly an unfair witch hunt. Sorry, Lance, but right now, you’re not different from anyone else.
Of course, Armstrong’s work has stretched far beyond cycling. From his many sponsorships, to his dozens of commercials, to his relationship with Sheryl Crow, Armstrong’s never shied from the spotlight. That includes a cameo in the movie “Dodgeball,” when he offered perhaps the most poignant summation of his life as a hero.
“You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer … all at the same time,” Armstrong, playing himself, told Vince Vaughn’s character. “But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I’m sure you have a good reason to quit.”
When informed that indeed, the reasons for Vaughn’s character’s quitting did not compare with the life-or-death scenario of Armstrong, he offered words of encouragement.
“Well I guess if a person never quit when the going got tough, they wouldn’t have anything to regret for the rest of their life,” Armstrong said. “But good luck to you, Peter, I’m sure this decision won’t haunt you forever.”
Granted, the words were spoken in a comedic film, but today, Armstrong can listen to his own words. The going got tough, and Armstrong now has plenty to regret for the rest of his life. The rest of us? We’d be best to remember that when a story is too good to be true, that’s generally because it is.