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Where Have You Gone Lance Armstrong?

I will admit it. I got caught up in it. I watched every stage of his last three victories. It was mesmerizing. It was the great sports story of my lifetime. A man overcomes brain, lung and testicular cancer to win the Tour de France 7 times. If Hollywood tried to sell his story as a movie, no one would buy it. So, when ESPN ran the 30 for 30 documentary Lance, the last two Sundays, I watched every minute of it.

Lance Armstrong came across the way I expected a disgraced former superstar would. He was arrogant, defensive, dismissive, but there was a level of realism to him. He spoke the truth, finally, or at least his truth. And here we are looking at a man who had inspired so many for so many years, a decade beyond the time he was exposed and disgraced, and he is still as reviled and hated as he was the first moment we discovered he had lied and cheated.

I have to ask the question, why does Lance Armstrong remain such a reviled person in sports? I know. I know. He lied and cheated by using performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France 7 times. Yet, there are still some very admirable traits to Lance Armstrong. He did courageously beat brain, lung and testicular cancer. He did use his cancer battle to build awareness and create a foundation to raise over $500 million through his LiveStrong bracelets to combat cancer. Many people’s lives are better today because of him. He has some admirable qualities, but remains as much of a pariah as ever. Why?

Why did Lance Armstrong get the death penalty for doing the same thing that many others simply got a slap on the wrist for? This is not an apology for Lance Armstrong, or an attempt to get his victories reinstated. What he did was unequivocally wrong, and his victories should have been revoked. The question I have is why has he remained so reviled while other athletes who did the same thing get a free pass?

There is a strong push for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 2020, Roger Clemens received 61% of the vote, and Barry Bonds received 60%. To put Bonds and Clemens into the Hall of Fame, is to validate their career, and legitimize PED use. Yes, they did great things. They had some of the greatest seasons in the history of the MLB, but so did Lance in cycling. Why would Bonds and Clemens get forgiven and validated, while Lance remains a pariah?

Would any of those sports writers who voted for Clemens and Bonds, vote to have Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France victories re-instated? Of course not. He was just as dominant in his sport as Clemens and Bonds were in theirs.

One could make a strong argument that Armstrong’s successes in his sport were more valid than Bonds and Clemens because he was beating other cyclists who were doing the exact same thing he was doing. He used PEDs in a sport that is laden with PEDs, during an era when if you didn’t use PEDs, you had no chance to finish in the top 20. Why has the Tour not awarded his victories to other riders? Mainly because every second-place finisher in any of his victories has tested positive for PEDs at one time in their careers, and most of the top ten finishers have as well. There was no one clean to give them to.

Where it is safe to say at least half the opponents that Bonds and Clemens were dominating were not using PEDs. In a perverse way, the playing field that Armstrong competed in was relatively level, while Bonds and Clemens, had a major illegal advantage over at least 50% of the players they competed against. That is not a justification, it is a perspective.

Some would argue that baseball and cycling are different sports, and the treatment of athletes who used PEDs should be different. But why is there such a strong disparity in MLB, regarding players who have used PEDs. While Clemens and Bonds are nearing their election into the Hall of Fame, players with Hall of Fame numbers, like Mark McGuire and Raphael Palmeiro, were run off the ballot in short order.

Mark McGuire who did the same thing as Bonds and Clemens has been off the ballot since 2016. McGuire had a Hall of Fame career, 583 HRs, seasons of 70 and 65 HRs. Raphael Palmeiro, who had 71.4 WAR, .288 BA, 3020 hits, 569 HRs, lasted on the ballot for only 4 years.

And known PED user with much less careers as McGuire and Palmeiro remain on the ballot: Gary Sheffield received 30% of the HOF vote in 2020, Manny Ramirez received 28%, Sammy Sosa received 14%, and Andy Pettitte received 11%.

It makes no sense. You either let all the PED guys in, or you keep them all out. You cannot pick and choose which PED guys you forgive and which ones you don’t.

Why is David Ortiz, aka Big Papi, so beloved when it’s a known fact he has used PEDs? He was one of the names leaked from the 2003 Mitchell report. He went from an average offensive player that Minnesota gave up on at age 26 in 2002, to one of the most dominate hitters of his generation beginning in 2003. He showed nothing in his first 6 years in the big leagues that would indicate what he would become. The last season of his career in 2016 at age 40, he hit 38 HRs, .315 BA, lead the league in slugging %, .620, and OPS, 1.021. Bats slow down, power decreases as you age, as you approach 40, yet his did not? We all know. It is obvious. He will be Hall of Famer, well loved, and well respected, as the nation turns their lonely eye away from the truth.

In the end, why was it so important to exposed, discredit and ostracize Lance Armstrong for his sins when we are so willing to ignore, overlook, rationalize and even forgive others for the exact same sins. If we are not gong to expose and discredit them all, I would have preferred that Lance Armstrong, the myth, the legend, the inspiration remained intact because his false story was much more compelling, much more uplifting and inspiring, so much more helpful to society than the false stories of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Big Papi.

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1 Comment

Jun 03, 2020

I agree in what you are saying and I don’t know what he is so vilified first the same actions. I would say many more people purchased items based on the false narrative he swore by. Talk about what it takes to be a magnanimous soul, Lance Armstrong is far from that. I respect his willingness to finally tell the truth


Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind

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