I do not intend to defend Lance Armstrong but to offer an obituary to a fallen sports hero. In all probability, the allegations against Armstrong are true simply for the reason that someone who fought against testicular cancer to win seven Tour de France titles would not give up so easily for a cause he deems just. In this era of breaking news, the evil that one does would live as a lasting memory; no one would remember the charity he would have done in a lifetime.
But we should just let it be with Armstrong. Ten of his former teammates are ready to testify against him along with the fact that they have cheated themselves. And at the end of the day, we should respect the USADA for doing the job it was supposed to do. In India and elsewhere, a lot of superstars in the field of sports and otherwise have got away with worse and truer allegations and hence we should applaud the USADA for sticking to its guns. Professional cycling is probably one of the most tainted sports when it comes to drug abuse and the fall of a giant like Armstrong would increase awareness and the push for transparency.
If Armstrong has actually done what he has been alleged to have done, then it is a major grievance and the punishment meted out to him is just. Armstrong is an icon worldwide and a beacon of hope to many, including the likes of Yuvraj Singh but if the USADA says that he is a cheat and they have proof of it then we have nothing to counter it. This is not a test of morality where we can stack all the work he has put in for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Athletes for Hope against his alleged misdeeds. What we have is the cold, hard and seemingly unpalatable truth.
But here I pause to ask a few questions. Why would someone who has seen death from such close quarters put so much at stake for a few gold medals and a trifling record? After his comeback, he could have made millions by just promoting himself as a brand; what was the need to start Livestrong and venture into charity? We all loved and respected Armstrong once and it was not without a reason. So what holds us back from mourning his downfall and goads us to brand him simply as a cheat and nothing else?
As Dan Ariely famously wrote once, we are all “predictably irrational” people. Thanks to our crab mentality, we all love to witness the fall from grace of a successful individual even though collectively we appreciate his efforts to reach the top and the work he might have done for the society. Our judgement goes for a toss and suddenly common sense is not so common.
I would like to end with my personal thoughts on the issue. From the outset, Armstrong has been someone who generates dichotomous opinions. You either love him or hate him. For some he is a survivor, a man who battled against death to come back, a source of inspiration and a real life superhero. For others including a few of his former teammates, he is a liar, a cheat, a source of embarrassment and an surprisingly weak man who fell prey to his own temptations after getting a second chance.
The truth is that he an amalgamation of all these and more. He is no longer a superhero; he is not the Dark Knight of our ages. But neither is he a villain. He is just profoundly human. Like the rest of us.