How many cyclists can you name?
Lance Armstrong single-handedly popularized cycling for Americans. Calling him the sport’s U.S. poster child would not be an exaggeration. But Armstrong’s story extended far beyond the sphere of cycling. He epitomized the professional sport. He pushed past the limitations of the human body and triumphed over cancer in the process. He set records. He showed the world what was possible through hard work and a strong will.
Cancer patients, athletes, the average Joe- he inspired everyone. Then he disappointed everyone.
In October, the International Cycling Union stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him from cycling for life. They accused him of doping; he maintained his innocence.
At first, it was easy to side with Armstrong, an American hero, and just dismiss the UCI’s claims as biased or malicious. But last week, Armstrong confessed to Oprah (of all people). Every one of his Tour de France records had been a lie. His accomplishments became meaningless. The hope Armstrong gave to cancer patients, athletes and the average Joe was stripped away from them like his own titles had been.
Armstrong damaged the reputation of Livestrong as well, an organization he founded to support those diagnosed with cancer. The budget for 2013 is 10 percent lower than 2012, according to a report by News Daily. Ironically, the foundation would likely never have been established–or been so successful–if Armstrong had not been such a prolific cyclist and public figure. His cheating helped make Livestrong possible. But with its public image so damaged, the future of Livestrong is in question.
Armstrong is not Tiger Woods. He will be much more difficult to forgive. The inspiration he provided came from his victories in cycling, against seemingly all odds, and he has now robbed that from his supporters. Athletics demonstrate what humans can achieve. Cheating, doping, is a loop in the system and corrupts a sport’s purpose. If you can’t abide by the rules, or aren’t having fun, you may as well quit.
Winning is absolutely worthless, meaningless, if you didn’t actually win.