I would like to go on record stating I have never used performance enhancing drugs in my life. I now feel secure that no one will try to reclaim my “Spirit Award” trophy, “Most Improved Player” award trophy or my “Hustle” award, all obtained drug-free. Who knows? If I had chosen to use steroids, I might now have a trophy room full of Team Spirit awards.
Now it appears poor Lance Armstrong is set to confess his sins before Oprah Winfrey, which is as close to confessing before the pope as one can get without going to the Vatican and will probably be viewed by millions more than anything the pope had to say anyway. As most of us already know, Lance won seven Tour de France races, setting a record for wins, and was especially impressive because the wins were by an American, which had never been done before. Further moving Lance up the hero’s totem pole was the fact he overcame testicular cancer to become such a champion.
But now it appears Lance’s fame and fortune have taken a tumble. The same holds true for all those baseball players using steroids in the ‘90s who now find their efforts to be accepted in the Hall of Fame rejected by most baseball writers. There is now much controversy over whether someone should be blackballed from the Hall of Fame because they use steroids or whether Armstrong’s record should be obliterated because he used performance enhancing drugs. I’ve heard arguments for both sides, but there is one truism I have not seen brought up that I think is most important of all.
To win the Tour requires someone to dedicate their life to cycling. Anyone who has ever won this race had been cycling for years prior to winning the championship. Most, if not all, had been cycling since they were 10 years old, and continuing to train, train and train for the event.
The dedication required is unbelievable and the payoff, actually, quite small. Only the winner of the Tour becomes famous. Only the winner of the Tour receives massive endorsements and becomes a household name. Sure, the guy that comes in second or third is recognized in his sport as an elite athlete and he received some monetary compensation and a little recognition. But for cycling, the reality is it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.
When Lance Armstrong cheated, the main harm was not that it blackened the image of the sport or sent the wrong message to our youth or proved that someone was willing to skirt the rules to win. Those things may matter, but the most important thing is that someone came in second in all of the seven races that Armstrong won.
If Armstrong had not been taking performance enhancing drugs, he would not have won the races. Second-place guy would have been the champ. He would be famous. He would have had massive endorsements and made tons of money, and maybe even ended up dating Sheryl Crowe.
And for that guy who came in second, there is no second chance. The window of opportunity for winning these races is very small. There is probably a 10-year period in which an athlete can hope to win, somewhere between the ages of 20-30, and any time thereafter, forget it. Armstrong stole the championship from the guy who came in second, stole his ability to be rich or famous or simply successful in his field. He stole something from someone who had dedicated his entire life to one achievement and it can never be replaced or made up.
Imagine that you discovered that in the Olympics in 1960 all of the results for gymnastics were rigged. The first-place winner was actually not the winner and the people who came in second should have won first. Can we now retroactively go back and give these folks a gold medal 50 years later and somehow make it all right?
Of course not. The same holds true for Armstrong and his cheating and the same holds true in baseball. The cheaters won home run titles, Most Valuable Player awards, and all other types of accolades and honors. They got $25 million contracts and jetted around with celebrities. Some poor guy who played by the rules hit 35 homers and came up 35 short for the title, but would have won the title if those guys weren’t cheating.
Lance may apologize but that won’t give back what he stole and that ain’t funny.
Contact columnist T. Gamble at firstname.lastname@example.org.