Monday, September 3, 2012

Lance Armstrong . . . my 2 cents

Much has been written about Lance Armstrong and doping recently.  I don't know that I'm uniquely positioned to provide any insights or perspectives, but apparently I'm going to try.

Just so everyone is clear on my position, or religion as it where, I'm certain that Lance doped.  I was reasonably sure of it when I watched him during his heyday, and it seems as obvious as the earth being round today.  If you still believe that the world is flat, or that Lance didn't dope, you might want to stop reading.

Jonathan Vaughters wrote an interesting opinion piece in a recent New York Times.  He essentially concluded by saying that most convicted dopers said that they doped because they were simply looking to level the playing field.  Others were doping, so they simply needed to do the same in order to have a fair chance at winning or keeping up.  JV's point was that we've done a lot to clean up the sport of cycling and create a "cleaner" environment for the next generation, and it's important that the trend continue.  If everyone simply wants a fair chance, let's continue to support and grow that infrastructure.

My day job consists of working with retail businesses and point of sale technology.  It has very little to do with cycling, but it has a lot to do with human nature.  It is understood in my industry that there are three types of employees.  10 percent of your employees wouldn't steal from you if your money was in a cigar box and no one was watching the inventory.  10 percent of your employees will attempt to steal from you regardless of what you have in place to prevent theft.  Point of sale, cameras, and policies and procedures won't prevent the "bad apples" from stealing or at least trying.  The other 80 percent of your employees are somewhere else on the spectrum.  With the right systems, and policies and procedures in place, there will be little temptation to steal.

It would seem that professional cycling did little to account for the 80% and essentially forced out the 10% that refused to cheat.  Professional bike racing is a business, pure and simple.  Sponsors want wins, Directors want to keep their jobs, Phil Ligget knows that he'll make more money if cycling is popular with "hero's" like Lance, and a working class kid from Europe knows that doping may be a better choice than working in a factory or on the family farm.  It would also appear that the UCI itself may have succumbed to greed, burying, or being paid to bury a positive test by Lance.  It would seem that the entire business of cycling, from top to bottom essentially turned a blind eye as Lance made cycling wildly popular.

Many people seem to be arguing that doping was rampant when Lance was winning Tour's, so what's the harm?  I can accept the argument that the past is the past to some extent, but in the case of Lance, I cannot.  Was everyone in the top 10 doping back then?  Probably.  My problem with Lance is that it appears that he even doped during his comeback.  We won't see the evidence until USADA's case becomes more public, but it appears likely that he was back to cheating.  That alone makes it worth an investigation.  More importantly, and a consideration that seems to be missing in most peoples opinion's, is that Lance was still actively competing in Triathlon and doing so to win.  He wasn't competing to stay fit as an age grouper, he was competing for a significant donation to his foundation, fame, and as I just said, to win.  Frankly I don't know much about Triathlon, but I would like to think that the current crop of competitive triathletes are competing "clean."  One would assume that they aren't looking for a questionable character to re-join their sport, and impact their livelihood.  Lance re-joining their sport could increase public awareness, TV viewership, sponsorship dollars, prize money . . . oh wait, sound familiar?  He holds the potential to grow triathlon in much the same way that he grew cycling, but at what potential cost to the sport?  I view Lance as being in the "stealing 10%"  that I referenced earlier.  I don't think he knows how to compete without cheating at this point.  It's in his nature because the world owes him something.  If I was a triathlete, at any level, I wouldn't want him in my sport.  If the past predicts the future, short term gains in popularity, and as a byproduct money, will only be met with a black eye later.

For those that are still with me, the next question becomes about Livestrong.  Lance has unquestionably provided hope and inspiration for those fighting cancer and their families.  He's raised a lot of money and arguably done a lot of good.  I personally donated money and wore a yellow wristband in his heyday.  I'm now left wondering if his work with Livestrong is made less relevant.  In my opinion, Lance is a false god.  He's the Wizard of Oz.  He's an "empty suit" as it were.  If someone is a great business leader, but beats their wife, should they still be a respected CEO?  If someone is a great quarterback, but runs a dog fighting ring on the weekends, should they still be in the NFL?  My opinion is an emphatic no.  I know that it can be a grey area for many, but I just can't see how you separate the two when it's on such a significant scale.

Culturally, America loves an underdog.  America loves to see the mighty fall, and it loves to see those same people pick themselves up by the bootstraps and become great again.  If Lance really wants to see his legacy, and more importantly Livestrong flourish, it would be nice to see his human side.  Admit wrong doing, beg for forgiveness, and become human, instead of a false god.

Will he do it?  I doubt it.  Maybe Mathew McConaughey or Ashley Olsen can provide him with some insights.  I guess wanting to hang out with movie stars and make out with Ashley Olsen makes him human, but not in a good way.  Frankly I don't see him checking his ego and making it happen, but for the greater good of the fight against cancer, I hope he's sees the light.  Cycling will make it with or without him, but the fight against cancer could still use his help.  My 2 cents?  That will only be possible if he comes clean and creates a new legacy.