Today I feel like the mythical little boy who waited outside the baseball commissioner's office in some long-ago sportswriter's fable, then confronted Shoeless Joe Jackson when he emerged from the hearing that banned him for life because he deliberately lost games in cahoots with gamblers.
"Say it ain't so," the tearful boy said in the fable. "Say it ain't so, Joe."
Lance Armstrong said it ain't so over and over and over again as he won an unprecedented seven Tours de France and countless other major bicycling competitions while being constantly accused of using banned substances or other performance-enhancing devices.
How, after all, could a man who had recovered from not one but two killer cancers perform so remarkably in this brutally challenging competition and still be clean? With all the accusations he became the most tested athlete in sports, yet throughout his racing career no testing agency ever purported to have found evidence that he cheated.
Now, saying he is sick and tired of all the accusations, he has chosen not to fight the latest and most serious ones, which emerged from a grand jury investigation of evidence collected by the U.S. sports anti-doping people. For most people, this amounts to a tacit admission of guilt. Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour titles and banned from cycling for life.
I don't feel sorry for Lance. He has a lot of money, his health, and a lot of memories. He really did overcome first testicular and then brain cancer, fierce maladies that almost always kill. And as he did so he put himself through a training regimen the likes of which few athletes, even world class athletes, have but considered, let alone taken on. And, regardless of what he did or ingested between races or stages of races, he really did climb all those mountains in the Alps and Pyrenees, he really did ride all those torturesome time trails, he really did outride everyone else in the field. Given how rife his sport is with cheating, given how many of his rivals have been tested and found to have used banned substances, it is reasonable to wonder just how much of an unfair advantage Armstrong might have gained from his alleged transgressions.
Unlike Shoeless Joe, Floyd Landis, Roger Clemens or the legion of other sports cheaters, caught or uncaught, Armstrong did one particularly admirable thing: He founded. funded and promoted the Livestrong foundation.
As a cancer survivor myself, I admire the fact that he put a considerable portion of his wealth and all of his prestige and influence into this agency for research in quest of a cancer cure, education of the public about healthy lifestyles than can reduce cancer risk, and aid and comfort to the victims of the disease and their families. In an age when our government can find trillions for wars that kill and maim innocent men, women and children, but not even pittances for life-saving research and science, Livestrong is a critically important force in the effort to improve the human condition around the world.
I hope Armstrong's decision yesterday and the ensuing widespread assumption that he is guilty do not result in the death or diminution of Livestrong. Armstrong once asked why anyone could think he would risk everything he had put into his foundation just to cheat in bicycle racing. Now, he says, ``I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities.''
I will continue to support Livestrong because the question of its founder's guilt or innocence is immaterial in the context of the good the organization does, having raised more than $500 million for cancer causes since its foundation.
On the great gray scale of human merit, I still think that makes Lance Armstrong a far better man than his accusers.