It might be premature to post this before the second half of Oprah’s interview airs. But I feel compelled to get this out there to balance the hate and rage spewing from every outlet. Maybe it’s because I’m in Austin, the epicenter of Lance Armstrong judgement, but this feels especially awful. Sure, I laughed at the #Doprah hashtags, but it all too quickly became not funny.
First, let me just say that I know I’m not siding with popular opinion here. And I know that Lance Armstrong is not warm and fuzzy, or particularly likable. That works against him in every way and I appreciate that no one has tried to soften his image. Our intelligence hasn’t been insulted here, for a change.
There was plenty of buzz before the interview aired, as Oprah is a finely-tuned buzz machine. Now, I often watch OWN for the big interviews on Oprah’s Next Chapter. I watched her question Rihanna about Chris Brown. And ask Kelsey Grammar about cheating on his wife. And jump on Paula Deen’s trampoline with Gayle. So unlike others, I wasn’t scrambling to see if I even had that channel, unfamiliar with the new Oprah. I nervously waited with a combination of curiosity and dread.
Why the dread? I hate public humiliation. And that’s what this is. Lance Armstrong coming clean about his doping means more than the stripping of titles, being banned from the sport to which he devoted his life, and stepping down from LIVESTRONG. He also has to endure a public shaming of epic proportions. Was his crime that heinous? Does cheating at a sport really deserve an outcry like this?
Armstrong is hardly the first athlete to break the law. Isn’t half of the NFL on probation? I know, I know. Armstrong was a role model. A cancer survivor. An activist. A leader. A hero. That is why we are so let down. As far as I can tell, the average American doesn’t follow bike racing. This is a sport that we don’t really care about until we find out SOMEONE IS CHEATING! I don’t know anything about sports but I know that you aren’t supposed to cheat! Outrage! I hate you now!
Most of the athletes who made it to the Tour de France were doping at the time. It was part of the culture, part of how they achieved these great feats of athleticism. But it was only a small part. The sore muscles, the years of conditioning and sheer determination, the sacrifice of any kind of normal life. Lance Armstrong did all that, too. He didn’t lay on the couch eating chips and simply dope his way to the top. He did it all. Everything it took to get there, he did. Including the illegal stuff. And the sport has long had a culture of doping. There are so many measures in place to test these athletes because there’s a rich history of illegal practices.
Should Lance have resisted and forged a new path within a dirty sport? Maybe. But he didn’t and now he’s the poster boy for doping. And lying. And all that is evil. It saddens me that a man with superior athletic capability will not be remembered for that. Or for the millions raised for cancer research. I’m sad for his children and his family and for those who looked up to him. But mostly I’m sad for him, because his desire to win under any circumstances cost him everything and he ended up losing.
We are so quick to turn our heroes into villains, should they fall. But why can’t we simply look at Lance Armstrong as he truly is? A human being, so flawed like the rest of us.