Lance Armstrong: A fan's personal struggle with the good and the bad
Matt Ironside is a senior producer with The Seattle Times. He’s been a lifelong sports participant and watcher. Most of his biking these days consists of riding eight miles to and from work.
It’s hard to see the name, hear it spoken, without it drawing immediate reaction. It is swirling in the news again this week with stories of a taped confession about to air from an Oprah Winfrey interview.
There will likely be another round of dismay and shock, heated commentary from sports pundits and online commenters.
In the evolution of the Lance Armstrong story, I’ve had a different take for a long time now. I’ve known Lance was guilty. I’ve known since before his final Tour de France victory in 2005. And knowing for that long has given me a distance that others who’ve been watching this story may not have.
My early belief in his guilt was based on a couple of things. First, was the principle of Ockham’s razor. For those who may not be familiar, the principle states that the simplest explanation for something is often the most true. For all the complexity of testing and success and denial, the simplest explanation is that Lance was doing something different than other cyclists.
Second, and more personal, was my wife’s 2004 cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. It changed the way I looked at Lance. It moved him from the world of sport and celebrity to a much more personal place.
It’s a bit difficult to admit, but I hated those bracelets. I hated them for reminding me of what my wife was enduring, of what we might fight so hard and lose. And in the same confusing moment, I loved seeing them dangling around a stranger's wrist.
But by the time Lance was racing to victory in the 2005 Tour, I sat in my wife’s infusion room and knew Lance was doping. It was just too impossible to explain any other way. Look at it from the way I saw it back then.
High-level biker has serious bout with cancer. He encounters these amazing techniques to take someone who’s at death’s door from chemo treatments and prop them back up for one more round. He’s ridden in the tour before, knows how it tears you down. He comes back to the sport and goes from high-level biker to god biker.
I held the papers in my hand, the ones that showed my wife’s blood counts. I saw what Epo does, saw cancer patients getting blood transfusions to bring back blood counts that had been crushed by chemo. I knew. I cheered for his victory in 2005 and told everyone who brought it up that I knew Lance was doping.
I’ve been telling people ever since. Lance was dirty in a dirty sport. Chances are he was not the first nor will he be the last to dope, to fall to the temptation of a cheat. And while I can’t help but dislike the lying, I can’t totally write off the biker. Even though I don’t know if we ever received any direct support from his cancer organization, I have to admit Lance has helped me.
My wife is cancer free. She has been for many years. I’m not naive. I know that Lance has benefitted from his work with his Livestrong Foundation. But there are so many other ways you can use a celebrity life, and he’s found an arguably good one.
We want our heroes to be simple, especially our sports heroes. It very rarely can be the case. We have to judge their actions like everyone else. Lying and cheating in sport is bad. Being a good person when the game is done is always more important than the game. I don’t know Lance well enough to judge that. But I can say what he’s done for me. You can praise and criticize the good and bad in all of us.
And for those of you who might still cling to the idea he was clean or clean enough, who would point out in Ockham’s razor the simplest answer might be that Lance was simply a great biker, I would say that explanation works for me too.