I have not seen the Oprah interview with Lance Armstrong, but I am certain that I will soon be bombarded with the juicy parts. According to my sources, the internet, Lance has admitted to doping during his multiple victories in the Tour de France. Armstrong will now be taken to the stocks and flogged for his cheating, his lying, and his lack of character; there is no surprise there because that is how we operate in the United States. We like our heroes to be better than us, wiser than us, stronger than us , and more ethical than us; and when they aren’t we like to tear them to shreds. Sometimes our Puritan heritage screams for blood and it is our responsibility to start filling buckets with the blood of our once admired heroes. We might even have to go on FaceBook and change our relationship status with our hero to “it’s complicated.”
I will not be changing my relationship status with Mr. Armstrong.
But…but he cheated. So, let me understand this argument fully, he cheated in a race where everyone cheats? Those of you who feel betrayed by Lance need to take a good look in the mirror. Did you really think he won all those races without cheating? This is the sport where 25 year old guys die in their sleep, guys who never tested positive for doping, guys who were in fantastic physical condition, and for some reason their hearts can’t manage to keep pumping when they are asleep. These are they guys that Lance beat and you were operating under the impression that he wasn’t cheating?
But…but he was cruel to anyone who reported him as a cheater. Yep, he tossed so many teammates under the bus that they had to get new busses each year (and new teammates.) Lance is not going to win any humanitarian awards for his behavior with his teammates, but what do you expect from someone who is trying to be first across the line? If you know people who win, you know they often will do whatever it takes to win. Tossing a few teammates beneath the wheels is no way to win “Sportsman of the Year” (wait, yes it is) but Armstrong wasn’t trying to win awards for being a good person, he was trying to win a race. Does that make him a jerk? Yep, but he is the jerk who won the race.
But..but what about all the cancer survivors who looked to him for inspiration? They can still look to Armstrong for inspiration. He did beat cancer. He has also inspired many, many people in their fight. Do I think he did this out of the goodness of his heart? No, but that doesn’t matter to me. I am not going to be a strict Kantian ethicist on this one. I do think the end justifies the means when it comes to cheating in a bike race and inspiring millions to fight against cancer. Call me what you want, but sometimes being a cheater and a jerk is okay.
But…but what about the kids? Okay, let me put it all out there. I think sports are filled with cheaters. I think Michael Phelps cheated, I think about 90% of the Gold Medal winners in the Olympics cheated, I think most professional athletes are doing whatever they can to give themselves an edge. Does this make me a cynical old man? Sure, but at least I am not going to hold up some person as a paragon of virtue only to find out later that they were not perfect. Nobody is perfect and the last place we should be looking for ethical perfection is in sports. People at the highest level of sports are paid to win. Winners win because they do whatever it takes to win. If you want virtuous athletes watch Chariots of Fire.
Lance Armstrong is a flawed human being, so is pretty much anybody who has walked the face of the earth. Even Oprah is flawed folks, even Oprah…