The guy bugs me. Really, really, really, really bugs me. And my reaction to him and his so-called confession to Oprah Winfrey is so strong I’ve just got to unpack it a little.
Perfect blog material!
As I’m writing this, here’s the latest headline, from the LA Times: “Lance Armstrong says he’s the fall guy for the sport of cycling.” Wow. Poor baby. The Times article is referencing an interview Armstrong gave to Cyclingnews, posted January 30. He’s calling for the World Anti-Doping Agency to set up a “truth and reconciliation commission” to get to the bottom of all this, since, as he says in the interview, “publicly lynching one man and his team will not solve this problem.” (Nice evocation there, Lance. You and all the African Americans executed by vigilantes, from the Civil War until at least 1968 — brothas from anotha motha. Roger that.)
Here are a few bits from the Cyclingnews interview:
Cyclingnews: Why do you believe that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is the best way forward for cycling?
Armstrong: It’s not the best way, it’s the only way. As much as I’m the eye of the storm this is not about one man, one team, one director. This is about cycling and to be frank it’s about ALL endurance sports. Publicly lynching one man and his team will not solve this problem.
CN: Do you feel like you’re the fall guy for an entire sport/system?
Armstrong: Actually, yes I do. But I understand why. We all make the beds we sleep in.
CN: When you came into the sport, it probably wasn’t to dope, it wasn’t to cheat but at what point, specifically, did you realize that was how cycling worked and that the governing body weren’t dealing with the situation?
Armstrong: My generation was no different than any other. The ‘help’ has evolved over the years but the fact remains that our sport is damn hard, the Tour was invented as a ‘stunt, and very tough mother f**kers have competed for a century and all looked for advantages. From hopping on trains a 100 years ago to EPO now. No generation was exempt or ‘clean’. Not Merckx’s, not Hinault’s, not LeMond‘s, not Coppi’s, not Gimondi’s, not Indurain‘s, not Anquetil’s, not Bartali’s, and not mine.
Folks, there you have it. (Don’t you love the softball Cyclingnews lobs to Armstrong at the end? “When you came into the sport, it probably wasn’t to dope…”) Armstrong isn’t any different from anyone else, so doping and bullying his teammates into doping and lying about it is business as usual. In fact, he’s just another schmuck in a long line of schmucks just tryin’ to get by in the brutal cycling world.
Why am I so incensed? Perhaps because of Lance’s breathtaking sense of entitlement, his grandiosity, his apparent lack of understanding how his actions have affected others. I hate that shit. But to be honest, I hate it because I recognize it in myself. I’ve been to the Land of Denial, too — not as the head of a world-class cycling doping ring, but in my regular old life, my regular old relationships.
From the Oprah interview:
Oprah: Was it a big deal to you [that you were doping], did it feel wrong?
Lance: No. Scary.
Oprah: It did not even feel wrong?
Lance: No. Even scarier.
Oprah: Did you feel bad about it?
Lance: No. The scariest.
Does he believe what he’s saying? Does he hear himself? It is scary, losing touch with reality (which I’m defining here as basic moral premises like “we don’t cheat, we don’t lie”) so thoroughly that you don’t even see that what you’re doing is wrong. What’s even more terrifying is how easy it is to do this.
If it’s possible at all for me to view Lance Armstrong with any kind of compassion, it’s because I understand, on some scale, how effortless it can be to get to a place where the only person who matters is…me. I’ve been there, and what pulled me out was the collision between the grandiose world I’d created and the real one.
This is what’s happening for Lance. Or at least, he’s being given yet another opportunity to see and accept reality. Will he sober up? It’s not looking good, but hey. In any case, even if I recognize something of myself in Lance — really, the classic human tendency to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions — I’m not ready to stop judging the crap out of him. It feels good, righteous. Comforting. I may be twisted, my thinking goes, but at least I’m not as twisted as Lance Armstrong.