This morning I woke a few minutes before my alarm, so I was fully alert, in that pre-caffeine way, when the radio clicked on, the NPR commentator delivering news I’d been waiting for: Yesterday Lance Armstrong announced he’s stepping down from his role as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation. “Good,” I said, not very quietly, to my still-waking husband. We’ve supported Livestrong through donations. The backpack I use to cart around my laptop is a Livestrong backpack, given to my husband for being such a good fundraiser for the cycling event he did with their organization. I’ve wanted them to remove Armstrong as chair ever since the United States Anti-Doping Agency went public with evidence that Armstrong was the ringleader of what it calls “the most sophisticated doping program in recent sports history.” Much of the USADA’s evidence comes from Armstrong’s teammates, who testified of Armstrong demanding that they dope in order to help him win.
Armstrong denies the allegations, and, not surprisingly, still has many supporters, even in the face of a 200-page report of evidence against him. He’s already lost his seven Tour de France titles, and been banned from competitive cycling for the rest of his life. Today he lost his Nike sponsorship; other companies are likely to follow suit.
As a mild cycling fan, none of this would bother me too much. Doping is rampant in many sports, I’m learning, and it’s unsurprising that a cycling star would turn out to be on The Juice.
It’s the Mom in me that’s upset about this news. Specifically, the Mom of a five-year-old boy who looks like he might be something of a sports star himself. It’s too soon to tell, of course, but he’s been turning heads at the park ever since he learned to dribble a soccer ball at the age of two, and self-reports that he always wins the running races in gym class. He’s adopted, which is not really relevant to the story, except to say that, if he did share genetic material with my husband and me, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
We’ve been watching the baseball playoffs this week, and Caleb has already become a devoted Cardinals fan, reporting plays to me while I’m in the next room, and cheering whenever the “red birds” score a run. It won’t be long before he finds a sports star to worship. I don’t know a sports-loving kid from my own childhood who didn’t have a sports figure as a hero. But those were different times. In the 70’s, athletes weren’t making headlines regularly for doping, extramarital affairs, child sexual abuse. Who shall I recommend to Caleb for wholesome, innocent admiration? What sport should I steer him towards, that’s not beset with drug abuse?
I feel an enormous amount of disrespect for Lance Armstrong’s doping behavior. Even greater, though, is my disrespect for his continuing to lie. He’s a hero to many: kids, adults, athletes, cancer survivors. Why not use that power for good? Show us a Lance Armstrong who has a strong enough character to admit what he did, and recognize that it was wrong. Maybe we could talk about why sports exist in a form so punishing that people who pursue them professionally feel the need to use drugs in order to compete.
I’m glad for the Livestrong Foundation that Armstrong is no longer at its helm, as fighting cancer is hard enough work by itself. As for Caleb, we will need to find another sports figure for him to worship. Someone who’s fast and strong all on his own, someone who is honest and kind to her friends and her family.