Lance Armstrong will admit to using Performance Enhancing Drugs.
Barry Bonds is not in the Hall of Fame for the foreseeable future.
Tiger Woods is not the number 1 golfer in the world.
10 years ago it would have been impossible to think that those three statements would be true. Not when Barry Bonds just completed his second of 4 consecutive MVPs. Not when Tiger Woods just completed a 3-year (2000-2002) stretch of complete dominance the likes of which no golfer had ever seen. Not with Lance Armstrong dawning the cover of Sports Illustrated as Sportsman of the Year in 2002.
Barry Bonds’ waterloo came by way of BALCO, numerous Congressional Hearings and an Obstruction of Justice charge. It was a slow death that took about five years and brilliant investigative journalism that eventually crippled Bonds’ reputation.
Tiger Woods’ demise came in flash. His scorned, betrayed wife wielding a club with bad intentions drove Tiger into a ditch. When he resurfaced from the ditch he was inundated with dozens of accusations from numerous women who claimed to be his mistress. Tiger’s new brand: Adulterer.
Bonds and Woods will survive their scandals.
Bonds will survive, because his abrasive attitude was never endearing to start. The media’s temporary courtship with Bonds during the later stages of his historic MVP run was always quite awkward. The guards at Buckingham Palace are more approachable than Bonds. The media and fans can live without Bonds in the public sphere. He never really wanted our admiration anyways.
Woods will survive, because he’s still an active golfer. AT&T, Accenture, Gatorade and Gillette cut ties with Woods, but even that was not enough to ruin Woods. Woods is still the main attraction on the PGA tour. Tiger is still box office. We’re captivated by his chase for Jack Nicklaus’ record. We salivate over every Tiger win. Hoping that he’s returned to old form we ask: Is Tiger back? The Tiger we’re used to seeing on the 18th hole closing in on another historic victory. The question “Is he back?” is irrelevant if we’re not nostalgic for his greatness. We need Woods.
Lance Armstrong had a much greater burden than the other two:
He was an American Hero.
Every year, Lance Armstrong traveled across the Atlantic, plastered in his yellow suit with the American flag on his helmet, shoulder or across his back. Every year for seven consecutive years, Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France. Everyone gunned for Armstrong, including his teammates. But every year around the same time, the world would be forced to concede that he was the best. Period.
Armstrong could never make cycling mainstream. He didn’t have to, he was cycling. Americans didn’t have any noteworthy history in cycling. Cycling didn’t matter unless Armstrong’s name was involved. He was bigger than the sport. We were proud when he went overseas, won every year and returned with the trophy draped in the American flag. That was the essence of his heroism. We never questioned him. Others tried, but their words conveniently fell on deaf ears.
No one bothered to discuss the pervasive doping and cheating in Cycling. Big Cycling names like Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani and Floyd Landis didn’t mean anything to us. Armstrong was incomparable. It made sense to us that he was the cleanest in a sport where many of its prominent champions were suspected or guilty of doping at one time or another. It’s what made him a Hero.
And when it comes to our heroes, the use of logic is obsolete.
But Armstrong’s greatest battle and triumph took place in a hospital. Before the Seven consecutive titles he won from 1999-2005, Armstrong battled testicular cancer and survived. He used his story to raise over $500 million through the Livestrong charity. By 2012, his net worth, according to Forbes magazine, was over $125 million. The charity has helped millions of Americans, brought awareness to the importance of cancer screenings and funded extensive cancer research.
His success was a win for America and for cancer survivors across the world. Armstrong was the embodiment of hope, strength and perseverance. Armstrong was a reflection of American ideals. He fought off cancer like John Wayne and then dominated a sport like Michael Jordan. It was as infallible as an American Icon could get.
Now that Lance Armstrong came clean of his PED use his name is forever tarnished. But it makes sense. Armstrong had too much to protect. The survival of Livestrong and all of his philanthropic ventures hinged on his success and his squeaky-clean reputation. It was protecting his story as much as it was about winning the Tour de France for Armstrong, it was about maintaining the purity of his brand. His brand demanded that his name remain clean.
Deny any allegations at all costs. Never give in. There was too much at stake. At every chance remind the people who you are:
Inspiration. Humanitarian. Survivor. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Inspiration. Humanitarian. Survivor.
Those are words I could have never associated with talented prodigies like Tiger Woods and Barry Bonds (I’ll explain why he’s added later). It’s what made Armstrong unique. Bonds and Woods were aloof; men who were closer to the Gods describes in legendary epics than men in which we could relate. Isolation is not what we demand of our heroes. We want more and Lance delivered. Bond and Woods never particularly wholly embraced the adoration of their supporters. They were professionals; their goal was professional immortality. With Lance, well there was more. More we cared about, more that we wanted to embrace. There was no quantitative goal (756 Home Runs, 18 majors) that defined Armstrong like the others.
An admission to Oprah was about as well received as LeBron James’ “The Decision”. [Without the irrational backlash] Even Armstrong’s most ardent defenders have come to this conclusion: Lance Armstrong, (to borrow a phrase from Dennis Green) was not who we thought he was.