‘Livestrong’ athlete leaves uncertain legacy
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency erased 14 years of Lance Armstrong’s career Friday — including his record seven Tour de France titles — and banned him for life from the sport that made him a hero to millions of cancer survivors after concluding he used banned substances, according to The Associated Press.
USADA said it expected cycling’s governing body to take similar action, but the International Cycling Union was measured in its response, saying it first wanted a full explanation on why Armstrong should relinquish Tour titles he won from 1999 through 2005.
The Amaury Sport Organization that runs the world’s most prestigious cycling race said it would not comment until hearing from the ICU and USADA, which contends the cycling body is bound by the World Anti-Doping Code to strip Armstrong of one of the most incredible achievements in sports.
Armstrong, who retired a year ago and whose story and success helped sell millions of “Livestrong” plastic yellow wrist bracelets, said Thursday that he would no longer challenge USADA and declined to exercise his last option by entering arbitration. He denied again that he ever took banned substances in his career, calling USADA’s investigation a “witch hunt” without a shred of physical evidence.
Here’s how sports columnists across the country reacted to the news:
Sounding a lot like Pete Rose when he accepted baseball’s lifetime ban, Lance Armstrong said “enough is enough” Thursday and left those who have always defended his reputation wondering which way to turn.
Armstrong said he would not accept sanctions but chose not to fight the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s charges against him. The USADA said it had “overwhelming evidence” in the form of eyewitness testimony and lab results that Armstrong was doping during his run of seven Tour de France titles.
Those titles will be stripped from his record, and he will be banned from the sport. Although, since Armstrong is 40, I’m not sure what that ban amounts to.
The difference between Rose, the all-time hits king, and Armstrong, the all-time champion cyclist who elevated his sport, is that one was just a degenerate gambler. Armstrong, as a cancer survivor, has raised millions for cancer research and said that work will continue to be his focus as he moves on.
But the fact that a man once so adamant about his innocence has chosen to walk away from this fight says it all. Far removed from the age of innocence, we live in an era of hollow heroes.
The Dallas Morning News
Armstrong ended his fight over doping, but who really cares?
Lance Armstrong might be the only athlete in history to hang a banner commemorating a forfeit. He gave up his fight against doping charges Thursday and congratulated himself for it.
“Today I turn the page,” he proudly announced in his statement, which he presumably wrote with “The Star Spangled Banner” playing on his iPod. “I will no longer address the issue, regardless of the circumstances.”
This is ridiculous. Doping charges are serious, the evidence is significant and some credible people have accused Armstrong. I mean, how much of a jerk would Armstrong have to be for this many people to want to frame him? Armstrong was losing this battle. He can’t just hide the ball and declare the game over, except ...
Well, except maybe he can.
He is banking on one thing here: That we don’t care if he used drugs.
He is probably right.
We don’t care.
Admit it: We ... don’t ... care.
If athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs are criminals, then Armstrong pulled off the perfect crime. Most Americans only cared about the Tour de France because Armstrong won it; now that those wins are gone, we don’t care about the event anymore. Genius.
Barry Bonds toppled Hank Aaron for a coveted record. Armstrong stole an ugly yellow shirt from the French. So what? Livestrong, man.
Sure, there were some cyclists who lost their chance at their dream because they refused to take drugs. I feel genuinely horrible for them. It isn’t fair. But I suspect most Americans figure that hey, you take a risk when you go biking in the mountains. Next time, call a cab.
Sports columnists will muster outrage, and cycling insiders will nod their heads, because they are not surprised. If you have been paying any attention over the past 10 years, you should not be surprised. And I’m sure the initial wave of stories will be about the downfall of Lance, a lost legacy, tainted Tours, etc.
But how powerful will that wave be? How long will it last?
If Armstrong were a baseball star, then we know the answer: The wave would define him for years. But he is not a baseball star. And so in a year, five years, 10 years ... well, I could be wrong about this, but I think Armstrong will continue to be immensely popular in the United States. He has raised a ton of money to fight cancer. He did come back from his own cancer battle to achieve every American’s fondest dream: becoming famous. The title of one of his books was right, if not in the way he intended: “It’s Not About The Bike.” At least, it’s not about the bike now, and hasn’t been for a while.
No Jim Thorpe
Armstrong will try to make himself a victim. He’ll say that he is a victim of the USADA and former teammates; that he had no chance to beat the rap; that the deck was stacked against him, and all that.
He fought charges of being just another doper on a bike for a long time, and now he stops fighting.
He will try to make himself the Jim Thorpe of his sport, wrongly stripped of his titles the way Thorpe was stripped of his titles and gold medals nearly 100 years ago in the Olympics.
But if the USADA is right and Armstrong’s former teammates are right, then he is nowhere near being the true victim Thorpe was. Even if one of the things he ends up losing is the bronze medal he won at the Sydney Olympics.
If you have followed Armstrong the way the other riders followed him, you know how aggressive he has been for so long and how litigious he has been as he has fought to protect his legacy, his brand. Or maybe just the myth he created about himself, that he was different, braver, better, cleaner than all the other guys in the race.
The New York Daily News
People still inspired by Armstrong
His biggest sponsor, Nike, says it will continue to stick by him and his foundation. But things will slowly change.
One has to think that the Livestrong line, which began as an offshoot from the incredible success of the yellow rubber bands worn around millions of people’s wrists, will decrease in number. As will the donations to Armstrong’s foundation, especially from the people who were inspired to donate by the miracle of his story. It’s not as good a story, they’ll say.
But Armstrong won’t lose the people whom he told to live strong, whom he inspired to fight on when they had lost their hair, when chemo had ravaged their bodies just like it had invaded his. He won’t lose the people who through his story believed and, in the end, cheated death.
— Darren Rovell,