I don't know much at all about sports. I watch the Olympics, the World Series, the Indy 500 and an occasional football game. I have never seen much of the Tour de France and I doubt I have ever paid much attention to Olympic cycling. But Lance Armstrong was a hero, not only to me, but to millions of Americans and millions of others around the world. He achieved the seemingly impossible. He beat the odds by surviving cancer. Then, he defeated the best of the best -- cyclists from every nation, year after year -- to emerge a champion among champions. If Armstrong was in an event, every competitor was on notice -- they were in for the fight of their life and they were all but assured of one thing: Lance Armstrong would win.
Lance Armstrong became the stuff of legends. He was, first and foremost, the fiercest of competitors. He was also an inspiration. His Livestrong Foundation raised half a billion dollars in the fight against cancer. As a result, he gave hope to millions of patients and their families in their own fight against the disease. The yellow Livestrong bracelets became ubiquitous and represented a unity of spirit and determination to beat the odds.
Now, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency threatens to strip Armstrong of all his titles. The greatest has been disgraced. Forget the medals, what is Lance Armstrong's legacy? Who is the man we thought we knew? Where is that tenacious fighter now?
I have been wrestling with a nagging question -- how can this modern-day gladiator, this champion, end the battle by simply giving up? Why is Lance Armstrong refusing to continue his legal challenge against the organization which he perhaps justifiably claims, is going after him with a vengeance, not for the sport from which he has since retired, but for something more personal. Still, his refusal to fight the most serious charges in his lifetime raises an even more troubling possibility. John Fahey, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency told the Associated Press that Lance Armstrong's decision not to contest doping charges against him was an admission that the allegations "had substance in them."
That's the rub, isn't it? Has our faith been misplaced all these years? Was Armstrong doping and have we been duped? How could this fighter not fight, unless he knew it was a war that he could not win? It seems so fundamentally contrary to the character of the man we thought we knew, a man in whom so many people believed. Where are our heroes today? We seem to be preoccupied by fame rather than accomplishment. Headlines are monopolized by Real Housewives, a daily Kim Kardashian photo-op and the exploits of Teen Moms. We assail these so-called reality stars because of their lack of substance.
Armstrong was different. One could legitimately argue that Armstrong's accomplishments go far beyond the arena of sport. His foundation is more than one man. But the principles on which that foundation was based are now threatened. The man in whom we trusted and for whom we rooted, against all odds, is now tarnished with the specter of having won by cheating. It's not enough to say that everyone does it. Not this time. Not with this man. We believed in him. Even those of us who don't follow sports still need heroes. Especially now. Lance, you've beaten the odds before. If you're innocent, fight and we're behind you, win or lose. But if you're guilty, I suppose we've already lost something precious and in short supply -- we've lost a little faith. Say it ain't so, Lance.