Lance Armstrong is a likable and inspirational figure whose Livestrong Foundation has raised a phenomenal $500 million with sales of its yellow bracelet and message of hope in the fight against cancer.
None of which changes the fact that he's almost certainly a drug cheat whose decision to stop fighting the allegations against him this week destroys his legacy even as his supporters defend him on message boards and national radio.
The confluence of so many major figures of the performance-enhancing drug era has been startling, even Dickensian, with Cheats of PEDs Past (Armstrong and Roger Clemens) returning to the news along with Cheats of PEDs Present (Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon) while speculation on Cheats of PEDs Future (Derek Jeter and Usain Bolt) ramped up despite zero evidence.
Weary sports fans rightly wonder if there will ever be a time when a remarkable performance can be watched and appreciated without it being questioned. (How the NFL, with its parade of gargantuan yet athletic players, has largely escaped this era without consequences is surprising but speaks to the popularity of the league, which has enough problems anyway under Kommissar Goodell with the fallout from the bounty scandal and a billion-dollar season about to begin with rec-league refs.)
The stunning part isn't that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said it will strip Armstrong of his seven Tour De France titles. It's a dirty sport and those who've paid attention knew this was the likely end result in a long and bitter fight. (The question now remains: Who will be declared champion of those seven races since seemingly every competitor has been declared guilty of something?)
The stunning part is that Armstrong did exactly what he has always told his supporters never to do. He quit.
He backed down when the evidence against him made the outcome of arbitration obvious, so the world won't hear everything his accusers were going to swear under oath he and his team did in pursuit of cycling glory.
Think what you want about Clemens, a far less likable character who, at 50, spent Saturday on the mound for the Sugar Land Skeeters for reasons only he knows. At least Clemens fought until the bitter end.
He claimed he was clean, confronted his accusers, and refused to take a government deal in which he would've admitted guilt but faced no punishment, instead risking his freedom.
Incarceration was a very real possibility but Clemens, perhaps innocent, perhaps arrogant, perhaps delusional, fought on and won in a court of law, if not in the court of public opinion.
Armstrong did not, and he didn't even field questions about his decision, instead releasing a statement that said he would never again discuss the issue.
Latest Carroll County Times
Armstrong has done a lot of good in the fight against cancer. But since he quit, does the bracelet still fit?