Opinion: Lance Armstrong scandal a reminder not to worship athletes

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich is a sophomore news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact him at [email protected].

Last week, cyclist, cancer survivor and bracelet peddler Lance Armstrong announced he would give up fighting the blood doping charges levied against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. The accusations have been following him for years, and while he says he is not admitting guilt, the official record will show that Armstrong never won any of those races. No word on who did, though. All seven runners-up in the years that Armstrong won the Tour de France have blood doping scandals of their own.

Now that the Olympics are over, Americans don’t have to pretend to have any vested interest in sports in which the participants aren’t actively trying to maim each other. The jingoism and the Coca-Cola commercials were fun while they lasted, but let’s not pretend watching gymnastics does anything for us but flex that muscle that makes us yell “yeah, Amurrica” when we win.

The same goes for cycling. The Tour de France is the biggest bicycle race in the world, but the only way to watch it on American television is on the NBC Sports Network, a cable channel most notable for being (under its former name, Versus) where hockey went to die. But in the midst of Armstrong’s run of seven consecutive Tour victories, Americans were at least aware of what he was doing. His wins were the subject of water cooler talk and Nike commercials. He made a few movie cameos. People asked themselves in times of struggle, “Would Lance give up?”

The problem is that Armstrong became a symbol for something other than just a guy who won a bunch of bicycle races. He was Lance Armstrong, he who defied death. Lance Armstrong, he who climbed mountains. Lance Armstrong, he who defeated the Europeans at their own game. Lance Armstrong, American hero. Tour de France? More like Tour de Freedom.

We have a habit of doing that to our sports “heroes.” We want all of their stories to fit neatly in the narrative we have laid out for them. Every underdog team is the team from “Hoosiers.” Every local star has an undying loyalty to his hometown team. Every player who can throw hard or jump high or run fast is also noble, God-fearing and willing to co-sign for your car loan.

Lance Armstrong was supposed to ride off into the sunset as the greatest cyclist of all time. He still may be, but like his American sports contemporaries, career retrospectives will now include that last paragraph about doubts surrounding the “cleanliness” of his achievements. Barry Bonds, statistically the greatest baseball player of all time, will never make the Hall of Fame because of questions about his steroid use. Armstrong is now in the same boat.

I don’t know if I care if Lance Armstrong blood doped or not. If essentially all of his competitors were cheating, it’s hard to believe that he was the lone clean guy at the top. It’s hard to say if it takes away from his achievement. The USADA’s penalties certainly won’t make anyone forget who won those races. But let’s just leave it at that. No more hero worship.