Lance Armstrong

Oprah Winfrey

Words By Jonathan Sadler

Illustration by Rebecca Goesling

On a recent Thursday evening while navigating the Internet, I stumbled upon an interview with Oprah Winfrey, a woman who used to have a popular talk show based in Chicago, like Tenspeed Hero. Based in Chicago is the part that is like Tenspeed Hero, not the talk show. Our talk show was never as popular as hers. Oprah (people tend to call her by her first name like Hillary and Jesus) was interviewing retired cyclist and retired cancer foundation boss, Lance Armstrong. I will not get into too many details but the short of it is this: Mr. Armstrong has of late been embroiled in controversy. Many of his former teammates have accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs – of also using performance-enhancing drug we should say. And the governing body of cycling in the US, USADA (pronounced just like it looks) has banned him from professional competition. Up to speed?

All I can assume is that, to Oprah, this is another James Frey situation. The rest of the world knows better than to lie to Oprah. Lance is not the rest of the world. But like a true patriot, Lance has done the right thing and apologized to Oprah. And he told the truth. A whole bunch of it. But certainly not all of it. Unfortunately, he seems most remorseful for getting caught.

In an unscientific survey conducted by Tenspeed Hero, it seems that popular consensus (is that redundant?) is that Lance is an arrogant (agreed) prick (probably), and that people enjoy watching his downfall. I understand rooting for the underdog, but reveling in the demise of a guy like Lance Armstrong is different from rooting for the underdog. I also understand the real pleasure in watching a giant fall, like Osama bin Laden or that German chancellor in the 1940s. Armstrong is no bin Laden.

I remember when disgraced cyclist Tyler Hamilton was banned from cycling for performance-enhancing drugs. Some were disappointed and some wanted to believe Tyler when he said it must be some mistake. Incidentally, most did not feel the same way about Floyd Landis. Poor guy was somehow not a very sympathetic character. Deep down, those of us who pay attention to cycling know that most of the peloton were using some type of illegal help, but being a hopeless romantics I wanted to believe that some weren’t.

Which brings us to this: People feel personally betrayed by Lance, and only partially because he doped. It is the consistent denial, the apparent bullying of his “friends,” and the holier than thou attitude that we think really pissed people off. None of this surprised me. When I watched the seven Lance Tours, I cheered for him one minute then called him an asshole the next. I do not feel personally betrayed. He cheated. He was good at it as he was at most everything he put his mind to. But I get no special satisfaction from seeing Lance humiliated or brought to his knees. I assume I never would have liked Lance personally, but I have no plans to hate him. If Tyler Hamilton doesn’t hate him, why should I? If Tyler does hate him, why should I? The following will be the first time I quote Deepak Chopra: “Every sinner has a future and every saint has a past.” I do not advocate for letting Armstrong off the hook. I just don’t hate him.

Post script

Some actual good has come from Lance’s Tour de France victories. If Lance were simply a talented cyclist who had survived cancer and finished in the middle of the pack in the Tour, Livestrong would not have been as big as it is – or was. I personally know people who have benefitted from The Livestrong Foundation. It actually does good. It was one of the higher rated charities last time I looked. Two of my closest friends’ recent fight with cancer was made at least a little better because of Livestrong.

Post Post Script

Until very recently, Lance Armstrong and I both held terminal degrees from Tufts University. Lance lost his as he is wont to do with most terminal things. For the record, his was an honorary degree. I guess honor is terminal.