A lot of last week - too much, I believe -?was taken up by my thinking about L'Affaire Armstrong.
I'm referring of course to Lance Armstrong's sort of confession on Oprah Winfrey's show. After years of rumors and allegations from others, and after stringent denials from him, he finally admitted that, yeah, he'd been doping throughout his career.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise, but to many people it did. Why? Simple. Because for all those years, people (including me) believed his b.s.
And why wouldn't we? He's a great athlete; he's a cancer survivor; he's a philanthropist (of sorts); and he'd had a cannily and craftily scripted public image. His public image was so powerful, it was easy to imagine him being not a mere athlete, but a superman.
Of course there's no such thing as a superman, which is exactly what Lance Armstrong revealed about himself. In fact, what he revealed is he is instead a super-schmuck.
What sticks in my craw isn't that he doped. It's obvious bicycle racers have been doping since way back when. I never forgot watching the 1960 Olympics and seeing the reports of a Danish cyclist who died due to amphetamine use. And I'm sure his death wasn't the first, nor was his amphetamine use unique..
So if most racers are doping, and you want to beat them, you'll dope too especially when huge bucks are involved. Which in Armstrong's case, they were, since he's now worth a cool $100 million.
But I don't buy into his bit about taking drugs "to level the playing field." The only way to have a level playing field is if no one dopes. Once doping starts, no one's equal, since the only real issue is who has the most skilled chemists, pharmacists and doctors. The reason he never tested positive in over 500 drug tests wasn't due to anything he did, but to what his laboratory peeps did. And obviously his were better than the others', since they got caught in droves while he looked like Simon Pure himself.
Graceless under pressure
No, what I don't like about Armstrong is how he ruined the credibility and careers of the people who told the truth about his doping. It wasn't enough that he either said nothing or gave some mild rebuttal. Instead, he went out of his way to attack and destroy people, lying out both sides of his mouth at the same time.
One example is his former masseuse, Emma O'Reilly, who wrote that he'd doped in the 1999 Tour de France. In typical Armstrong fashion, he didn't just call her a liar, but "an alcoholic whore" besides. Meanwhile, the only liar was, of course, him.
Then there's Betsy Andreu, wife of one of Armstrong's teammates. She was present when Armstrong admitted his illegal drug use to doctors. For doing that, she was vilified by Armstrong for years. She's one tough cookie, however, and never backed down from her original stand and refused to be intimidated by him, something he - being the bully he is - he couldn't abide by.
And here's the perfect example: On Oprah, Armstrong, addressing Betsy Andreu, looked at the camera, smirked, and said, "I called you crazy, I called you a bitch, I called you all those things, but I never called you fat." I guess this was supposed to be his way of apologizing (and being humorous) but ultimately it's just a comment that speaks for itself loud and clear on his rottenness.
After his admissions, people despaired about Armstrong's unfitness as a role model. Then again, they always do that when some hot-shot sports figure makes a public disgrace of himself.
Athletes as role models have always been a big deal. It's now one of the essential issues with the American public's reaction to Lance Armstrong's fall from grace. It's as if now that Armstrong is no longer the person we were duped into believing he was, we're bereft. As if now that Mighty Casey has struck out, who can replace him as a role model?
To which I'll respond with this quote from the pitcher Bob Gibson: "Why do I have to be an example for your kid? You be an example for your own kid."
The quote is short, bittersweet, and makes the point beautifully: We want good role models, we should be them.
Ultimately, it's a job best left to the pros - who in this case, may not be pro athletes.