Editors Note: This story was originally posted on August 24, 2012, but has been altered and reposted in response to the lastest news of Lance Armstong’s confession to cheating in cycling.
Armstrong came clean to Oprah, finally, and suddenly, one of the last great stories of triumph crumbled — and with it crumbled the idea that a sports athlete could be an unquestioned hero.
He is Lance Armstrong, the man who overcame testicular cancer to defy the odds and win the Tour De France not once, not twice, but seven times. Now, he is just another guy who cheated to get ahead of the competition. It is a shame to say, and feels like cursing, but Lance Armstrong is now a cheater who cut corners to get ahead in the world.
Many won’t make the connection between the three, but in the last two-weeks, we have had the All-Star Game MVP, Melky Cabrera; former Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon; and Armstrong all stripped of games or titles because of using performance-enhancing drugs.
It begs the question: Can people truly trust that an athlete has done it all on their own now?
Skip Bayless questioned whether or not Derek Jeter is on performance-enhancing drugs over the summer and everyone jumped on the hate-train to say his comments were blasphemous. Looking at what has transpired over the last six months, though, there really is no way to look at an athlete as infallible or perfect. There is just too much evidence out there to prove the contrary, and Bayless is totally in the right for questioning Jeter.
Maybe it is an awfully pessimistic way to view the sporting community, but let’s look at the last year and remember at who has fallen from grace. Joe Paterno and the mighty Penn State football program found themselves struck down by a child-sex abuse case; the New Orleans Saints were accused and punished of running a bounty ring; two major baseball players have been suspended; the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, from LSU was removed from the team for drug violations; the Detroit Lionsalone have had four different players arrested multiple times. I could go on, but you get the picture.
It has been a sad year for sports and mainly because of the realization there is no way to take them on face value.
What should have been a year of triumph with fantastic stories coming from the 2012 Olympics, a baseball season with guys like Darin Downs coming back from a near-death experience to pitch in the majors and the against all-odds return of — love him or hate him — Sidney Crosby. Instead, it is turning into a year of absolute disaster for those who view sports as one of the few great cathedrals of honor and sportsmanship. If someone does not look at an athlete and wonder “are they really this good, are they juicing or are they as good of people as they seem?”, then they are playing to the naiveté that continues to let a piece of entertainment like WWE thrive.
This is by no means an indictment on sports fans or the sports themselves. It is not to say fans should not rally around their teams and cities to bring home the top honors in the world. Instead, though, it is a statement about how when a child says, “I want to be like Calvin Johnson”, a parent or guardian should direct them towards a better role model — one they can trust. This surely is not a shot at Johnson, who is by far one of the most stand-up athletes in Detroit — at least we think he is. What it is, though, is the realization that even Johnson, who seems to be one of the most genuine guys in the NFL, needs to be questioned a little.
What Armstrong doesn’t realize is that by his actions, he changed the course and probably the lives of the people who looked up to him most. Originally, all of those afflicted with cancer looked up to Armstrong as a beacon of hope. Now, they see him just as a shattered false idol, who did something most cancer patients can’t do: find the easy way out. It is ultimately what he did, and it would be no different then if he took a shortcut down a back road through one of the time trials in France. He took the easy way to prosperity.
Many will still believe in Armstrong’s skills and his accomplishments, and that is fine, but the truth is he is one of the athletes who have ruined sports for many of us. As a kid, I remember excitedly waiting every day to see who was in the lead for the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Now, I can no longer think of the sheer elation I experienced as a child without thinking about the fact both of those players took steroids. It tarnishes the memory of what was a great ride as a child.
One my best friends, Cole Simmons, always used to say Ken Griffey Jr. was the last great hero in baseball, because he didn’t take steroids. I always joked and agreed with him, but deep down I wouldn’t be surprised if it came out he took them at one point. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out Miguel Cabrera took them. Just nothing surprises me about sports anymore and Armstrong confirms why.
The minute the allegations of Armstrong doping came up, I knew he did it. It’s sad to think I can’t accept people are good deep down. In the world we live in today, though, nothing can be taken with out at least a hint of doubt and everything needs to be second-guessed.
It is athletes like Armstrong who have created this world and continue to force us to live in it. A world where no athlete can truly be a sports hero for the fear they may be just a cheap facade of a person who took the easy way out.