It’s dominated the national news for the past few weeks, and here in Austin it’s been non-stop talk and literally hit home. It, is the Lance Armstrong scandal. And yes, it is a scandal…a huge one. I’ve had time to think about it and am finally ready to write how I feel.
Although I live in Austin I wouldn’t call myself a huge Lance fan. Don’t get me wrong, I admired him and thought highly of him, but I wasn’t one of those sporting yellow spandex. I did, however, purchase yellow “Livestrong” bracelets and I remember going with friends and family to a parade in honor of Armstrong in downtown Austin after his first Tour de France victory. Kristen was little but knew the enormity of the event. She and her friends were proud to hold up their homemade posters as Lance and his wife Kristen waved to the thousands along the Congress Avenue parade route. Austin was proud and so were we.
Soon after, and as Lance continued to win Tour de France after Tour de France, you couldn’t escape him or his name in Austin. Those cute little pink flamingos people put in their yards? In Austin, they were yellow and yes I bought one. “Lance Armstrong Bikeway” was officially named and you really couldn’t drive anywhere without running into cyclists probably pretending they were Lance. So many people began riding bikes in Austin that the City of Austin created a new Bicycle Coordinator position. People flocked to Armstrong’s “Mellow Johnny’s” local bike shop (the name is a take on “yellow jersey” in French) and bike lanes began popping up everywhere.
Then, seemingly overnight, Lance and his wife Kristen filed for divorce. Rumors spread that he had been the furthest thing from a good husband. He began dating singer Sheryl Crow and was turned Hollywood. He became a baby daddy. But, he continued to win, even as doping charges became louder and louder, and we all continued to cheer him and believe him. Maybe the real dopes in this doping scandal were really us.
Armstrong adamantly and consistently denied all accusations, and now as we all know, was flat out lying. He sued good friends and supporters who he knew were telling the truth! Narcisstic is putting it mildly. I watched the Oprah interviews and was struck by his lack of humility. I naively thought he would appear more contrite and broken. When he applauded himself for not calling one of his former supporters “fat” even though he’d called her other degrading names, I thought to myself, “this guy still doesn’t get it.” As I sat in a doctor’s office the day after the interviews, the doctor himself, whose kids attend the same school as Armstrong’s kids, called him what I consider the most fitting word: a punk. With the exception of a moment or two, throughout the Oprah segments, Armstrong displayed the same arrogance that cyclists all over Austin do as they demand equality on the roadways but refuse to follow the laws of those very roads. The apples don’t fall very far from their bike-riding tree.
I also couldn’t help but notice the melancholy tone of his voice anytime he talked about Kristen. He seemingly admitted that she’s a Christian living a Christian life and he wasn’t and isn’t. What if he would have been the husband she deserved, had stayed with her, and had avoided the perils of fame and ambition? Maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be writing this.
Instead, we get a Lance Armstrong who arrogantly posted a Twitter pic of him relaxing in his Austin home amongst his 7 framed Tour de France yellow jerseys, even as the doping allegation heat was boiling around him. I remember seeing that pic and thinking “WTH Lance?” If I didn’t already know it before that, I knew right then and there he was indeed a punk.
Still, out of bad came good. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has helped millions and I hope will be able to continue to do so. My heart aches for the volunteers and benefactors whose lives he’s wounded. I also feel for his children as they tackle the horrific nightmare that their dad, who they held up so very high, is a cheat and a liar.
People will forgive him though. Hollywood will hold him up as another Charlie Sheen, Kristen Stewart or Lindsay Lohan. What about sports though? Will athletes feel the same? Sadly we live in a sports world filled with the likes of Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Ryan Leaf, Michael Vick, and Kobe Bryant. They cry and we forgive. Our fan-filled memories are short-lived, mine included.
I don’t know if this will be the case with Lance Armstrong and I don’t know what I hope becomes of him. I do know I won’t be buying his book or any more of his lies. At the very least I think he should have to work to pay off the people whose lives he purposely damaged. And I don’t mean book tour and luxury locations speaking engagements work, I mean the bike department at Wal-Mart or picking up trash on Lance Armstrong Bikeway. Voluntarily doing these kind of things would impress me way more than 7 yellow jerseys.