About that bike
It's disillusionment with Lance Armstrong the man, not his mission, we feel
Many years ago, upon finishing reading Lance Armstrong's book It's Not About the Bike, I thought immediately that, no, it's definitely about the bike. I trust 99 percent of you reading this opening sentence know on your own what I'm talking about without my having to provide an explanation. The remaining one percent ride ATVs at breakneck speeds through delicate forest land and picked up this magazine by accident.
Long before Armstrong's announcement that he'd given up fighting the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, many of my friends have asked me whether I thought Armstrong used banned performance enhancing drugs of any kind. My pat answer has always been, How do I know? It's the same answer I've given when asked about O.J.'s guilt and, more recently, Drew Peterson's guilt.
The typical responses I receive include that I'm wishy-washy, naïve, uninvolved, or that I must be the sort of person who rides ATVs at breakneck speeds through delicate forest land. Of course only this last accusation irks me.
Serious accusations are, of course, serious business, especially when made against sports icons such as Armstrong; even more so with Armstrong because his achievements on many levels have led to notable fund raising for cancer research and sufferers.
I'm reluctant to render an opinion on any court case if it would be based solely on what I've read, seen and heard via the media. Of course I have thoughts about the case but, as to my ultimate thoughts on guilt or innocence, I'd rather not rely on broadcasts from men and women wearing a week's worth of hair gel.
There are reasons why we have courts of law and administrative hearings, with standards of evidence, the right to examine and cross-examine evidence, to present our own evidence and to subject our evidence to cross-examination. It is also important that we have a neutral person or group of persons - as neutral as is humanly possible - to determine the weight of the evidence.
So many people have told me, for example, that the jury's verdict in acquitting Casey Anthony was an outrage. When I've asked such people whether they listened to the defense side's full cross-examination of any prosecution witness, the answer was always "No," and that the full trial wasn't broadcast or that they were too busy to listen to more than a few minutes of it on any given day.
So many people listening to so very little seem fully ready to render a definite opinion on serious cases. Yet any one of us, if accused of anything criminal or subject to administrative hearing, would want a full and impartial hearing. And we certainly wouldn't want anyone rendering judgment against us who hasn't listened carefully to all the evidence.
But what happens when a person in Armstrong's position declines to have such a hearing? That sort of takes away my high horse. Armstrong said, "Enough is enough." He's been through it all for so many years. Factually, he's right, of course, but that won't suppress doubts. Rather, his decision not to proceed will likely increase doubts.
After all, Armstrong's been a fighter for so long. Consider his long haul against cancer and then training, competing and winning seven Tour de France competitions. The doubters believe Armstrong does not want a hearing because he knows he's guilty and that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency can prove it. Yet who are we, any one of us, to know what it's like to be Lance Armstrong right now, after all the years of battling. He knows people can lie and people can have less-than-ethical motivations to testify against him. But without the benefit of an actual, evidence-filled hearing, we won't know what Armstrong has chosen to short circuit.
Armstrong's efforts through his foundation that bears his name, particularly the Livestrong campaign, raised over $70 million in the United States for cancer research, treatment and programs in 2011 alone. Consider all the other years he and countless others inspired by him have spent raising money for the cause. That all that effort over all those years may have been in concert with a man whose status as an icon may have been achieved through the use of banned substances does not change the good that has been done for those battling cancer. Has it resulted in some disillusionment? Yes. For others it has provoked anger.
Perhaps many people never would have contributed to the Lance Armstrong Foundation had they known and believed that the ends did not justify the means.
Consider that carefully. Would we really not contribute to a cancer fund raiser because of disillusionment over a bike-riding icon? Do we really need an icon to inspire us to give to cancer research? If that tarnished icon still fund raises for cancer, do we now say "no" because of that now tarnished image?
I have read about Armstrong's intention to keep publicly declaring his innocence and hard-earned Tour victories, and that he will continue his efforts to fight cancer. So, what do you think about that?
Armstrong has his supporters and detractors. Likely, he always will. My guess is that most of our opinions will land in the realm of disillusionment over his giving up the fight against the doping charges and failing to participate in a full and impartial hearing based on evidence presented by both sides. We are left with nothing truly solid to latch our opinions onto.
Certainly Armstrong benefited personally and financially from his seven Tour de France wins. I suspect the majority of those stricken with cancer and their loved ones who benefited from the Livestrong campaign will remain grateful above all.
I cannot help but think when it comes to cancer and those battling cancer, that it truly was not about the bike.
That's my opinion, nothing more.
Bruce Steinberg is a father, husband, lawyer and novelist in St. Charles, Illinois.