How Lance Armstrong is a guilty inspiration

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong with his eight-month-old son Max in 2010. Picture: David MariuzIt’s not all bad news for Lance Armstrong. Donations to the cancer survivor’s foundation grew almost 25 times after he announced he was not contesting the US Anti-Doping Agency’s charges. And his sponsors, including Nike, say they are sticking by him.

Meanwhile, commentators said while the American cyclist “is guilty but in a lot of people’s eyes, he’s still an inspiration”.

“I’m absolutely convinced that he did [dope] but I’m also convinced that he is the victim of a witch hunt,” editor-in-chief of Bicycling Magazine, Peter Flax, told US television network CBS.

Hero or zero?

The apparent contradiction between Armstrong’s amazing cancer survival story and his alleged doping-tainted past has led to soul-searching by commentators and fans in the US and Europe.

Jason Gay, himself a cancer survivor, wrote in The Wall Street Journal of the dilemmas facing the public: “There will always be the moral relativists, outraged by outrage. There will always be those who point to the epidemic of doping, and wonder if the playing field was merely levelled. Don’t be naive, they say – sports is about the furious pursuit of an edge. In full arc of Armstrong’s story, doesn’t the good outweigh any allegation?”

Michael Rosenberg wrote of Armstrong in Sports Illustrated: “He is banking on one thing here: That we don’t care if he used drugs. He is probably right. We don’t care. Admit it: We … don’t … care.

“If athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs are criminals, then Armstrong pulled off the perfect crime. Most Americans only cared about the Tour de France because Armstrong won it; now that those wins are gone, we don’t care about the event anymore. Genius.”

ESPN’s sports writer Darren Rovell echoed the views of other commentators when he reflected on the difficulties in assessing Armstrong’s legacy.

“[J]udging Lance Armstrong is more complex than any athlete we’ve ever had to judge.

“With the prevalence of media and the way we consume it, we as human beings are challenged more than ever before to digest information and give our take. We are challenged by friends at dinner and by co-workers at the office. What do we think about what happened with this person?

“How does the good outweigh the bad? Does it make up for it? Does it lessen his sports or philanthropic accomplishments? In a world of now now now, of 140 characters, that can’t be answered in one conversation.”

Donations up, sponsors stay

Lance Armstrong Foundation chief executive Doug Ulman told ESPN donations rose from an average of $US3200 on Thursday to $US78,000 on Friday after the cyclist’s announcement.

American sporting apparel company Nike, who has sponsored Armstrong since 1996, said it “plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors”.

“Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position,” Nike said in a statement.

Anheuser-Busch and sunglasses manufacturer Oakley were also sticking with Armstrong, AdAge reported, while exercise equipment manufacturer Johnson Health Tech issued a statement “reaffirming” its support of Armstrong and his charitable foundation.

The continuing support of donors, at least for now, appeared to reflect the public’s view that his Livestrong message was more important than the drug allegations surrounding him.

In Armstrong’s hometown of Austin, Texas, residents said they were continue to support him despite the USADA’s decision.

“As far as I’m concerned, Lance Armstrong will always be a hero and this doesn’t change that,” said Austin City Council member Chris Riley, just as he and city officials unveiled a new urban cycling track.

A city worker in Austin told AFP: “It’s very disappointing that they would target Lance for this when it’s clear that there are so many issues with doping in all sports.”


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