On Thursday night, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong announced he would no longer fight the accusations from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his racing career. Almost immediately following the announcement, it was reported he would be stripped of all seven of his titles and banned from cycling for life. Yea, you read that right. He said he didn’t want to do battle with an agency that had been attacking him since the 1990s, and suddenly he’s been convicted and sentenced within hours.
This is unbelievable to me. Now let me say up front that I may be naive in thinking he was clean all these years, and he may very well have been doing what they accused him of. My issue is that they have been dragging his name through the mud for years, which had to have taken an enormous toll on him and his family, and when he finally said that this was a battle that he would never win, they stood on top of his broken reputation with their arms raised in the air and declared victory. Their tactic wasn’t to find evidence or a failed test to lead them to declare he was cheating – no, their strategy of relentlessness ultimately “won” the battle for the USADA, so they can pat themselves on the back for bringing a man to justice – oh wait, they didn’t actually win. His giving up the fight was not an admission of guilt, but an admission that his life, a life that was almost taken away from him by cancer, was not worth spending trying to fight back the attacks, but rather spent doing what he wants to do and continuing to help others.
Not to mention the ridiculousness of taking away wins after the fact. Much like the Penn State situation, what good does it do? We all know who won, and even if he was cheating during his seven-year winning streak, is it really plausible to think he was using PEDs for ALL seven Tours? Now that’d just be reckless and walking a very fine line. And not to mention he never tested positive during any of those races, or in any test he’s ever been given. So either he was very good at avoiding the authorities and cheating the tests, or (in my mind the more logical option) he was clean.
So do I blame Armstrong for giving up this fight, one that has lasted for over a decade and had no end in sight? Not at all. Do I think this is akin to an admission of guilt? Not even close. This is a man who has been fighting for both his life and his reputation for more years than anyone should have to. What he has overcome and the number of people with cancer who he as inspired are something to be lauded, not attacked. He won the world’s most grueling bike race seven times, AFTER overcoming a disease that very well could have taken his life. He began a foundation that has raised the awareness of cancer to unprecedented levels among Americans and has raised millions of dollars for research.
I know he’s not perfect. He very well could be guilty. But right now, in this moment, he has never been convicted, never failed any tests, and none of the allegations have ever been proven. Giving up the fight shouldn’t be the death sentence on his legacy, it should be the opportunity for him to move on and live his life without constant attacks from the public and the USADA.
The last I checked, our judicial system is founded on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Not innocent until the prosecution pounds the accused into submission and declares victory when the person says they can’t take it any more.