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You, Me, Gray Area, and The Real Deal.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly & Tour Winner

Lance Armstrong was on Larry King Live last night answering questions about using banned substances. I didn’t watch it, it doesn’t affect me.

But the Lance Armstrong controversy does raise an interesting set of questions about you and me and the sport we participate in.

So the rub here is that Lance Armstrong may have used performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France. Neither you nor I know if he did. I hope he did not. I watched the races and read the books. I’d prefer to maintain that everything was done legitimately and on the level. Armstrong is an amazing athlete and a very determined young man. He came from humble beginnings and now he is a millionaire dating rock stars. I say, good for him.

Maybe.

Whether Armstrong is a legitimate athlete or a fraud doesn’t much matter anymore, since he is now an ex-Tour de France rider. The outcome of the controversy is likely to be on the same shelf as Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, Kennedy’s assassination and those Martians that crashed in the desert in New Mexico. You and I will never know, and there is so much smoke surrounding the truth now- good and bad- that we’ll never get to the reality of the matter.

In and of itself the controversy is a shame and I feel sorry for Lance Armstrong. I feel sorry for him if he engaged in inappropriate practices and I feel sorry for him if he didn’t. Either way, he loses because he entered the gray area.

First, if he did: Like you and I, Lance Armstrong must go to bed with himself and his conscience every night. He may have Porsches, huge homes, big stereos and nice clothes, but those things are just possessions that come and go. The one thing he really owns title to is himself and his soul. If that has somehow been compromised, if he did a deal with the devil to win seven Tours de France- then the face he sees in the mirror before he goes to bed is the face of a liar and a cheat and he can’t ever undo that. If that were true, I feel sincerely bad for the man. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It can never be undone.

Second, if he didn’t use performance enhancing drugs: Lance Armstrong has been ripped off. The media has used him as a whipping boy and he has been subjected to an inappropriate degree of scrutiny. It’s a witch hunt. If Lance is clean then he deserves our sympathy because he is getting screwed. That is not fair. Life is not fair, but this is an injustice. If Armstrong is clean then the shadow cast on his victories is an indelible mark on the white tapestry of human character. If Armstrong is clean, it is us who are dirty because we didn’t have faith and trust and we bought into the notion that he may be not much better than us.

Think about it: Would you have done it? That is a question only you could answer and only in those circumstances. Like a soldier untested in battle you don’t know how you would behave until the first bullet cracks next to your ear. What happens then changes the rest of your life.

Armstrong’s demise- guilty or not- lies in that awful abyss popularly known as the “Gray Area”. The gray area is the birthplace of things both heinous and fortunate. It is the swirling tempest of entropy that bends rules and warps time. In the gray area, the only rule is there are no rules. Whether the outcome is good, bad or indifferent a trip to the gray area is fraught with uncertainty and whimsy. You never know what the hell will happen in the gray area.

Part of the appeal of sport to you and me, is that there is no gray area, at least for us common people. There is no money involved, no big deals on the table and very little notoriety at stake. What little there is isn’t worth selling our souls for. As a result, down in the age group trenches things run pretty clean. There is the occasional drafting complaint but none of us are dealing out $15K for a hit of EPO to take our age category at the Musk Ox Man Sprint Triathlon. For us there is no gray area. It is black and white. That is a huge luxury.

Part of the reason we do this sport is to get away from the gray area. In your job you deal with office politics. In your marriage you deal with the vagueness of whether or not you look better with a few gray hairs or she looks fat in that dress. What is honest and what is smart is separated by that place known as the gray area. If you want to navigate your career and your marriage you’ll probably make some crossings of the gray area. Anytime you sail into the gray area you take your soul as a passenger, and hope that it emerges on the other side untarnished by gray.

For Lance Armstrong he sailed into the gray area when money became involved, and how he navigated those dark, gray waters is a course only he knows. But the gray area also moves in the form of a dark gray cloud that now has drifted over the sunshine that were his victories. Guilty or not, the gray area rains on his parade. His accusers use the gray area to level accusations if he is innocent and he uses gray to deflect them if he is.

One thing for sure, once you enter the gray area it is usually tough getting out.

We escape into the sport for some respite from the vagueness of gray. When we go to a race we either did the training or we didn’t. We either have a good day or we don’t. It’s pretty black and white and that is a nice break from everyday life.

In real life you can work your butt off and get passed over for a promotion because someone is a better golfer (or bullshitter) than you. You can bring flowers home and still get snapped at for not making the bed. It’s confusing. You did right, but it went wrong. After a little of that the ruthless, indiscriminate nature of a stop watch is somehow comforting in its clarity.

I don’t know if Lance Armstrong is guilty or clean. Beyond the fact that his run of victories was good for business I don’t much care either.

Armstrong is old news now and it’s time to get back to the black and white matter of whether the training we did this week will make our race this weekend go smoother or not.

For us there is no gray, and I am thankful for that.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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