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.
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
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