Jeff Sybertz ’13
Over the past couple of weeks, cyclist Lance Armstrong has been prevalent in the news after the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stripped his seven Tour de France titles because of evidence of blood doping. Armstrong won every Tour de France title from 1999-2005 and was considered a hero not only because of his dominance, but also because of his triumphant battle with testicular cancer. Since retirement he has used his money and fame for good, most notably founding and running the Livestrong Foundation, which has been instrumental in the fight against cancer. However, since this past summer, the USADA’s ruling has put Armstrong’s life into a tailspin as many of Armstrong’s sponsors have severed their ties with him and the public now sees him as a cheater. Although what Armstrong is accused of doing during his cycling career is illegal, his reputation and feats off of the bike should not be tarnished because blood doping infected virtually all of professional cycling during Armstrong’s titles and because, unlike most other athletes, what Armstrong has done with his money and fame is truly honorable.
Blood doping is the transfusion of red blood cells and not, as many people think, a form of steroid use. In the process of blood doping, an athlete will have his/her blood taken during the height of training because of the high amount of oxygen in their blood at that time. The athlete will then put that blood back into his/her bloodstream during the competition to boost the number of red blood cells. This action increases an athlete’s aerobic capacity and endurance.
Due to these benefits and the difficulty of detecting the process in blood testing, blood doping was a common practice in cycling and other endurance sports during the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is widely known that a large number of the participants of the Tour de France during this time were guilty of blood doping. Many of these allegations of blood doping have since been verified, as advances in drug testing have been able to detect blood doping in the system. The USADA and other international cycling bodies have accused and stripped away the titles of many highly-regarded cyclists, including the original winner of the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis.
Lance Armstrong’s name was often implicated in these investigations but, up until the summer of 2012, he had been able to defend his name against many of these allegations due to a lack of evidence. However, this past summer, the USADA presented evidence not only of Armstrong’s use of blood doping, but also evidence that Armstrong engaged in a conspiracy to coerce his teammates to blood dope and threaten those who might go public with any allegations. Armstrong decided to stop trying to defend his name, an action which many saw as an admission of guilt. Over the past few weeks, Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Trek Bicycle, and 24 Hour Fitness have severed ties with Armstrong. Last week, Armstrong stepped down as the head of the Livestrong Foundation, a charity he created to help further cancer research.
There is no doubt that what Armstrong has done is illegal and that he should have to face the appropriate consequences. However, this recent USADA report seems overtly personal and over the top. Instead of simply producing the proof they have of Armstrong’s doping, they are trying to demonize Armstrong and turn public sentiment against him. They characterize him as a conniving and serial cheater who will try to silence anyone who may go against him. This over-personalization of the investigation and demonization of Armstrong is a result of USADA’s failed attempts to strip Armstrong of his titles over the past decade. The fact that the agency has made it their mission to strip Armstrong’s titles is sad because now it has tarnished all of the great work that Armstrong has done. No other cyclist has had to bear this type of extensive investigation, even if there has been conclusive evidence of blood doping. In a game of cheaters, Armstrong may have been the champion but he deserves better than what the USADA has done to him.
Along with tarnishing Armstrong’s name, the USADA has also essentially tarnished most of his philanthropic endeavors, most notably the Livestrong Foundation. According to their website, Livestrong dedicates around $30 million annually to cancer research and education. With Armstrong’s name tarnished, the future of Livestrong is in jeopardy.
It is a shame that Armstrong has fallen so far from grace in the public’s eye because, unlike many other athletes, he has attempted to make the world a better place with his fame and fortune. In the world of professional sports, athletes get paid tens of millions of dollars a year and rarely have the courtesy to acknowledge their fan base, let alone devote a huge portion of their time and money to something for which it is worth fighting. Moreover, athletes who have been accused and/or convicted of much more heinous crimes seem to have less-tarnished images than Armstrong. Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger were accused of rape, Tiger Woods had countless mistresses, and Michael Vick was convicted of being involved with a dog-fighting ring and served nearly two years in prison. Yet all of these athletes are not only currently competing in their respective sports, they are also greatly supported by their fans.
I remember growing up rooting for Lance Armstrong every summer in the Tour de France because of his charisma and the adversity that he had to overcome to not only survive but also dominate international cycling. These allegations against Armstrong are devastating to me because of what they have done to his reputation but also what they may do to Livestrong and his other charities.
All I can hope for is that Armstrong will somehow regain the favor of the public the same way that Bryant, Roethlisberger, Woods, and Vick have so that all that Livestrong has done will not have been in vain.