After years of speculation, champion cyclist Lance Armstrong has confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he indeed took performance enhancing drugs during his professional career. While the details are yet to be fully divulged, we here at EFTM had to ask ourselves – does it even matter?
NICK: So the cat is out of the bag – Lance Armstrong, professional cyclist, cancer survivor and charity campaigner, has admitted that most of his professional success was a lie. Oh no! But while we wait for the inevitable fallout (and specifics) from the confession, you have to wonder whether or not this actually matters.
Aside from proving that the dopers are always going to be a step ahead of the anti-dopers, the truth is that Armstrong’s charity work has always been much more important than his cycling, even though his cycling enabled the success of the charity work. But is the ends greater than the means, or the means greater than the ends?
DAMO: Yeah, it definitely matters. Take out the cycling and he’s pretty much only done good things, but the sad reality is that he’s only been able to do them by cheating.
But here’s the sadder reality, he cheated because apparently a hell of a lot of the rest of the cycling community is cheating as well. That’s not cool but it still doesn’t excuse the action.
I’d hate to have to tell someone that the only way you can win is by doping up. That said, as cycling commentators all over the shop have been saying, he still had to be bloody talented to do what he did even with dope. I just hope this doesn’t ruin the work he has done with charities, especially with cancer. Doesn’t stop him from being a cancer survivor either. Will Live Strong carry on strong?
TREV: Live Strong will surely struggle. Corporations won’t support it like they used to and there are many charities out there who individuals can direct their philanthropic ways toward. Damo’s right, Cycling was riddled with drug cheats, but that doesn’t make it right.
Fortunately, it seems these days are behind us now and Cycling is a lot cleaner. The question is, can Lance Armstrong bring his image up to a place of some respect again? Is this Oprah interview the first step in a strategic campaign to save face, and to avoid destroying Live Strong?
In reality, the question we need to ask is can the public draw some respect for Armstrong after this confession, or is it all too little too late?
NICK: Performance enhancing drug use isn’t limited to just cycling, although they may have a history of hiding it better than other sports. Footballers, swimmers, weightlifters, cricketers… you name it, and there will always be examples of athletes trying to gain an advantage over their opponents.
Part of me can’t help but wonder if maybe it’s time to split sport into two – have competitions for drug free athletes, certainly, but also allow competitors who use artificial enhancers to compete in their own competitions.
There’s such a stigma with drug use in athletes, but when so many famous athletes have been busted for doing it – Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Shane Warne – maybe its’ time to readdress the situation. Especially when the whole charade can impact on an athlete’s personal life as well. According to this report, of the four types of asthma medication available, two of them are on the banned substances list for athletes.
While the whole Oprah thing is surely just the opening move in a game of PR chess, I hate to see all of Armstrong’s great work for humankind undone because of the stigma of drug use in sport.
DAMO: To address Trev’s point, I think it’s a little too late for Armstrong to make a full recovery from this. If he had come out straight away (which he couldn’t for legal reasons) it would have been a completely different case. But I think Live Strong will survive. Maybe just not as strong.
In terms of Nick’s point – screw it. There is no need to take performance enhancing drugs to compete professionally in sport. if others do, catch them and ban them. I think sporting codes are doing a pretty good job at that. With the technology and testing we have now we are just starting to get on top of it. It will take time, and like you pointed out Nick, it’s wide spread, not just cycling.
But we have to find the cheats and get them out. We also have to be careful to make sure we don’t ruin the careers of people who using certain drugs to medicate genuine illnesses. Very tricky indeed, but hell, we can send men to the moon and we can give people entire face transplants. This is far from beyond us.
NICK: I disagree there, Damo – this is beyond us, because there will always be athletes one step ahead of the anti-doping agencies. I have no doubt that so long as doping is illegal in sport, there will be athletes stripped of there medals years after they win them because they have finally been caught out.
And that seems to be the biggest problem for me with the Lance Armstrong issue. The man had a fantastic run at the top of a sport, which we now know is largely thanks to his dope habit. From there, he created Live Strong, helping millions of people around the world. The man has done more than enough to redeem himself.
But now, because the anti-doping agencies have finally caught up to him, all his charity work is at risk. From a purely humanitarian perspective, surely helping cancer sufferers is a much greater achievement than cycling faster than a bunch of other cyclists, especially if many of them were doping up too?
TREV: Of course helping cancer sufferers is amazing and he deserves that credit. But what will his legacy be? That’s simple. Drugs. He is a drug taking cheat who misled the world. Simple as that. Do you think its possible for him to recover his image to be anything else?
NICK: But that’s my point. You’re right, Armstrong used drugs to get to the top of a sport, which gave him a platform to do a lot of good in the world. And now, because of that deceit and the consequent backlash, his legacy won’t be about his charitable work, it will be about his use of drugs.
Here’s a counterpoint – Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted to steroid use during his bodybuilding days. But his legacy doesn’t stem from that – it stems from his acting career and his time as Governor of California.
Even when it was revealed that Arnie cheated on his wife and had a secret child with his cleaner, the world announced its shock, and then went to see him blow stuff up in The Expendables 2.
Despite the fact we know he cheated with steroids in his athletic days, we don’t hold it against Arnie. So why should we with Lance Armstrong, when arguably he’s done even more good for the world?
DAMO: Personally I feel he achieved a lot more than Big Arnie. We are talking about seven Tour de France titles after all. That’s massive beyond belief. Look at sports heros of similar stature that cheated.
Look at Tiger Woods. He cheated in a different way. The world sees him a lot differently now. Same with Diego Maradona. When sports stars of immense fame fall, they fall hard. I think it will be split in two. Lance will go down. His good work with cancer will only be damaged slightly. Thankfully I haven’t read any backlash to Live Strong and that will hopefully remain. Long may it live while cancer still has no cure.
TREV: This may be a bold statement, but frankly, cheating on bodybuilding is much different to cheating in one of the most globally elite and recognisable sporting events on the calendar.
As for Arnie – he’s a movie star, we the people hold them in a different place than elite sports people. The disappointment of a cheating elite sportsperson is harder to get over than that of a movie star – I would argue.
So – push comes to shove, what should Lance Armstrong do next?
For my mind, he should apologise. He should face the concequences, including paying back what money he can where justified, and he should distance himself from Live Strong so it can continue its good work. I’m not actually sure how he “does good” again, be that through encouraging people not to use drugs, or by doing a stack more charitable work. That’s a really tough call.
NICK: Is it though, Trev? Steroid use was rife in bodybuilding during Arnie’s days, and we’ve already discussed how drug use has been common in cycling.
But as for what comes next, I agree with you that Armstrong’s next step is to apologise. And make no mistake, that is what he’ll do. This Oprah interview is but the first step in a long PR battle to try and save face for the former champion.
Whether his end goal is to get cleared enough to compete in different sports like triathlons, or just to try and save Live Strong from the fallout of his fall from grace doesn’t matter. What does matter is that all his good work isn’t undone by his mistakes.
Armstrong’s interview with Oprah airs on Australian TV on FOXTEL across all the Discovery Channels at 1pm Friday, January 18.