Should Lance Armstrong's Hero Status Be Revoked?

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The cycling star has been stripped of his titles, but does that negate his legacy? Or are those who condemn him hypocritical?

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Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic) discuss Lance Armstrong's use of performance-enhancing drugs.


Guys,

Did you hear the huge news about Lance Armstrong? Nike is celebrating the 15th anniversary of their relationship with the cyclist by releasing their 2012 Livestrong holiday collection of running apparel.

Oh, also? Armstrong totally cheated to win the Tour De France seven times.

The United States Antidoping Agency released their Moby Dick-sized report on Armstrong this week. More than 1,000 pages, the exhaustive volume makes a devastating case that Armstrong was involved in the "use, administration and trafficking of performance-enhancing drugs," like EPO and testosterone. In other words, the Feds say Lance didn't just cheat, he also demanded that his teammates cheat and was the driving force behind supplying the dope.

Let's be clear, though. The case against Armstrong has nothing to do with his Livestrong Foundation. No human is all good or all bad. Whatever wrong Armstrong may have done as a cyclist, that doesn't negate a bit of his noble work in the fight against cancer. Appropriately, according to ESPN, Armstrong's personal troubles haven't hurt the foundation so far, with donations up more than five percent from last year.

Nevertheless, the damning book of evidence brings a crushing sense of disillusionment. That is, at least, for anyone who still had illusions about Armstrong to diss.

Has there ever been a greater fall from grace? Pete Rose wasn't beloved before the gambling scandals. OJ Simpson was popular, but not revered like Armstrong. Maybe Joe Paterno's fall was farther. It surely was faster. But Paterno was a coach. No athlete in the history of sport has fallen harder and faster than Armstrong, mostly because no one else had risen so high.

The big Texan with a superhero's name, wearing red, white and blue, Lance dominated a quintessentially European sport at a time when anti-American sentiment in Europe was surging because of what another Texan was doing overseas. Lance was our glorious rebuttal. Borg-like, inexorable, yet charming. The guy had it all; enough glory for a thousand lifetimes, movie star looks, and an inspiring personal story that won him the adoration of millions beyond his sport. But it was all built on lies. Allegedly.

Guys, can anything makes this better? Rationalizations are always useful. "Everyone else does it" certainly applies in cycling. Or maybe Lance could just apologize without ever admitting he did anything wrong—the way baseball players and politicians do—then all would be forgiven.

Patrick, how about it? Should Armstrong apologize, and should he start with you?

–Hampton

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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