The legacy of man is not decided by his words, but his actions. Actions change things; actions cause response and consequences, good or bad.
For Lance Armstrong—the greatest cyclist in the history of the sport, an American and a cancer survivor—his actions could not bring any more consequences.
On Thursday, Jan. 17, Armstrong sat wide-eyed, sunken faced across from America’s ultimate sympathetic figure Oprah, ready to answer questions that had haunted him for years. These questions visibly aged a man who was once a great American hero and looked up to by cancer patients everywhere.
Now graying and lined, he sat and awaited the barrage of questions he needed to answer to satisfy so many that he had brought down and blackmailed over his tenure as the face of cycling.
Oprah asked simple straightforward questions, to which Armstrong answered candidly with one word he had avoided for so long: “Yes.”
Yes, he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Yes, he used synthetic hormones that improved oxygen flow to his muscles (EPO). Yes, he used testosterone.
The word “yes” continued to fall out of his mouth, as though he regretted none of it. He didn’t assume throughout his career that lying about PEDs was wrong.
He justified taking testosterone to compensate for a lack thereof after surviving cancer.
He started Livestrong, his great crowning achievement, to help those who fought cancer as he did. Then in shame, he stepped aside from it, as he should.
Most heroes in sports in the 1990s and 2000s have a huge, ugly asterisk next to their names. Their accomplishments say, “You can do it (by cheating)!” Why work hard when you won’t be the best? This attitude has wiped the real sports heroes from this planet.
What happened to Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken Jr.? Instead, we have been given once small men who suddenly swell to gargantuan size and hit mammoth home runs out of ballparks, defeating honest records.
As Hades’ minions so fittingly chant in the Disney movie “Hercules,” “The hero’s a zero.” That is what remains of the legacy of Armstrong.
When asked if it was humanly possibly to win those seven Tour de France races in a row, he responded unconvincingly with, “In my opinion, no.”
This once great man is now forever known as a cheater, a bad sport, and worse, a blackmailer.
He scolded the French who hated him and his manipulative ways. Armstrong was the one who tried to take down another former teammate in Tyler Hamilton, who admitted to the world all of the transgressions of the seven-time Tour de France champion. He blackmailed the family of a former teammate.
As he sat with Oprah, it was clear Armstrong was again trying to control others’ perceptions of him. Choosing to meet Oprah rather than, say, Bill O’Reilly to admit would surely soften the blow, right?
Is he sorry for doping? Or is he sorry he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar? More than likely, as most athletes are, he is just sorry he got caught.
“I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologizing to people,” Armstrong said to Oprah. “The rest of my life.”
He says it as though he’s the victim of the culture of doping that has consumed cycling. Armstrong isn’t getting his way for the first time, and it’s clear that he does not like it one bit.
Exasperated, Oprah continued to talk to Armstrong.
“You’re suing people, and you know they’re right,” Oprah said. “What is that?”
Staring anywhere but at Oprah and the camera, Armstrong fumbled around guiltily as the grilling continued.
I don’t feel the least bit sorry for a man I used to call my hero. The sting of finding that your heroes were frauds is an unfathomable feeling. One by one, my favorite athletes have fallen from grace, and few are left. The ones that are, I can barely remember them as they were.
Armstrong is left to sit at home, staring at his feet, wondering whether or not it was possible to inspire the world without cheating, the question that will remain with him