Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Was USADA ‘victory’ in Armstrong stripping worth it?

In a time when the world needs heroes, I don’t understand the witch hunt that’s been perpetrated against Lance Armstrong, the seven-time victor of the Tour de France and inspiration to millions.

I’ll be quite honest; I don’t fully understand the charges against Armstrong, but from what I can gather, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has accused the cyclist of using performance-enhancing drugs in 2009 and 2010. Armstrong, who fought his way through cancer and back onto his bicycle in 1996, had become a symbol to the world of what people can achieve with hard work and dedication.

Despite testicular and brain cancer, he was able to not just compete, but win. It was a modern-day fairy tale with Armstrong serving as central figure.

The thing with Armstrong is, he didn’t just win, he did it with a smile. And he became the poster child for success-despite-hardship. Lance Armstrong was a living motivational poster — just add poster.

It truly makes me wonder why the USADA seems to have tried so hard and gone out of its way to try to discredit him and strip him of the titles he had won. Do they not like fairy tales? Are they jealous? Or is there just a curmudgeon in charge who wants to see the mighty fall?

I’m not about to endorse cheating. I think athletes who juice their bodies in order to game the system should be barred from their sports. It’s akin to chief financial officers caught with their hand in the cookie jar. If you can’t follow such a basic tenet of your career, you should obviously have a new career.

So am I saying that Armstrong is innocent? No, actually I’m not. Truth is, I have no idea. He has said he’s innocent. But I wasn’t there and I don’t know the science of it. So I’m actually going to assume that he’s guilty.

Even assuming he is guilty, I think the USADA should have left him alone — for the sake of his image and for the sake of what his image has meant to millions of people.

If Lance Armstrong was doping and cheated his way into seven victories in the Tour de France, that surely affected the world of cycling and potentially cheated his fellow competitors. There are potentially seven people who could have titles that don’t because of his blood doping. For those seven people, his potential cheating is a life-altering event and assuming they now get their titles, this is vindication.

But are those seven people’s vindication worth the effect it may have on the — literally — millions of people who had looked up to Armstrong?

Could it be that those who were convinced that they could do anything now believe that it was all a lie? Could it be that in bringing down Armstrong, really the USADA has upset cancer survivors around the world? Could it be that in “winning,” the USADA has made losers of not only Armstrong but everyone who was a fan of his?

And if any of those are true, was it really worth it?

Scott Leffler can ride his bike with no handlebars. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.