Monday, January 14, 2013

Morality Relocation Program

In happier days

After Lance Armstrong won his third Tour de France, I was conditioned to be amazed. His story of surviving testicular cancer and competing in the Tour would have been inspiring enough, all on its own. Winning a stage would have been a great achievement. Winning seven in a row was the stuff of legend.

Rumors of doping hounded Armstrong, and I chalked them up to professional envy. I wanted to believe his victories were both good and true. If he wasn't using potent Texas rhetoric to swat those rumors away, he was filing lawsuits. The guy was a fighter and a champion. He meant business, on the bike and elsewhere.

On the victory stand after his seventh win, Armstrong aimed directly at his detractors. "I'm sorry you can't dream big. And I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles." No one wants one of the greatest champions in sport saying you dream small and discount miracles. Dreaming big and believing in miracles is what makes champions. So I, along with many millions, continued to believe.

Sheryl Crow, his girlfriend at the time, told CBS Morning News, "[Lance] is a cancer survivor, which we all know. And the thought of him putting anything into his body that could possibly hurt him is not even worthy debating."

Now that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour victories and banned his participation in any competition, news of his appearance and anticipated admission of guilt on Oprah's show has been on the airwaves for over a week. Armstrong and his publicists, with considerable help from the Big O, are still conditioning us to be amazed. He seems to want our forgiveness.

No, forgive me. Forgive me for not being amazed. Forgive me for being downright cynical about your motives. Forgive me for not giving a damn whether you ever compete in any race ever again. Forgive me for calling you Mephistopheles. Because you sold you soul to the devil for some wins and the glory and fortune that went along with them. You need to tell us, especially the kids who are watching, that selling your soul to the devil is as unoriginal as it is stupid. Because you'll always get caught, and everything you stole will be confiscated. You'll have lost your integrity. All the money in the world can't buy it back. You'll need to create your own Morality Relocation Program, and chances are good you'll be all alone while you're doing it.

Speaking of kids, you need to tell them exactly how you doped. How it looked and felt, so that USADA has better insight into the process for future enforcement. How many people you lied to, how many people lied for you. How unhealthy doping and lying are, despite what your pretty and talented girlfriend said about you on a national news program, and how you never want them to risk their health and their standing with God for a few wins. How it feels to look into the eyes of the mothers of your five children, into the eyes of your girlfriends, and lie to them. How it feels, now that the truth is known, to look into the eyes of your children. And your mother. Please, confess all of it. Because you've always wanted us to believe, right?

Our sons, right around the time Armstrong won his first Tour. They've looked up to Lance Armstrong their whole lives.

And please don't insult us with the kind of lame apology that the disgraced yet unchastened offer when they're caught in a scandal of their own creation. "I'm sorry if what I did made you feel uncomfortable." That ain't an apology. That's going through the motions.

Here's what a real apology would sound like. "I'm sorry I lied to you all about doping. I wanted the wins more than I've ever wanted anything else, and I was prepared to do whatever I could to gain an advantage. All those years I told myself doping was the price of competing at the highest level, that everyone else was doing it, and those who weren't doping were chumps and losers. I knew it was wrong, but I thought the wins and the fame and the money would make it OK. I trusted in my own intelligence, and in the intelligence of my protectors, but it wasn't intelligence at all. It was lying, and it was cheating, and my mother raised me better. It's not worth it. I've lost more than I've ever gained. I'll be spending the rest of my life atoning for it."

Maybe this is how he can feed his kids, by publicly taking that fearless moral self-inventory so many other addicts before me have taken.

Then Lance might amaze me again.