So, now what are we supposed to do with this latest bit of news about Lance Armstrong? That the United States Anti-Doping Agency thinks he’s a drug cheat and that it could strip him of his seven Tour de France titles? And that he’s been barred from competing in triathlons, a pursuit he took up after retiring from cycling last year?
It’s one thing when some French newspaper or some foreign event officials or some disgraced racer claims over the past few years that Armstrong used performance-enhancers and that he should be viewed in a whole different light on account of that, but it’s altogether another when the organization charged with the responsibility of heading the anti-doping effort for Olympic sports in the United States, a powerful agency that almost never loses cases, jumps aboard that claim.
Armstrong, who was on a mountain in France when he found out about the charges and declined to meet with USADA inside the required week’s time, thought he’d already beaten the rap against him when the feds dropped a two-year investigation into doping-related crimes four months ago.
This time, he was the only one of a number of U.S. cyclists who refused to meet with the agency upon notification. On Twitter, he referred to the inquiry as a “witch hunt,” and added in a statement that the charges were “baseless” and “motivated by spite.”
“I have never doped,” he said.
He has never doped.
Man, oh man. Lance, we want to believe you, brother.
It occurs that Armstrong is either the most falsely accused, picked on great athlete ever or he’s harboring a huge secret that, bit by bit, is having its cover blown. He’s gone from the greatest American rider of all time to the greatest American hider.
He has meant so much to so many people in this country for so many reasons far beyond his athletic prowess. After these latest charges broke, I talked with a friend, a cancer survivor, who was inspired to fight his own fight, in part, by Armstrong’s story. If the great racer could battle through and come back from testicular cancer, my friend said, then maybe he also could somehow do likewise against the monster that had settled in the form of a grapefruit-sized tumor on his brain. My friend is nine years clean now.
What, then, does he — or any of us who have been moved by Armstrong — do with this kind of information about the great inspirer?
“I don’t know,” my friend said.
We do what sports fans of nearly every frame of reference are forced to do in these unfortunate sporting times. We suspect. We don’t know. We know nothing, not with any certainty. But anytime we see a great performance of any kind — a large home run, a large number of home runs, a historic time in the 100 meters, a notable putting of the shot, a season of great blocks or tackles, any sort of fantastic athletic feat in any realm — we wonder. We wonder if a handful of weeks or months or years down the road, incriminating evidence will surface, confirming our suspicions.
The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday news of a 15-page letter from USADA to Armstrong and others filled with the new allegations. The agency said it collected blood samples from him over a two-year period that were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”
According to the Post report, the letter alleges that “multiple riders with firsthand knowledge” and other witnesses will testify against Armstrong, claiming not only that he used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, masking agents and human growth hormone, but also that he distributed and administered drugs to riders over an extended period.
Armstrong says it’s all a bunch of B.S.
The only things as bad as an innocent being falsely accused are: 1) the guilty getting away with an absolute lie, and 2) everybody else never knowing who to trust, the accuser or the alleged liar.
If we care about sports and fair competition, if we believe that achievement should come from natural skill and hard work, not out of a bottle or a lab, that last one is the burden chucked upon all of us.
So, what are we supposed to do now?
Carry it, along with our hopes and our doubts.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.