Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Given that I live in Austin (and have for 25 years), and know lots of people, you probably knew this was coming.

Lance Armstrong recorded an interview with Oprah yesterday in which he "confessed" to doping. This is a very transparent attempt to move the narrative from "utterly disgraced" to "redemption", but I do think that Armstrong is a fascinating character in an almost Shakespearean way.

20th century Shakespeare, anyway.

Here are a few things about Armstrong that are incontrovertible.
#1 He's a dick
Seriously, he's one of the biggest dicks in the history of sports. An unbearable bully who utterly humiliated anyone who crossed him, including close friends. A guy who has almost no longstanding friends (who don't work for him) because he's burned almost every relationship he's ever had. Wasn't it amazing when the USADA report was released in October, and no one came to his defense? No one defended his character, no friend came forward to say what a great guy Lance was. The silence was deafening.

I've also personally been told some incredible stories from people locally who have had contact with Armstrong. I've never heard a single good one. Hell, I've never even heard one where he didn't come off as a complete asshole.

#2 He's helped raise a lot of money for Livestrong, his cancer foundation 
Lots of money, although almost none of that money actually goes to cancer research (surprised? This article is excellent reading: It's Not About The Lab Rats.

This is the single biggest reason that I find Armstrong fascinating. Without Livestrong, he'd just be another incredibly arrogant bully who masterminded the most sophisticated doping program in sports history. Even if he used Livestrong as a beard, though, people still benefited.

So how does #1 reconcile with #2? It doesn't, really, yet both of them are true. Although if you look at #3, it's easier to understand

#3 Armstrong isn't a person. He's a brand.
If you want to build a personal brand, is there any better way to do it than creating a cancer charity? No, not really. Am I saying that's why he created Livestrong? No, I can't say that, because I don't have proof. Is it one possible explanation that fits the circumstances, though? Yes.

Incredibly, though, that brand is now destroyed.

Based on all available evidence, the single thing that Armstrong absolutely cannot stand is irrelevance, both for himself and his brand. With his lifetime ban, and the release of the USADA report, there was no longer any reason for anyone to write about him. He no longer mattered. This was the only thing he could do to become relevant again, even if it's only temporary.

#4 Doping is analog, not digital
If  you're not familiar with performance enhancing drugs, the argument that "everyone was cheating--Lance just leveled the playing field" might make sense. Doping, though, isn't a 0 or 1 proposition. It's analog. Some people benefit more from PEDs than others, and some doping programs are far more effective than others.

Armstrong wasn't just a doper. He was the alpha doper. He coordinated the most sophisticated doping operation in the history of cycling (and, in all likelihood, the history of organized sports). If you want a detailed technical explanation (which makes for fascinating reading), go here: From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France. The upside, though, is that Lance's team ran the most sophisticated doping operation, by far, and Armstrong himself paid extra to be on a special doping program that was not available to his teammates.

So Armstrong wasn't leveling the playing field. He was tilting it, and heavily, in his direction.

#5 He's not giving any of the money back.
I know, that's not a surprise, but Armstrong's net worth (before the USADA report was released) was estimated at $125 million, which means his career earnings (mostly from endorsements) were certainly north of $150 million. All of those earnings, every cent, were based on an elaborate fraud. So now that he's confessing, is he giving any of the money back?

Not likely.

#6 We all lose.
As someone who loves sports, who loves the idea of fair competition, I am so sad that it's again come to this. After the fiasco that enveloped Major League Baseball, and track and field, and most other competitive sports of the last two decades, it's a hollow feeling.

It would be different if, at some point, this would stop, but it won't. The next step is genetic manipulation, which will be entirely undetectable. Gene therapy. It's coming, if it isn't already here.

Okay, now that I've completely depressed myself, I have a lighter post coming up shortly.

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