Lance Armstrong announced today that he will no longer fight the charges against him made by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. For years, the USADA has attempted to prove that the seven-time Tour de France winner used illegal means to secure his numerous professional accolades. In the opening to the statement explaining his decision, Armstrong says,
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, “Enough is enough.” For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart’s unconstitutional witch hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.”
And really, he will be finished with the world of cycling. The federal investigator that Armstrong referred to released a statement barring Armstrong from competitive cycling and stripping him of his Tour de France titles. Armstrong announced his obvious retirement from the sport. As a professional cyclist, the career that earned him fame and fortune, Armstrong is definitely finished.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I know all about doping issues in professional sports. I have to admit that I don’t follow the cases, the USADA or even Lance Armstrong’s career very closely. My opinion on the validity of the charges against the cyclist are pretty useless. But that doesn’t make the story any less intriguing.
As I read about Armstrong’s decision, all I could wonder is how much it would take to make me consider giving up my biggest professional accomplishment. It would be like working for decades to write the “Great American Novel” and then refusing to defend myself when someone claimed that I plagiarized the whole thing. I’m not sure that any size or scope of witch hunt could make me consider such a thing.
Armstrong stated, “I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours,” and he’s right. Everyone knows. We also know that his name will be one of the asterisks. It’ll be the one with parentheses explaining that his titles were stripped because of doping charges. From now on, there will continue to be a cloud raining on his professional parade of achievements.
Armstrong details all the ways that the USADA has wronged him. He vilifies their processes, their charges and their overall existence. But in the face of something evil, don’t we expect Lance Armstrong to fight for what’s wrong. The man who encourages thousands to fight against disease, don’t we expect him not to back down? And if we were talking about my most prestigious moment, I would like to think that I would continue fighting to my very last breath.
Lance Armstrong says that he will be refocusing career. “Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances. I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities.” I have no doubt that he is capable of doing more really amazing things in his professional life. He will bounce back from the controversy.
But that won’t stop the doubt that most people feel about him. It won’t stop the fact that his record is officially smirched. His ethics are now questionable. He gave up the fight. And there will be plenty, like me, who feel like that’s a pretty extreme decision for an innocent man.