In Defense of Armstrong
Well, kind of
Almost nothing gets people as riled up as when a beloved star falls from grace. We have seen it time and time again from Tiger Woods to Britney Spears. After doping allegations gained momentum, Lance Armstrong fell victim to the same media sensations that only a few have come back from. A man who was once the image of human determination, after battling back from the brink of cancer to win seven Tour de France titles, is now one of the most hated figures in the western world. Stars and fellow athletes including none other than Roger Federer, Anderson Cooper, Robbie McEwen, and more have all come out to criticize Armstrong over his use of performance enhancement drugs. Even number one ranked tennis player, Novak Djokovic was quoted last Friday saying that Armstrong should “suffer for his lies”.
While everyone seems to be attacking Lance Armstrong, not just as an athlete but also as a human being, I have always maintained that his work to fight cancer should outweigh his use of drugs when judged by the public eye. I am not saying that he should keep his titles or anything along those lines. Armstrong has indeed tarnished the sport of cycling and the reputation of sporting legends across the world. His credibility as an athlete should be erased but his professional mistakes should not be confused with his private and personal self, where he has dedicated himself to the fight against cancer.
In 1996 after entering the year as the highest ranked cyclist in the world (before doping), Armstrong had to enter several rounds of chemotherapy to counteract a severe case of testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. After surviving, Armstrong dedicated his life to helping others suffering from cancer. The following year he founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation to help collect money for grants and research to help fight cancer.
While Armstrong obviously benefited from cheating and winning his way through cycling, he used the fame and publicity to help his foundation as well. Not only is Armstrong the founder of the organization, but he is also its biggest donor with millions of dollars coming from prizes and endorsement money to help those in need.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation has now fundraised almost 500 million dollars. Through several charity events that Armstrong helped organize, the foundation was able to help fund 550 different organizations that are also fighting cancer. In a proactive measure, through 2011, it had given out 85 million dollars in grants for research. Last year it was reported to have helped over 225,000 people in person, online, and even over the phone. To top it all of according to ESPN, The Lance Armstrong Foundation is the largest athlete charity in history!
In wake of last year’s investigation, the first thing that Armstrong did was to leave the Foundation so that they would be spared the negative attention that he was about to receive. It is also widely reported that as Armstrong was on his way to meet with Oprah to confess to doping, he stopped by the Foundation’s headquarters and apologized to the staff.
In a statement put out by the Foundation after the interview, they expressed disappointment on how Lance had misled the public throughout the years but they were also grateful for the work that he had brought to the table in an effort to help cancer victims. When judging Armstrong as a professional athlete there is no way of going around the facts. This however, should not cloud our judgment of him as a man who in his private life dedicated himself to make the lives of those who were on the brink of death more tolerable.
Armstrong should be held accountable over the libel charges and tournament money refunds that he is facing. His records and legacy as a cyclist will never be what he wanted it to be, but to say that “he should suffer for his lies”, or that he is not a decent human being is going too far. The fight against cancer is, in my eyes, more important than any sport, and more of a measure of a man than lifting a trophy.