News sources have reported that Lance Armstrong is filming an episode today with Oprah in which he admits to doping during his cycling career. The episode is scheduled to be aired on Thursday. Like a slow-speed car crash, it’s hard to watch, and impossible to ignore. Let’s approach this methodically and see where we are with it.
FIRST, this is very obviously self-serving. Lance’s legal troubles are well-documented, as the recent events have left him open to liability for repaying money’s he’s earned, open to charges that he has defrauded the U.S. government (although the Justice Department has not to date joined in Floyd Landis’s lawsuit) and have left him ineligible to compete or be involved in the sports of cycling, triathlon and running. Regardless of the merits of his position, he admission does not seem to be at all a result of heartfelt contrition.
SECOND, Lance cannot be fairly compared to other cyclists who have been found to have doped. While we may be sympathetic to other cyclists who admit to doping while explaining that the pressures and culture of cycling led them to it, Lance went much further, not only organizing and administering a cheating program for his team, but also threatening and bullying anyone who had the temerity to question his involvement with drugs.
THIRD, what do we really know about Lance, or any other professional athlete? We have to remember that to us, these are strangers who are playing a game for money. They have not brought peace to the Middle East, found a cure for cancer, or helped the victims of poverty and disaster. Why are we holding them up as heroes? To those who point out that Lance has raised millions of dollars for cancer research, that’s great, but that’s not what’s at issue here.
FOURTH, why are we not more concerned with our own activities and races than we are with Lance’s problems? Years ago, I saw some graffitti that had been scrawled on a subway movie poster that said “Participate in Your Own Life.” Good advice. Better to spend an hour doing something rather than spend an hour watching someone else do something.
So where does this leave us? For me, the answer to any question about Lance is that I’m too busy living my own life to worry about his problems. I won’t be watching the Oprah interview.