Chris Marston: Sorry, Lance, it was my fault
Lance Armstrong cheated. I denied the lie for as long as I could. I wanted to hold out for the hero who inspired many of my family and friends. I wanted to believe that such a cheat was below a champion like Lance. But I cannot continue to fool myself.
If you are truly innocent of a crime, you can’t say you’re guilty just because you’re tired of controversy. You fight to the end. Champions like Lance should know that better than anyone. Obviously he had me as well as many others fooled.
However, before I add Lance to the scrap heap of other fallen heroes like Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, and Mark McGwire, I have to accept another painful truth: Lance cheated because of me.
I am a sports fan who cheers for home runs, world records, and hard-hitting, bone-crushing tackles. I want my team and my athletes to win. I watch professional sports games, even though I know half of the players out there are dopers. I vote with my beers, hot dogs, and tickets purchases for more steroids in sports.
I cheer for athletes like Lance, even when he is taking performing-enhancing drugs, because it would be unpatriotic—and, as an American, uncool—to cheer for the unknown guy in the back of the peloton who is playing by the rules and getting dropped by the pack.
And who can blame Lance for cheating? The stakes have never been higher. Athletes are better trained than ever before. Competition has never been more intense. Prize money and endorsements have never been more lucrative. Fans around the world are funding it. We get what we pay for.
Lance cheated because we wanted him to. We wanted him to win, at any cost. Unfortunately it is this American mindset that infiltrates more than our sports. We want our bankers on Wall Street to cheat the system if it keeps our investment returns in the double digits. We want our politicians in Washington, D.C. to cheat if it means cheaper gas at the pump.
If we want our heroes to stop cheating, we have to stop cheating ourselves. We have to hold our heroes to higher standards than just earning the top spot on the podium. We have to cheer for honesty, integrity, and second place.
That’s not easy for winner-take-all Americans to do. It’s even harder for my ten-year-old daughter to grasp. Last month, we watched the Olympic 800 meter race, cheering for American Nick Symmonds to catch Kenyan David Rudisha. Symmonds made a late surge but couldn’t reel the Kenyan in down the final straightaway. America’s best hope ultimately finished fifth, but he beamed as brightly as the Kenyan gold medalist.
“Why is he so happy?” my daughter asked. “He didn’t even get a medal.”
“He ran his fastest time ever,” I replied. “He ran the fastest he ever had.”
“Oh.” She thought for a moment, and then asked, “So I don’t have to win to be happy?”
Kevin Costner summed it up best while playing Billy Chapel in the movie For Love of the Game. Chapel pitched a perfect game during the movie all the time he reviewed his 19-year career both on and off the field.
In the closing scene of the movie he said, “I used to believe, and still do that if you give something your all, and everything that you have it doesn’t matter if you win or lose – as long as you risk everything. Put everything out there. I have done that. I did it my life. I did it with the game.”
After our discussion about winning and losing, my daughter ran through the house pretending to be Nick Symmonds, stumbling across the threshold of our living room. She emulated him digging deep for his best, even if it wasn’t the best, and finishing with a smile on his face.
That’s a hero I should be proud of.
Sorry Lance. It was my fault.
Chris Marston is the editor of www.LurayPageFreePress.com.