END OF THE LINE: This is the first of many to come as the Flensburg Files opens a new category called End of the Line. All Change Please, which focuses on the downfall of celebrities and the end of certain trends and traditions for various reasons. Lance Armstrong’s career came to an end because of a doping scandal which stripped him of seven Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2006 and several other honors. After refuting a 1000-page report accusing him of doping for over a year, Armstrong came clean with Oprah Winfrey in an interview this past Thursday. Here is the author’s comments which will bring him and his legacy to the end of the line.
I do not remember or know anyone who grew up not idolizing their favorite heros. We each had a hero to look up to, and for some, we still have them, even though their lifestyle and actions sometimes do not coincide with ours, let alone how we were raised by our parents. I have no idea how many people followed Lance Armstrong when he won seven straight Tour de France titles from 1999 to 2006, combined with other honors he gained. After his confession to Oprah Winfrey last night in an interview that his titles were not his own merit, it is unknown whether he has as many followers as he had in the past. There are many people still asking him why he did what he did- doping with seven different substances, all of which were banned by different cycling and sports organizations, in order to cheat his way to these titles. There are many who question his role model, why he set a bad example for the younger generations to follow. If I met him on the street, my question to him would be “Are you aware that your actions will taint the image of sports forever?”
There are two ways of looking at Armstrong’s confession. One is that of not being surprised. Thousands of athletes have pumped themselves up with performance enhancing drugs (considered illegal) and have gotten away with it, whether it was Lyle Alzado and John Matuszak using steroids to itimidate the offensive linemen in American football or Superstar Billy Graham and Kerry Von Erich admitting to drug use while in professional wrestling. Each one has had to admit their usage, but at the expense of their fame- and their health. Alzado died in 1992 of brain cancer, which he claimed was in connection with his steroid use. Matuszak died of a drug overdose in 1989. Von Erich committed suicide in 1992 after years of agony. Graham appears to be following suit after many health issues as a result of drug use. Each of these athletes had been banned from professional sports at one time or another, even if it was for a short time. And many still remember these people for their performance and as an icon, even though they fell from grace and out of favor with the public for their wrong doing and even if it came at the expense of their health. Lance Armstrong came a long way, from hanging on a thread because of testicular cancer that spread to his brain and lungs, to beating the disease setting up his foundation, to cycling his way to France for the titles. His fall from grace may not include the affects his drugs on his health but it presents a familiar ring that has been seen many times among athletes to a point where the public is becoming more indifferent to any sport that requires physical exertion and/or contact. If one sees Usain Bolt breaking world records in sprinting all the time, the defensive linemen of the Baltimore Ravens in American football, Sara Del Ray and Daizee Haze grappling each other in professional wrestling, or basketball players showing off their slam dunks, it would not be surprising if someone points out their potential for pumping themselves up. And even if they did admit to it, no one would care about it.
Or would they?
This is where the other point should be addressed. Armstrong’s confession might create a potential for a wave of storms to cause massive destruction in many professional sports, even if drug testing has been in force for years. For the past 10 years, professional cycling has been connected with drug use, for many athletes have been caught using them, stripping them of their titles and banning them for life. Now it appears that Armstrong will sink that sport for good, destroying a 150 year tradition and causing a stir among the French who enjoy being part of the Tour de France. Could other sports follow? If so, then which other sports should be black listed because of problems with performance-enhanced drugs? We know that the drug ring that Armstrong established was the most sophisticated, but who knows if it exists in other sports. It could be that the standards have increased to a point where it is impossible to reach them without the use of drugs. This was the point Armstrong was right on in his interview- seven Tour de France titles without the use of seven different drugs was next to impossible. If sports have become too aggressive or have standards that are too high, then it is time to reduce them to encourage other people to compete in a fair and kosher way. Otherwise we will have more people like Armstrong who will do anything possible to climb to the top. Sometimes going to the top takes more effort and time than it is when sprinting up there in the shortest time possible. If the latter is the case, one really has to ask himself how it was done and if it was their own merit.
Armstrong’s confession will definitely be the same as the confession of a killer in Crime and Punishment. Armstrong may have vindicated himself for admitting his wrong doing, but he will surely have a lot to do to clear his name. He may even have to spend time in prison for his actions, in addition to giving up the money that he received through many endorsements. But he will cleanse himself and the sport of cycling of all the lies that the public had to follow for all these year. Armstrong will serve as an icon but in a different way. He will be the symbol of the sports culture that has become as obsessive as the use of drugs in the US and elsewhere, the obsession that needs to be eradicated and the culture that needs to be reformed before more people become victim of lies and deceit. And while his career has come to the end of the line, it serves as a signal for all other athletes to fess up and come clean with their record, showing others that success is not through cheating, but through hard work. Sometimes just beating a dreadful disease like (testicular) cancer will do the trick…..