Lance Armstrong wore it well, as the old song goes. Cancer survivor, twice. Winner of seven Tour-de-France cycling races, often called the most grueling test in sports. Raised millions for cancer research. Scoffed at every accusation of cheating, doping. Intimidated media, friends, teammates into bending the narrative his way. “I’m Lance Armstrong and you’re not, motherfucker. I’m clean, everyone else is dirty and a liar.” Except he wasn’t and he was. Clean and a liar, that is.
Armstrong finally admitted (to a point) last night (to Oprah, naturally) that his whole career was a charade, a scam of the first order that everything else pales in comparison. All that was missing was the jumping on the couch, maybe that’ll come tonight, in part deux. Because he’s Lance Armstrong, and we’re not.
But he’s just another in a long list of cheats and lairs and phonies. And none of these feel shame or remorse in what they do. (Except one, which I’ll mention at the end) Lance Armstrong may end up losing millions and millions on this, in lawsuits and paybacks, but he will still be the smug, arrogant prick he’s always been. Just like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Ray Lewis, Rob Parker, Marion Jones, Ban Johnson, Michelle Bruin, and anyone else you can name over the past 50 years who’s character has been ultimately besmirched in the name of plausible deniability.
Hey, it’s possible for a man to beat cancer, come back and win seven races while everyone around him is cheating, but he’s not. And Barry Bonds hit all those home runs without the aid of PEDs. And the East German’s won all their medals without steroids. Heck, the 1962 San Diego Chargers were all on steroids and won the AFL Championship. Baseball players took “pep” pills during the 1960’s, basically an “upper,” to borrow a 1960’s colloquialism. Think 5-hour energy.
Now, the problem with Armstrong and others isn’t that they cheated or lied or any of that. It’s that the bullied, cajoled and bent people into pretzels into believing their twisted stories and rationalizations. Garry Sheffield said “Steroids are something you take up your butt.” Yes, maybe in the 1950’s and 60’s, but not today. There are always rationalizations. Admissions, not so much.
Think about it. Not to hard, because you might become me. But there have been enough books and words written about sports to know what really goes on. The groupies, the sex, the fights, the drugs. Just read “Ball Four” and “North Dallas Forty” and you’ll get a good idea of what goes on at the high levels. And both of those books were written over 40 years ago! Scratch my back with a hacksaw, that stuff is mild compared to today.
Which brings us to the other story of the week, the strange saga of Manti Te’o. Te’o is a linebacker for the University of No Defense, er, Notre Dame. Considering how badly the Irish got beat in the B (S) CS championship game, a case could be made for the former, but I digress. Depending on whom you believe at the moment (and a poll released this afternoon said that 84% don’t) Te’o was (or wasn’t) the victim (or mastermind) behind the hoax to beat all hoaxes. Sports Illustrated wrote about it, ESPN did a story. They were all wrong.
He had a girlfriend, whom he met at Stanford. Whom he dated for three years. But, wait, they never met. She was in a terrible car accident, then the doctors discovered leukemia. Then she died. Then,miracle on miracles, she came back to life. Then it was discovered she wasn’t real or a she and perhaps Te’o was in on it (or maybe he wasn’t). The picture is real, the girlfriend isn’t.
If Te’o was in on it, he’s toast. If he wasn’t, he’s burnt eggs. No NFL team will touch him, after this story. Something doesn’t add up. And it’s not the 42-14 beating the Irish took last week.
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” If these two, and others, played it straight, we might not have such a jaded, cynical view of everything. But, as Armstrong and Te’o demonstrated, nothing is as it seems. It never has been, never will be. That’s reality.