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It's not about Lance

For those of you who don't catch the reference, It's Not About The Bike was the title of a Lance Armstrong autobiography. This time, it's not about Lance.

That was my takeaway from the Oprah interview last night. Despite the media frenzy--and frenzy of hatred from the endurance sports community--Lance actually came across as a calm, put-together, honest, articulate, unashamed, not-so-apologetic...victim.

Yes, victim. Not in the passive, usual sense. But certainly undeserving of the pedestal that the public has set him on as a hero. As he said himself in the interview, he neither started the doping culture nor did anything to stop it. That, rationally, should put him somewhere in between.

Because, oh yes, he most definitely is a cheater. And a liar. ...And a cancer survivor. Champion. One of the greatest athletes who ever lived. Such are the problems of the times we live in. Complicated. He was/is a member of a larger culture that dominated him.

That's the problem with Lance once you get beyond the initial "he's a bad guy" mentality is that the more we heard last night, the more we realize that he's not the problem. He's just a guy with a will to win at all costs. But that is the same attitude that a fairly large percentage of any sports culture has. It's not unique to cycling. It's in the NBA, MLB, NFL, NCAA...Dance Moms on cable tv. He didn't think it was cheating at the time.

For those playing catchup, last night Lance admitted that all of his Tour de France wins were doped. But when the testing regulations finally were improved in the sport, he rode clean (by necessity) for his 3rd place in 2009 and his race in 2010. His particular drugs of choice: a little EPO, blood transfusions, and testosterone--which he explained away with his cancer survival.

If you haven't been inside a sports culture, all this is pretty cut and dried. He was wrong, he's a bad guy, that's all there is to it. But the best way I can think to explain it is if you've ever lined up for a race then do a thought experiment with me, will you?

You're at the start line after having clearly read the rulebook which states "no racer shall use shoes which have rockets attached." Ok, that seems like a good rule. But then you realize that your rivals and nearly everyone in the race is standing there warming up in their rocket shoes. And no official from the race is checking or going to stop the rocket shoe crowd. How do you compete to win if you don't use rocket shoes?

Suddenly, Lance has forced us into a conversation about larger issues of corruption in sports, the emphasis on winning, and the growing inability of the public to enjoy sports without shame. The funny thing about Lance Armstrong is that it's really all water under the bridge at this point. Whether you love him or hate him, he's probably the reason you care at all about the sport of cycling. He breathed life into triathlon with his presence. Pros wanted to race against him because--well, he's the best.

The funny thing about Lance Armstrong is that, in the end, he's given us all a healthy dose of everything across the human spectrum. It's hard not to find some symbolism. This isn't about Lance. It's about the culture that gave birth to him, surrounded him, adored him, rejected him, and is now having a fairly gruesome debate about what it all means.



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