Lance Armstrong Doping Scandal: He Didn't Cheat When He Beat Cancer, Let's Not Forget That


Many Lance Armstrong defenders are using the always popular, “everyone else was doing it” defense about the doping admissions. It’s somewhat shaky ground and not particularly persuasive. I have a much more simple reason for the fact that I do not care that Lance Armstrong doped: I don’t think about cycling at all. 

If you are a legitimate fan of cycling, then by all means take offense at Lance Armstrong. He was one of many who cheated in order to get ahead. Purists have the right to care. But in the U.S., Armstrong fans always outnumbered cycling fans by a laughable margin.  His popularity was only tangentially tied to his cycling, in the sense that he was a cancer survivor who was on top of his profession.

The public could care less about a winner of the Tour de France. But we cared about Lance Armstrong because he had, and still has, one of the most amazing backstories. He had testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain, giving him less than a 40% chance of survival. Once he recovered, he started the Livestrong Foundation and made the now familiar yellow bracelets. Armstrong was a hero and inspiration, not because of his cycling, but because of his more important job as chairman of Livestrong.

That story has not changed. Armstrong did not cheat when he beat cancer. Armstrong was an inspiration to millions and his devotion to his charity has not changed. The message behind the yellow bracelet should stay the same. Armstrong remains, in my eyes , a champion of a tragic cause.

Do Armstrong’s triumphs excuse his cheating and consequent cover-ups? Probably not.  He lied, misdirected, and even sued those who tried to expose the scandal. Having a heroic comeback doesn’t excuse Armstrong for cheating or give him a pass on the consequences. But for me, the image of those yellow bracelets is much stronger than any doping scandals. The Livestrong Foundation has raised more than $470 million since its inception in 1997. If Armstrong hadn’t doped, how much lower would that number have been? Would he have even won a Tour de France?

Lance Armstrong’s public persona was never as “the really great cyclist.” He was instead viewed as a survivor and inspiration. Stuart Scott, the ESPN broadcaster also afflicted by cancer, may have said it best when he said:

My image of Lance Armstrong was always as a man committed to helping others with the cancer that afflicted him. And that hasn’t changed.