The florescent rubber bracelet was a staple of the middle school cafeteria. Most kids had just one or two, but everyone had that friend whose entire arms were covered with bands. I’m sure somewhere on their arms was the yellow Livestrong bracelet that started the trend.
Tens of millions bracelets have been sold since their release in 2005. The sales have contributed to the $470 million raised in the organization’s 15-year history. Armstrong himself, the longtime chairman of the foundation, has recently stepped down after additional charges of performance enhancing drug use were brought against him.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued a report detailing Armstrong’s extensive use and distribution of performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs. The International Cycling Union (UCI) subsequently stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour De France victories. The Union also issued him a lifelong ban on cycling.
In the USADA report, a group of former teammates testified he bullied and threatened them to remain silent. Though Armstrong has yet to admit to these accusations, the findings that the USADA released in a 1,000-page document seem to confirm rumors of Armstrong’s PEDs use.
These recent developments have shattered the iconic image of Armstrong that my generation grew up with. He has been a symbol for those fighting cancer and an inspiration to thousands, but now he has been exposed as a cheater and bully. This fall from grace raises numerous questions about Armstrong’s legacy. His name has been erased from the record books, but how will those who idolized this man remember his story?
Cycling, wildly perceived as one of the “dirtiest” sports, has constantly been under fire for lax testing policies and minimal control over athletes. According to CBS news, out of the top 10 finishers in the seven Tour de Frances that Armstrong won, 41 have been accused of or have admitted to PEDs use. This context is certainly relevant and important as we decide how to remember Armstrong.
UCI president Pat McQuaid urged the public to “forget” Armstrong and that he was “sickened” by Armstrong’s actions. Perhaps I have just been callused by growing up through baseball’s steroid era, but Armstrong’s use of PEDs is not the damning evidence that McQuaid sees it as.
In a sport that’s plagued with PEDs and a career that attracted much suspicion of PED use, it’s hardly surprising that Armstrong was an avid user. What has impacted my image of Armstrong the most are the accusations and testimonies outlining how Armstrong bullied and threatened teammates, drug testers and cycling officials. Athletes are supposed to be willing to sacrifice anything for their teammates. This shows a completely different side to Armstrong’s character and has tainted his reputation. Regardless of your opinions on his PED usage, this will and should change the public’s view on Armstrong’s character.
However in the case of Armstrong, this bad cannot erase all the good he has done. As someone who has had numerous family members diagnosed with cancer and fought it, Armstrong will always be a hero to me. Obviously, he was more of a symbol and spokesman than a major organizer, but his inspiration and effort has contributed to the $470 million raised. Just like remembering other tarnished athletes, such as Pete Rose or Marian Jones, you have to judge the entire person. Now that Nike and Oakley have cancelled sponsorship deals and Armstrong has been stripped of his titles, it’s easy to make knee-jerk judgments. I urge anyone who grew up wearing those wristbands to seriously consider the entire man when deciding on his legacy.
Though Armstrong has clearly wronged many people and deserves consequences, the money he has raised and the hope he inspired is enough for him to be remembered favorably. The UCI’s decision to cut ties and erase the story of Lance Armstrong is ridiculous. Stripping Armstrong of his titles perhaps is justified, but his use of PEDs speaks more to the corrupt nature of the sport and less with the quality of Armstrong’s character. Armstrong should be remembered as all that he was and is: a liar, a cheat, and a competitor, yes, but most importantly a philanthropist and an inspiration to millions.
Timothy Burroughs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.