Lance Armstrong is going on Oprah to admit the facts that we’ve long known, that he is a false champion, a doper and a fraud. I wish he wouldn’t. I don’t care if/that these facts are true. Reality couldn’t matter less. The thing that really matters is the symbol that we’ve lost.
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We can all agree that the evidence is pretty conclusive, to the point where the man has lost all 7 of his Tour de France titles and been banned for life from participating in the competition. As further information trickles out from underneath the curtain we’ve learned about systemic drug use, lawsuits and intimidation. That nice-seeming, levelheaded, leader of men that we saw speaking about the importance of health and activity for Livestrong and inspiring Vince Vaughn in a cameo for DodgeBall was a front. His story was fiction. The sad thing is that both the front and fiction served important functions while the truth functions mostly as a destroyer.
There are people whose lives are enriched by the truth of Armstrong’s character and misdeeds being revealed. The reporters, assistants and agencies who were all sued by Armstrong in the name of his charade all benefit from the man admitting his actions, even if he does so in a cagey and self-interested way. To an extent, they are all vindicated by his taking a seat on Oprah’s proverbial couch. While these people have been harmed by Armstrong’s choices and deserve the full revelation of the truth, there are many whose lives and struggles have been hindered by that same revelation. There are people who needed his lie.
We may have snickered at the yellow bracelets and, really, how many of us even care about cycling anyway (?) but the narrative of “Lance Armstrong: Cancer Survivor and Champion” meant something. The story of the man who was afflicted with testicular cancer, lived through one of the most humiliating surgeries imaginable and went on to become one of the greatest athletes in the world gave people hope. And the people who bought that story were the ones who needed it most. The front that he put forward inspired people to be healthier, donate money towards cancer research and provided an extra reservoir of will to men fighting for their dignity or future. For some, his story was literally the difference between hope and despair.
We all know the truth now. We’ve all seen him fall and in the process have gotten to know Lance Armstrong for the man he truly is. I wish we hadn’t. Where the fallen idol is useless the fiction had been important. That fiction is gone now, burned to nothing by the twin fires of truth and scandal. I wish it hadn’t been. We were better off with the story.
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