Victim of American Iconoclasm – Lance Armstrong

Posted: August 24, 2012 in Bunker

I’ve seen this story before. Controversy surrounds and subsequently follows the great sports hero. Those who are closest to the hero claim that the hero is being “framed”, use words like “witch hunt” or “McCarthyism” in some rare cases to justify the defense of their hero.  It’s America, guilty before innocent, they say. We’re asked to wait until all the evidence comes out and then we can truly judge the hero fairly.

We saw this with Joe Paterno, who was immediately given a pass by the media when the news first broke that his former Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was being accused of multiple accounts of child molestation. Outlets such as ESPN and the AP were quick to remind people that Paterno had no connection to the scandal and was not being investigated for the alleged crimes. Penn State fans took to the streets to defend Paterno, who at the time, couldn’t really fend for himself.


9 months later, the Freeh report was made public, chronicling all of the wrongdoings of the Penn State administration, including one Joe Paterno. Some cried foul play as they felt it was spitting on Joe Pa’s grave. Turns out heroes can still suffer public backlash after death. Jo Pa started with humble beginnings, elevated himself to divinity, died in worship and is remembered in death, shamefully.

Posthumous Joe Paterno garnered much less praise It took Penn State less than a week to remove statue and within a week or two the NCAA laid Penn State with harsh sanctions.

I’ve seen this before in San Francisco. Barry Bonds, a hero to anyone who ever rooted for the Giants. Arguably the greatest baseball player anyone has ever picked up a bat was accused of using steroids. Giant fans were absolutely in denial, despite all of the evidence that there was something suspicious about Bonds’ power resurgence at the end of his career.

Bonds could defend himself. Not only did he do that, he pointed fingers at the same people pointing at him. Defiant. Angry. Passionate. All the things that were always used as attributes that made him an amazing athlete, were on full display as the questions regarding BALCO and steroids came in.





At the end of the day, Barry Bonds has never tested positive for steroids. But most of us are reasonable people and given the evidence surrounding Bonds understand that his heroic talents are a result of something other than just natural skill. Right Bob?

I’ve seen this with Rafael Palmiero. And then there was this.

Mark McGwire was brought in to testify for Congress. But he seemed to not want to talk about the past. I wonder why? Sooner or later, we found out why. Mark McGwire was the media darling in the Home Run chase. He was worshipped in St. Louis and around the country. He saved baseball from the stain of the 1994 strike. Even he wasn’t immune.

Now we have Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and 7-time Tour de France winner. He has the All-American look, the sympathetic story and the comeback story of a lifetime. Not to be cliché, but you could not write a better movie script. So when we hear about accusations from his teammates and the Cycling association, we don our red, white and blue flag and defend Armstrong as passionately as possible. Lance isn’t just a hero to a city, a state, an organization, or a sport; he’s an American hero. That’s an important distinction. As much as American fans are known to build up their athletes to divinity, we don’t do it nearly as much as it seems. We’re much better at destroying them in a moment’s notice. But Lance, we protected. We tried to convince ourselves that he was one of the only clean cyclists, while also being the best (Only American iconic status can justify such an illogical equation). We convinced ourselves that he dominated the field despite being the only clean cyclist. We said Lance has got to be clean, because he’s never failed a test. We don’t want to believe he’s guilty.

When the USADA investigated things began to change. It was one of our own going after Lance. It was no longer us against them. Lance was just another alleged doper.  The accusations and evidence had mounted.  Instead of continuing his fight against these accusations, Lance has thrown his hands up and will no longer try to clear his name. He isn’t admitting guilt, but I guess those attorney fees have not been worth it as these USADA continues their push for the truth.

I’m not always sure what to make of Lance Armstrong; a hero for surviving cancer and dominating a sport wearing the flag, but a cheater… I find myself much more comfortable with the first two statements. Which is the problem to begin with. Heroes are flawed. Lance is flawed. If I’m to look at this story honestly, side by side with all the others like it, Lance is going down. As other stories have also shown, the heroes you fight, the harder they fall.

Lance, put your cape on and prepare for the worst.


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