I really dislike cheaters. Except when I don’t. Mabye it’s because I’m a guy, or maybe it’s because I’m an American and wired to like rebels and scoundrels, or mabye it’s because I’m an African American and derive puckish joy when I see someone who manages to beat the system when the whole system is corrupt. This gets even muddier when it comes to professional sports. Lance Armstrongs’s confession to Oprah (conveniently leaked from a taped interview last night) that he used Performance Enhancing Drugs is at one point a triumph and also a horrible inditement of the entire sports industry. In the midst of that wide range, I can’t find much energy to actually dislike Lance Armstrong himself.
There are different types of cheating in professional sports and the level of vitriol lobbed at the cheater varies depending on the type of cheating and the perpetrator. Nobody likes it when cheating allows an athlete to do something that they never would have been able to do otherwise. By all accounts Mark McGuire was a past – his – prime slugger when he suddenly started hitting balls into the stratosphere in 1998. Finding out that he was a big fat cheater was dissappointing to say the least. On the other hand there plenty of other cheaters in professional sports where the impact is not so clear. Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were all hall of fame level althetes before they got heavily into the juice. The New England Patriots may have cheated with SpyGate but they still had to execute on the field and have broken scoring records and been to TWO Superbowls since getting caught. When you look at Lance Armstrong, you’d have to place him in the second category of cheaters, and thus less deserving of scorn and hatred. Unless he was taking Popeye’s Spinach there is no way that Lance wins 7 straight Tour De France Championships JUST because he was using PEDS. Especially when you consider that a large number of his top competitors were blood doping as well. Somewhere in there while he was huffing through the mountains was some innate ability that you couldn’t just find in a bottle.
There are those that argue that the Cyclist was a bully, and a jerk who intimidated and threatened others who testified against him or outed him as a doper. These are all true facts but they don’t make him the scum of the Earth. First, most of his accusers were dirty too and were simply mad that they got caught and he hadn’t and second most world class athletes are jerks so what else is new. My hope is that after this Oprah interview airs, (now in TWO Parts!) that Livestrong will survive and Americans will go back to forgetting cycling and get about the business of forgiving Lance Armstrong. He was a cheater in a system that wanted a star. In other words, don’t hate the player hate the game. Or just ignore the game entirely because that’s what we were all doing before we heard of Lance Armstrong.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.