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DISCLAIMER AND SPOILER: If you are a Lance Armstrong advocate, please relax and read on. This isn't really about Lance, but it is about you, and you, and you, and the good ol' U.S. of A.

In August, The Onion ran a brilliant faux-news story on the increasingly discredited Tour de France champion: "Lance Armstrong Lets Down Single Person Who Still Believed Him."

On October 10, 2012, the USADA released a staggering report on not just Armstrong, but essentially every recognizable American cyclist during Armstrong's reign as the king of the Tour de France. Throughout the decades of charges of doping against Armstrong, the humor in The Onion article has been factually discredited since Armstrong supporters have remained undeterred by evidence of any kind regarding his use of PEDs. With the USADA release, the same pattern has occurred on Facebook and other social media with droves of people supporting George Hincapie and the numerous American cyclists who, unlike Armstrong, have confessed to a career of doping to succeed as professional cyclists.

I have been a serious cyclist for almost 30 years now, and I confess that I have watched virtually every professional cycling event over those decades, amazed at the feats of professional cyclists. Having ridden about 8,000-10,000 miles a year many years over the past three decades and completed several grueling cycling events (centuries in the mountains, day-long rides exceeding 200 miles), I did not need to be an elite athlete to recognize cycling as a disturbingly difficult athletic performance.

In fact, I have often wondered: How in the hell do they do that? [Hint: Seems pretty obvious that the answer is most of the "winners" have had more on their side than unique physical talent and exemplary training.]

While Lance Armstrong's physical and mental talents (with or without doping) are unique, the Armstrong story is, in fact, nothing special. It is, instead, All-American bull$#!@.

All-American Bull$#!@: If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, Well...

Before I move on to Armstrong and the reek of bull$#!@ surrounding everything about him and his cycling career, let me ask you, dear reader, to comtemplate a few names:

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker

Tiger Woods

(Former) Governor Mark Sanford (SC)

Now, if you'd like, take a few minutes to google and consider what they have in common. And while you're at it, you may want to do the same with any or all of the Founding Fathers—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and the lot.

Back and finished? (Wikipedia is often undervalued, I think.)

Now let's take one more brief diversion, just to put everything in context and assure you that I am not simply piling onto Armstrong (my intent is much more offensive than that, and more far reaching).

While Joel Klein is likely not on the popular radar like Armstrong, Woods, or others noted above, the "story about a story" concerning Klein is a stark message speaking to my point here. According to Rothstein, Klein, as a powerful self-proclaimed education reformer, has persistently used his own autobiography to reinforce his rugged individualism, rags-to-riches philosophy undergirding the "no excuses" education reform movement; but:

"...Klein’s entire autobiography is a sleight of hand.

"Klein was not a child of the streets. He was not an academically unmotivated student. He did not come from a deprived family background. He did not grow up in public housing as we understand it today.

"He was not a child of the streets. He was not an academically unmotivated student. He did not come from a deprived family background. He did not grow up in public housing as we understand it today."

Armstrong, like Klein and many others in the cult of personality that is the U.S. of A., is a "story about a story"—a story that Americans buy and sell.

The young Armstrong side-by-side with his faithful mother defeating adult triathletes! Let's not ignore the Texan Armstrong!

The neophyte professional cyclist Armstrong who began to make dents in a European sport! World Champion!

The young promising American athlete diagnosed with cancer!

The young promising American athlete defeating cancer by his shear will to survive and with his beautiful blond wife at his side! And, hot damn, there's a book (or two)!

The young promising American athlete and cancer survivor who beats the Europeans in the Tour de France!

Seven times!!!!!!!

While building a glowing monument to cancer survivors around the planet! Live Strong! Yellow will never be the same...

[Sorry, I have goose bumps and must pause a second.]

Many people are stunned, and some remain blinded by their jaundiced-colored glasses (apologies for the many-layered and complicated pun). But the story about a story regarding Armstrong is that he built a persona America taught him to believe, a persona Americans want to believe, but a persona that does not exist, never has, and never will.

It's bull$#!@. Pure and total All-American bull$#!@.

Having high aspirations, believing in inspiring personal stories, embracing role models, working hard and overcoming adversity—these remain perfectly wonderful things, even valuable things.

But that's not the Armstrong story. It wasn't the Tiger Woods story either. Or a whole list of people who have made themselves along with our help larger than life.

The Ayn Rand rugged individualism trope stinks to high heaven, but Americans traffic in it like its a patch of golden honeysuckle.

It's a lie, and a corrosive one at that. Not like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Or telling small children to be kind to one another.

The rugged individualism myth perpetuates a misguided faith in the privileged and elite (success is as much luck as effort, if not more luck) along with a caustic demonizing of everyone else, especially the people mislabeled losers of one kind or another. Poverty and losing are often as much bad luck as flawed character, if not more often bad luck.

Armstrong is not someone to be worshipped or castigated.

He is a mirror. He is us. He could not have created this without us. (More punning by the way: "us" and "U.S.")

And this isn't as sanctimonious as it may seem: I wanted it all to be true too. I'm not all that surprised we are compelled to reach for faerie tales. But many years ago, I found that the Batman myth was far more satisfying than the Superman myth because the latter gave off the stench of All-American bull$#!@.

Americans clinging to the rugged individualism myth are a people and country unwilling to grow up. The Armstrong story about a story is just the most recent opportunity to set aside "myths that deform" (Freire, 2005, p. 75) and confront the realities before us.


Freire, P.. (2005). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare to teach. Trans. D. Macedo, D., Koike, & A., Oliveira. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Armstrong clique (6+ / 0-)

    ride around where they train like a flock of roid ragers. Even after charges were brought BTW. They have no interest in stopping.

    "Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" John Lennon - Working Class Hero

    by Horace Boothroyd III on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 07:23:15 AM PDT

  •  I'm staying out of bike shops for at least a month (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corvo, VeloVixen, jfromga, Roadbed Guy

    The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

    by raboof on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 07:25:36 AM PDT

  •  Very, very disappointed in Armstrong (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VeloVixen, jfromga, Cedwyn, corvo, karmsy

    and the whole culture.  But not surprised.

    Stop it. This is hard.

    by chicago minx on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 07:27:13 AM PDT

  •  Ought to just make all drugs legal (4+ / 0-)

    in professional sports anyway.  And maybe amateur sports as well, since the boundary between the two is regularly flouted, and with impunity besides.

    Still, it's increasingly hard for me to think that Armstrong isn't a real creep.

  •  I met and rode with Armstrong in Austin (7+ / 0-)

    in 2004 for the Ride for the Roses.  Nice enough guy, but ask anyone in the business (I asked Andy Hampsten) and they will tell you that in person, he's a jerk.  Quoting Hampsten, you cannot be a 'nice guy' and succeed in competitive cycling.

    Although I haven't ridden quite as much as you have, I have been riding for 10 years, 5,000 miles a year, and centuries, multi-day rides, etc.  My proudest accomplishment is finishing Mont Ventoux.   For me, Lance was and is an icon.  I want to die flying down a hill with the wind in my face.  But more iconic to me is what Lance did and does for the cancer community.  He's the reason I founded a non-profit to raise $ for cancer survivors in my community.  Am I disappointed in his alleged doping?  Of course.  Do I like his personal lifestyle, having ditched his first wife and gone through multiple girlfriends and kids?  No.  But he was a catalyst for me to do something I am proud of.  And that's all I really care about.

  •  If everyone is doing it, (5+ / 0-)

    I mean if it's the baseline it cheating?

    They can't even give his TDF titles to the runners up, as they were doping too.

    He may be a doper and a dick, but what he's done for cancer victims compels me to forgive him.

    Keep Calm and Carry On. But kick some unholy ass if the situation warrants.

    by GOPGO2H3LL on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 07:32:43 AM PDT

    •  This is an important point here. (5+ / 0-)

      For example, in the 2000 Tour, if you strip Armstrong, who do you give the title to?  The next 15 riders in the standings were either outright caught doping, implicated in doping scandals, or rode for teams that had a known systematic team-wide doping program (USPS, ONCE/Liberty, Kelme, Telekom, Festina, etc).  Are you going to award the Tour to a domestique who finished an hour or more behind just because he was never important enough to really investigate?  If you say you're going to strip Armstrong of his titles, I think you really have to just nullify all of those races completely (and probably 1996-1998 as well since Riis, Ullrich, and Pantani were all caght or admitted doping as well...).

      •  It is altogether probable (2+ / 0-)

        that there has not been a "top ten" rider in the Tour for decades who did not use performance enhancing drugs at least in training.  It would be literally impossible to find someone assuredly "clean enough" to declare a "winner".

        Just as it would be hard to find a Super Bowl winning team (from the same era) with no steroid users.  And then there's baseball . . .

        Pretty much have to void all the sports titles from the late 20th and early 21st centuries . . .

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 10:06:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Better living through chemistry! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jfromga, Cedwyn, karmsy

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    —Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 07:36:45 AM PDT

  •  Tom Wolfe The Right Stuff (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    karmsy, tobendaro, marina, Chi, Ckntfld

    I have always thought that his dicussion of the single  combat warrior mythos in the American context was an excellent examination of this phenomenon.   And the book itself an example of how compelling it is, because in the end in many ways it perpetuates the mythos.

    All humans are flawed, but most are capable of extraordinary acts, some borne of selfish motives, some noble motives, that make those of us who never are extraordinary, marvel at what they do and wish we could, too.

    Drugs in high level sports,  be it Ann Romney's dressage horse that was drugged so it could continue to perform, an Olympic runner, a professional cyclist, a football player or a baseball player chasing the home run record, has become the norm.   I would prefer that it wasn't.  

    But in most cases (I disagree with drugging animals, they have no say, and if injured or suffering a chronic condition, they should not be forced to continue working for humans' ego satisfaction),  it is not one person cheating, it is everybody.  Those not willing to abuse themselves, drop out.   And that is what is wrong with it,  great athletes not willing to risk their health, can't compete,  and the system encourages children/teenagers and unfortunately, their parents who should know better,  to join in early to succeed.

    It is not just bullshit,  it is the willingness to do anything to succeed being set as the ideal.  Morals, ethics, honesty, common sense get set aside.

    And then you end up with the batshit crazies setting the agenda.   And that is destructive.

  •  Wish I could... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corvo, smartdemmg, karmsy, Chi

    ...purge him from my copy of Dodgeball. His sanctimonious, self-serving little speech is sickening.

    There is a big difference between Armstrong and Tiger Woods. Woods never cheated in golf. Cheated on his wife, yes, but his accomplishments in his sport are legitimate.

    I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

    by itsjim on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 07:54:11 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for the diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plthomasEdD, Chi, Deward Hastings

    "If you'd just show some gumption, like __(fill in the blank), you wouldn't be indebted/addicted/a single mother/overweight/uninsured/unemployed."

    There's another problem with the Lance Armstrong mystique, too. Namely, the false ideal that we're supposed to strive for, that he's supposed to represent, itself, is becoming less attainable. The bar is rising higher and higher. Surely you've seen the ads in this venue for testosterone supplements? Not to increase a professional athlete's prowess, per se, but to help a guy "feel like a new man" and still score with babes as he ages. Then there was the segment on NPR about bankers and men in the financial industry taking testosterone pills to keep them competitive and virile so they could "compete with the younger guys coming up." As if maturity were completely worthless, as if it conferred no advantages.

    The other evening, I was watching a Netflix movie from the 1970s called "3 Women," directed by Robert Altman. The main female characters were played by Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall, neither of whom is "a looker," by any stretch of the imagination. This, as I understand it was a Hollywood movie. But it really struck me as antiquated. Nowadays, a female lead must be stunning.

    Just being human, is somehow not enough anymore. Aside from what this diary discusses, I find that creepy.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 08:06:25 AM PDT

  •  Americans seem to want (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina, karmsy, Chi

    to live in a myth or a fairy tale or a soap opera.  Apparently our lives are just not exciting enough so we must pretend they are and insert our egos into these scenarios.  I have been pointing this out all of my adulthood.  When I passed into that realm I noticed this phoniness and attachment to clouds and whimsey.  It bothered me.  I also noticed politics becoming this way thanks to Ronald Reagan.  The actor.  The man who knew exactly how to delude the public into voting against their best interests.  Follow the script.  You have laid the script out nicely.  

    Everyone! Arms akimbo!

    by tobendaro on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 08:23:36 AM PDT

  •  Cycling was always a drug store event, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    karmsy, BlackSheep1

    beginning with amphetamines if not before.  When things like anabolic steroids and EPO came along many athletes rationalized their use as not being "performance enhancing" anyway (you don't take them on race day) but as training enhancing . . . things that produced a persistent physical "improvement" that extended from before to well past the race itself.  Steroid use in body building set the precedent . . . those muscles didn't just appear when the pill was popped, and it still took regular "conditioning" to produce the desired results.

    The difference between EPO and training at high elevations?  Altitude.  With maybe a bit of convenience thrown in . . . you don't have to move to Pikes Peak for training.  Or not . . . depending on your perspective.  But many athletes argued, or at least rationalized, "here I am on the starting block, I'm "drug free" now, what does it matter what I did to get here?"

    Armstrong is indeed a "special case" . . . all evidence suggests that his drug use began quite legitimately as part of his cancer recovery therapy, and some of it will reasonably continue for the rest of his life.  At what point do you tell him "no more, you've go to stop that now"?

    Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

    by Deward Hastings on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 08:50:59 AM PDT

    •  i don't think so (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      karmsy, Ckntfld

      he if was on all this stuff he should have been honest about it.

      they cheated.  they evaded the testers etc.  his whole team!

      not just him.

      -You want to change the system, run for office.

      by Deep Texan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 09:42:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The whole field . . . (0+ / 0-)

        not just him or his team.

        There were no "drug free" riders in the Tour . . . at least not in the top ten or twenty.

        So who do you say "won" ? ? ?

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 10:09:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  the very first one to cross the finish line (0+ / 0-)

          who wasn't doping.  

          it wasn't everybody.  some people do have honor and respect.

          maybe not enough but some do.

          and they should be the winners.  

          not the cheaters.


          -You want to change the system, run for office.

          by Deep Texan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 10:54:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  "it wasn't everybody" (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            You'll have a hard time proving it.

            Remember back when they were called the "Dallas Drugboys" ? ? ? (not to be confused with the Oakland 'Roiders of the same era).

            Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

            by Deward Hastings on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 11:31:59 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  they have the drug tests for the riders (0+ / 0-)

              those who used EPO will and should be disqualified.

              other sports should follow their lead.

              -You want to change the system, run for office.

              by Deep Texan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 02:22:34 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Armstrong never failed (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                a drug test for EPO.

                That may simply be because he was as good a "cheater" as he was a cyclist, but if "drug tests" are to be your standard then either Armstrong should not be disqualified or every cyclist where there is the slightest suspicion (which is all of them) should be.

                If you believe otherwise then please provide a list of Tour cyclists who are verifiably "clean" and eligible to receive the refurbished medals . . .

                Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

                by Deward Hastings on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 04:30:42 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  i suspected he was cheater a long time ago (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    karmsy, Ckntfld

    when EPO was breaking into the public mainstream, i figured that's what they were doing.  i figured most of the top people were probably on it, along with other stuff.  which is why the sports generally just shrug the accusations away and continue on.

    I wouldn't be surprised if his cancer was related to his training meds.

    -You want to change the system, run for office.

    by Deep Texan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 09:38:08 AM PDT

  •  I'm just happy that cycling is a mainstream sport (0+ / 0-)

    Say what you want about Mr Armstrong, but he put an American face on the Tour de France. I will always be grateful for his doing so, doping or not. He got the attention of many Americans that previously may have considered anyone that rode a bicycle to be something less than patriotic.

    Everyone does it is not an excuse for any bad behaviour. But Lance Armstrong will always be a champion in my heart and mind.

    Call him the Barry Bonds of cycling if you want, I still need a few real heroes.

    Mitt's full of it / Ryan's lyin' -- "Your money and your life."

    by BusyinCA on Sat Oct 13, 2012 at 12:44:22 PM PDT

  •  You could give me every drug in the book... (0+ / 0-)

    and I still wouldn't win a single Tour de France, let alone seven.

    I mean, he still had to pedal the bike. It's not like he had a jet-pack hidden under his tunic.

    So obviously the drugs give an advantage, but how much of an advantage?

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