Sally Jenkins doesn’t just like Lance Armstrong, but (spoiler alert!) loves him, according to her latest gush in the Washington Post. And she’s pretty proud of how she can still love him when the public tide has turned against the world-famous winner of the Cascade Classic.
Proud she should be. She wrote two books for the two-time Tour de France stage winner, and considering both were bestsellers, it has to be hard for her to maintain such objectivity. David Walsh, amazingly, has issues, and details them on a much smaller stage—totally appropriate that a guy who was right all along toils in obscurity. He doesn’t love Lance.
What’s more striking to me is how she takes the public to task for turning on her hero. She opens, “I like Lance Armstrong, have always liked him. Not the fairy-tale prince, but the real him.” She penned the memoirs that introduced the cyclist to the world, so I can understand why she’d be angry that they believe the fairy tale she spun. That it’s the public’s fault is so important that she brings it up a second time, telling us toward the end, “I don’t understand those people who are bitterly angry to discover that he is not Santa Claus.”
Yes, since it was he who told her, and the world, many times that he was indeed Santa Claus, that we should believe in miracles, and that he was just training hard and busting his ass for his victories, she is right to be confused over why people are upset that he isn’t, there aren’t and he wasn’t.
Of course, she takes a moment to detail the real Lance. His dark side consists of once swinging a fist at another rider and being a hellion growing up. Hard to imagine that a person with such darkness could go on to win the Tour of Luxembourg. She neglects to mention the Lance who literally pulled a driver out of a car to beat him up, or the Lance who harassed a friend and teammate because the teammate was faster, or the Lance who sped through Austin at night running lights with a car full of people en route to a strip club. Or the Lance who sent threatening text messages to a teammate’s wife. Or even the Lance who actively slandered and libeled those who dared criticize him in public. Clearly the stuff she mentioned is more damning than anything his former friends would ever have experienced.
As little as she likes the public for believing her fairy tale, she has even more scorn for anti-doping authorities. “I’ve had serious questions about the wisdom and fairness of the ‘anti-doping’ effort, which consists of criminalizing and demonizing athletes for what boils down to using medications without a prescription, as if they are heroin dealers. And I’m confused as to why using cortisone as an anti-inflammatory in a 2,000-mile race is cheating, and I wonder why putting your own blood back into your body is the crime of the century.” Totally understandable why she has questions: the rules are quite clear that all these things are illegal for athletes. She no doubt decries the tyranny of a marathon being 26.2 miles long, because the number is arbitrary and only goo-goos care about things like the letter of the law. She doesn’t believe the USADA followed due process, probably because a federal judge validated their authority and process: those guys don’t know anything about the law.
Where Lance really does it for her, is how he “beat cancer fair and square.” Yes, many cheat cancer by using banned methods and ethically questionable drugs and shady doctors, but somehow, he beat cancerous cells without all that nefarious help. Lance did it because he, in a breakthrough unimaginable in 1996, got a third opinion, when every other person suffering from cancer stopped at two opinions, sometimes even one. Lance also took the rare step of educating himself about cancer. And, unbelievably for someone facing long odds of survival from cancer he brought on himself, he fought like hell. Whatever that means.
And this is truly the great thing about athletes. They are examples to us, not because they’re famous athletes, but because they do getting healthy like no one else. This is what makes them champions, and more reasons why we should do as they do. You think you know how to wipe your butt? There’s some jock that does it better and will inspire you to be better at it.
Lance even built an organization that preached his lessons. Miraculously, it had a name, Livestrong, close to his own. Sally sells the organization short. She reports it raised “$500 million for research and donating $7 million of his own fortune.” Livestrong, meanwhile, reports it “raised more than $470 million to support our mission to inspire and empower people affected by cancer.” Because they’re modest, they don’t mention Lance’s $7 million. Because support is far more valuable than research, Livestrong gave out around $20 million for research, total, since its inception. No one can live with a cure for cancer; besides, everyone else was doing it. And Livestrong, because it is so mired in good works, even has a for-profit arm called, coincidentally, Livestrong.
Come to think of it, I can see why she’s pretty proud that she’s an independent thinker. Sticking your head in the sand and seeing clearly is a rare skill.