October 17, 2012

An Open Letter to Lance Armstrong

This letter was posted October 17, 2012, two months before Lance confessed on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Dear Lance:

I don’t know you, but I feel like I know you. Maybe it’s because we share a love for endurance sports. Or maybe it’s because I’ve watched and read about you for so many years.

I remember watching the Tour de France in 1995. Your teammate Fabio Casartelli was killed that year in the Tour when his bike crashed on a dangerous mountain decent. A few days after Fabio’s death, you rode away from the peloton by yourself to win the stage. That day you rode with Fabio. That day you rode with your heart.

The next year you were diagnosed with cancer. At the time, I had no idea how serious your condition was. I later read that you were given a 40% chance of survival. From a world class athlete to a sick patient staring death in the face, you fell into a chasm most humans will never fall. But then you fought back. From that very dark place, you fought back with all your heart.

Your fight to climb out from that dark place is what people care about. Maybe it is because, as human beings, we all need hope. Maybe it is because hope transcends so many things we experience as humans beings. Weakness, fear, passion, success, regret, even death. Hope transcends them all. You should never forget that you have given people hope.

But there is one thing that hope cannot transcend. That is truth. In fact there can be no hope without truth. For a patient to have hope to survive a life threatening illness, he first must know the truth of his condition. For a young athlete to have hope to be a champion one day, she first must know the truth about the rules of her sport. Hope without truth is denial.

Thoreau said “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” But who was Thoreau? Some cast him aside because he lived in the woods as a hermit, away from society and all its pressures. We all know society and its pressures. Sometimes it can make us lose perspective on what is really important.

Just as hope needs the truth to exist, the truth needs nothing at all. The truth exists even when there is no hope. Maybe that is why it is very difficult for us humans to embrace the truth all of the time. For we humans need hope, and when there is no hope, we struggle, and sometimes we turn away from the truth.

Lance, now is the time for you to embrace the truth. When you do, an abundance of hope will be waiting for you. Hope for the continued success of Livestrong. Hope for millions of cancer patients that look to your strength above all else as a cancer survivor. Hope for forgiveness and your own piece of mind. Even hope for the sport of cycling to find its own path to truth.


Unknown said...

It's really sad to me that success in a sport like cycling (or baseball or weightlifting for that matter) often hinges on synthetic performance enhancement. Hearing all that nonsense in the news really destroys the appeal for people to pursue a professional sports career.

I think it would be best if athletes had amateur status and a regular day jobs. Maybe paying the bills on their own would keep them honest.

KovasP said...

I'm torn here - on one side you have a government agent intent on proving himself right, bolstered by riders who fear him and on the other side a rider who has always said he rode clean, and hasn't yet admitted doping, and has done a world of good in the way we now approach cancer. I don't know if he's guilty or not, but I feel like we need to remain patient and see what else comes out.

Will Cooper said...

Colleen I agree that money has a lot to do with the desire to cheat. If there was no money, why cheat? I'm sure some would, but probably not as many.

Kovas, only he can say weather he was guilty. If he was, only he can embrace the truth. I think he has a lot more to gain than to lose if he embraces the truth.

it's all about pace said...

only he can say he was guilty?

our prisons are full of people who say that they are innocent.

I have read his books... Tyler's book... Coyle's book on Armstrong... and the USADA report.

they all paint a consistent and clear picture...

Guilt... and not a very nice guy.... and a bully.

but incredible focus and drive... and a fierce competitor.

He is like everyone else... good and bad

I'll take inspiration from the good traits and use the rest as a cautionary tale

Danielle said...

I have my own doubt that he'll ever confess to doping, but I think actions speak louder than words. It is a shame that Livestrong has helped so many people but was founded by a lying, cheating, bullying man. Sure he might have excelled in his sports, but his actions and behavior has cheapened the arena for the rest of us.

Will Cooper said...

Pace...again...there will be no court (and therefore no jail) other than the court of public opinion. He will need to say he did it for there ever to be closure on this.

Dannielle...I didn't even touch on the bullying part of the story, but I think it is a huge component to why so many are abandoning him now. I still think he has an opportunity to embrace the truth with the hope of redemption.

Anonymous said...

At my advanced age, there is one thing I have learned, when you live a life of lies, you suffer. If you are able to live a life of lies without suffering you are probably somewhat ill mentally. With that in mind, I have empathy for athletes from all sports who win/excel only through cheating. Even a child knows it is wrong to cheat, to lie, and feels the pain of the act. Armstrong got a free pass for years and put on one hell of a show, but the mirror never lies, he knows, and that is all that matters. All the good his foundation has done will nver take away whatever his heart feels about himself...good, bad, cheater, honest man, or otherwise...

Jukka Kukkonen said...

Great blog as always! I watched all those Tours while cycling on my indoor trainer. Lance inspired me to get more fit and healthy. I just read Tyler's book The Secret Race which revealed a lot of bad things I didn't know much about. Now I suppose it would be a good idea for Lance to publish a similar book. If he would donate the money to cancer charity, people would forgive him. My mom is a cancer survivor and I know how important help and hope are.

Will Cooper said...

Anon...well said!

Trail Plodder...I think that is a good idea...LA writes a book of confession, and gives money to charity. I think he's better off confessing one way or another. What i don't know is what legal issues he would have confessing. would he have to pay back all the money from sponsors?

Jukka Kukkonen said...

Lance averaged $17m a year in endorsements alone at the peak of his career. The current controversy is forecast to cost him $50m in lost endorsements over the next 5 years. He will also have to pay back about $7m annually during that time. According to Forbes Lance has a net worth of $125m. He keeps on earning $150,000 per speaking engagement - he does about 20 of those a year. Several of his sponsors will keep on backing Livestrong.

EricG said...

Great post Will. I dont have enough time to write all my thoughts. The one good thing that came out of all of this is the Livestrong Foundation. I only hope that it survives, thrives and does good things. What happens to Lance? It's up to him. Peace and Have A Great Day! E

Jukka Kukkonen said...

Another interesting open letter from Jaimie Fuller/Skins to Pat McQuaid/UCI: http://www.skins.net/en-GB/index.aspx

Tyler Booth said...

LA's situation aside...You could make the argument that drugs are better regulated now than at any other time in the history of sport. We have the technology to both use and catch those who use. I would like to think the "steroid era" (as it was)is behind us.

Future competitors will learn from the failures of folks like LA and Marion Jones.

That said...There will always be rule breakers in sport and life.

JheriCurl said...

Amen, well said. The truth hurts (sometimes)....but, LA, the truth can set you free!

wes616 said...

What is interesting to note here, is that Lance was not alone in his use of PEDs. As a matter of fact, at the time the sport was wrought with these substances. Cycling turned a blind eye, and IMO continues to do so; except in some type of bizarre vendetta. Yes, on one hand, Lance could come clean. On the other hand, I'm not sure if it really matters at all. If you assume that the field of competition was all doping, with at best cycling turning a blind eye, and at worst, complicit, this his accomplishments are still something to be applauded.

Besides, how much do we really care about cycling beyond the "story" of Lance.

John Duncan said...

Well said Will, truth has the potential to lift Lance higher than any tour vicotry. Same could be said for our presidential candidates.

xterrabuzz said...

Not sure how many of you have read the official report. But until they have a positive test he is innocent. If anyone needs to be condemned here is Tygart. Tygart and his ego has overstepped his bounds. http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/i-team/lance-sparks-war-words-uci-usada-article-1.1190836

pay per head said...

It is a great letter. I know that he screwed at the end of his career but I have to admit that he did a great job to bring sport to a lot people.

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