Skip to main content

Why fans shouldn't forgive Armstrong

By Jeff Pearlman, Special to CNN
June 15, 2012 -- Updated 1618 GMT (0018 HKT)
The United States Anti-Doping Agency has brought formal charges against Lance Armstong, a seven-time Tour de France champion. He denies using performance-enhancing drugs. Click through the gallery to see other athletes accused of using drugs to boost their careers. The United States Anti-Doping Agency has brought formal charges against Lance Armstong, a seven-time Tour de France champion. He denies using performance-enhancing drugs. Click through the gallery to see other athletes accused of using drugs to boost their careers.
HIDE CAPTION
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
Sport's era of shame?
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeff Pearlman: Great sports cheaters are always the last to anticipate their downfall
  • One example: Barry Bonds was high-living, inaccessible, felled by a doping scandal, he says
  • He says Lance Armstrong now charged in doping, could be stripped of cycling triumphs
  • Pearlman: Armstrong, others hurt fans, other athletes; they are soon banished, forgotten

Editor's note: Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for SI.com. He blogs at jeffpearlman.com. His most recent book is "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton." Follow him on twitter @jeffpearlman

(CNN) -- They are always the last to understand.

It's weird, isn't it, the way our greatest cheaters and liars go so far and so hard in their efforts to win and dominate and overcome that, en route, they fail to see the inevitable downfall that awaits?

Back in the early 2000s, when I was a baseball writer at Sports Illustrated, Barry Bonds treated everyone —teammates, coaches, opponents, fans, writers — as if they were specks of crud beneath his (regularly manicured) fingernails. He camped out in front of a wall of four lockers, had his own clubhouse videographer, his own clubhouse physical therapist, his own perky publicists. He was the greatest home run hitter who ever lived: a slugger who, well into his late 30s, was bashing 450-foot shots over the deepest of outfield walls.

Then — Balco. And Game of Shadows. And flaxseed oil. And embarrassing testimony.

Jeff Pearlman
Jeff Pearlman

Where is Barry Bonds today? Answer: Who the hell cares? His website is down. His cards can be had, straight up, in exchange for two Kirk McCaskills and a Sil Campusano. He will never be hired to work in the game, as either a broadcaster or coach. His records — in the minds of most fans — don't count. He is invisible. Worse than invisible.

He is insignificant.

News: Lance Armstrong banned from world Ironman events over doping probe

Lance Armstrong victim of vendetta?
Armstrong suspended from Ironman
2005: Lance Armstrong denies doping

Which leads us to Lance Armstrong. In case you missed the news, Wednesday morning the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency filed new charges against the seven-time Tour de France winner, threatening to strip the cycling legend of his triumphs. According to the agency, blood samples taken from Armstrong in 2009 and 2010 are "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions." The agency also accuses Armstrong of using and promoting the use of EPO (a blood booster), blood transfusions, testosterone, HGH and anti-inflammatory steroids. In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," Tyler Hamilton, Armstrong's former teammate, said he witnessed the star using EPO on multiple occasions.

Armstrong, of course, denies all the charges. I don't believe him. He says he is clean and innocent -- just as Barry Bonds was clean and innocent, just as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Marion Jones and Shawne Merriman and every other too-good-to-possibly-be-true athletic freak was clean and innocent, too. He is a victim of the media. A victim of jealousy. A victim of haters. A victim of sport inconsistencies. Why, he's passed 350 tests and, even if the testing system is a complete joke, well, hey, he passed.

Ludicrous.

What Lance Armstrong is allegedly doing -- what all athletes in his shoes seem to do — is beyond damaging. Across the world, millions of people believe in Armstrong's narrative. They love his wins, yes, but what drives them and inspires them is the way he faced cancer and battled back from a near-death experience. Young children in pediatric care have been relayed his story, have been told that one day, if you stay strong and fight and believe, you, too, can be just like Lance Armstrong.

Sigh.

Surely, somewhere along the way, Armstrong apparently convinced himself that there was no other way. As the common athletic thinking goes: If everyone else is cheating, I need to cheat, too. That logic, now pervasive throughout all levels of sport, has turned our athletic endeavors into fraudulent clown shows.

For every Bonds and McGwire and Roger Clemens, there were clean ballplayers being robbed of their greatness. I'll never forget a conversation I once had with Sal Fasano, a journeyman catcher who spent his nine-team, 11-year big league career desperately trying to hold on to a job. We were chatting about all the catchers who were named in the Mitchell Report; all the men who loaded up, then stole the positions he was battling for.

"There's an idea that everyone cheats," Fasano said. "Well, I don't, and I never have. For me, it's about integrity. That's what counts."

Like Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong is the last to know where he is headed. We are already beginning to speak of him as we do Alf and Emmanuel Lewis and Small Wonder on one of those "I Love the '80s" shows. We'll look back at his cycling reign and shrug, because it will be merely an illusion, an ugly period when people cheated to win, then faced a lifetime of banishment.

News: Lance Armstrong responds to agency's doping allegations

We will laugh. Then we will shrug. Then — nothingness.

Lance Armstrong will be invisible.

As he should be.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Pearlman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1952 GMT (0352 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT