If the accusations are true, it’s hard to defend Lance Armstrong. He is accused, with supporting testimony by those close to him, of engaging in a systematic campaign to cheat in order to win cycling races, including seven Tours de France. The allegations are that he used performance enhancing drugs and evaded testing by those who are supposed to keep the sport clean and fair. That behavior has ballooned his bank account, led him to bully others and prevented cyclists who trained cleanly from winning. Armstrong’s cheating, if true, would have shattered the dreams of others and ruined honest careers, some of which were established through great personal sacrifice.
In fact, it is impossible to see all the ways the ripples of his deceit affected others, regardless of whether those others cheated as well. His cheating may have set a terrible example for many who admired and emulated him. Perhaps millions of children who believed in his hard work (he inspired a lot of people), who wanted to be like him, will turn now to deceit because it, they now know, is the way to win and be like him.
But what if it went like this:
What if on November 6, 1996 when Armstrong left the hospital after having surgery to remove cancerous lesions from his brain, a month after having surgery for testicular cancer, he said to himself:
“You know what? I have cancer and while it’s true before cancer I wanted to be famous and make lots of money racing, now this is much, much bigger than I ever imagined. I have a disease that is going to kill me and I don’t feel like I can do anything about it. And the awful thing is that lots of people have this disease too and they just die. I’ve seen people lose their parents, spouses, siblings and kids and it often feels like there’s just nothing anyone can do. Lots of doctors are trying to cure it, but they need money to keep their research up.
“So: I am going to cheat. I am going to cheat my hardest and I am going to try and become the world spokesman for cancer research. If I win, even by cheating, as long as no one knows, I will get worldwide attention as a cancer survivor and donations will pour in — in large part people only donate to winners. Maybe, just maybe, I can raise millions and millions and maybe actually do something to cure this. The world doesn’t seem to care about it. Its priorities are elsewhere. Most people assume the disease is unbeatable because we have not beaten it for so long. The world accepts it. But I refuse.
“And if I get caught, I will say ‘Yes I did it. I did it because I wanted to raise money for cancer research. I know that the sport of bicycling will suffer and I know that I will lose my integrity, that I will have to bully and get other people to help me chear too, but I woke up on November 6, 1996 and I felt like no one cared enough to beat this thing for everyone, and I did.”