Skip to main content

Why fans shouldn't forgive Armstrong

By Jeff Pearlman, Special to CNN
updated 12:18 PM EDT, Fri June 15, 2012
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
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT