Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What Am I Going To Do With Lance Armstrong's Pants?

Today I'm 192.2 pounds of rolling thunder, and the parent of an 18-year-old. Happy birthday to a fine young man.

I've got a pair of Lancey-pants in my closet. They've been there for years.

No, they aren't actually Lance Armstrong's racing shorts, but they are a pair of United States Postal Service shorts with the tag still on them. I bought them, where else, from the post office during one of the last years of its sponsorship of the cycling team.

I've always wondered what to do with the shorts? Ride with them? Sell them on eBay? Put them back in the bottom of my hamper full of bike jerseys and shorts and let them bake a while longer, so they will one day really be worth something?

I've tried them on a time or two, but they've never touched a bike saddle, so I'm going to call their condition "pristine," which is much more than I can say for the reputation of their celebrated champion.

Babe Ruth
In America we like our heroes supersized. From Babe Ruth to Michael Jordan, America loves a winner, especially those that are filled with vibrato and confidence that helps them transcend into a status which is larger than life.

David probably would have been a great American hero. Imagine the endorsement deals for a kid who takes down a giant with a slingshot and some stones if he had lived in the TV age?

You know you've made it when you land in the one-name club. Think Tiger, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron, Elvis, Dale and yes, Lance. And Thursday night on OWN, two of America's favorite one-name icons will collide for the much awaited tell-all interview with Lance spilling his guts to Oprah.

Lance Armstrong
Raise your hand if you were a true believer (it's OK, you're not alone). We all bought into the Texas swagger of a hero whose name seemed to be ripped out of a graphic novel. Lance Armstrong ... All-American Biker Boy!

Child of a single mom. Triathlon champ as a teen. Cancer survivor. Tour de France champ.

For many of us, Greg LeMond was the original American biking hero, but that was in a time when racing two-wheelers was about as popular on television as luge racing and miniature golf. Back then, we weren't the ESPN generation, so dribs and drabs of bike racing news were all we got on television.

Greg LeMond
To his credit, Lance made biking sexy. Where LeMond had put the sport on the map, Lance drove a truck down the interstate of success. Everyone wanted to ride like Lance.

When one Tour de France victory became two and three and then seven we were all mesmerized by the living legend. We wanted to believe, and suddenly water cooler conversations turned from who shot J.R. to carbon fiber versus titanium and we all knew the difference between Lance's fast cadence spilling style and Jan Ullrich's pounding of the big gear.

Phil Liggett
Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen became rock stars, and their familiar pitter-patter on the late-night recap of the tour became a lullaby for racing fans.

Outdoor Life Network became OLN and then Versus, and we all set our VCR's to record the stages so we could rush home and watch the reality TV programming of the TDF.

That Armstrong's saga included a battle with deadly testicular cancer made the tale all the more endearing. We shared in the story of him marrying a beautiful wife and their adorable children. It was the greatest of great American stories, and even when the couple split we were somehow OK when he hooked up with rocker Sheryl Crowe.

We all jumped on board to buy the ubiquitous yellow wristbands to support the Livestrong Foundation. Face it, who could be against the fight against cancer? Who could turn down the Texas Tornado who rocked the biking world with "The Look?"

But when you're dreams are supersized, the fall from grace can be a mighty long fall.

Sadly, Livestrong will suffer great collateral damage from all of this. Millions of yellow bands will probably be trashed as Lance's reputation is rightfully dragged through the mud. Fairly or unfairly, the foundation will be judged by the house of cards built by Lance and his reputation as the guy who beat cancer and won without using drugs.

As quick as Americans are to jump on a leader's bandwagon, when we are played for a fool as we appear to have been by the Lance machine, we're eager to extract our pound of flesh in vengeance.

When I think of all the cancer patients who drew inspiration from Lance's story, I'm sad. How many sick kids and adults hung on his every word and racing success so that they could endure another day, thinking if Lance could do it, surely they could, too.

Many Lance fans feel that they could tolerate his use of performance-enhancing drugs because seemingly everyone was doing it at the time. But the lies and bullying have caused them to reach a tipping point, and no amount of Oprah is going to soothe that wound.

In my lifetime, I've seen Nixon resign, Bill Clinton rise from the ashes of a sex scandal and Tiger Woods find his way back from punch line to pro-golfing elite. Heck, I'd even vote for Pete Rose to get into the Hall of Fame.

 It's going to take a while for Lance. The fact that he built a web of lies to protect himself and then shrouded it all in the goodness of a cancer-fighting foundation seems tawdry and borderline unforgivable.

This isn't as easy as sitting on Oprah's couch for two nights, crying a bit, and then giving the ol' "my bad." I think about his poor mother and how this news might affect her. I think about his kids being harassed at school.

I think I'm going to fold up my Lancey-pants and put them back in the closet and do the same with my emotions while I allow this enough time to sink in and I can make a decision about Lance's legacy.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep my Livestrong wristband, and I'm going to support everyone who has been touched by cancer because that's a cause in which we cannot fail.

So get out there and run today, even if you aren't in the one-name club.

Lance Armstrong
The fading image of Lance

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