It’s not about the bike
Armstrong’s fall from cycling stardom shouldn’t erase his advocacy
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
It seems UB’s Distinguished Speaker Series is cursed.
In 2010, UB hosted author and humanitarian Greg Mortenson, who went through a yearlong investigation on allegations that major portions of his books were inaccurate and that he was mismanaging assets at his Central Asia Institute.
Last year, the series brought forth Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor.
Rather, former seven-time Tour de France winner.
Armstrong was officially stripped of his titles yesterday, the result of overwhelming amounts of evidence of him leading a doping conspiracy since 1999. The cyclist refused to continue to fight the allegations, stepped down as chairman of The Lance Armstrong Foundation (better known as Livestrong) and received a lifetime ban from the sport.
For over a decade, Armstrong has been the definition of the American hero. Everybody knows his story: diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, overcame the illness to win seven Tour de France titles and chaired the Livestrong Foundation, which is the largest athlete charity in history and has raised $470 million since its startup in 1997. He’s been the face of one of the most taboo cancers, speaking unabashedly across the country of his journey, inspiring people and changing lives.
Lance Armstrong the athlete has fallen. He leaves behind a legacy of disregard and dishonesty. It’s disappointing to think of him in such a way, but he is a phony who lied and cheated for the majority of (and at the peaks of) his career.
On Tuesday, Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (ICU) said, “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and deserves to be forgotten in cycling.”
But cycling is not the only legacy he will leave behind and that can be proved with every yellow band you see on someone’s wrist. Forget him in cycling, but there’s another half to Lance Armstrong, and that side should definitely not be forgotten.
We build our heroes up to be infallible, but there should be some separation in how we idolize people. Armstrong’s advocacy and career cross only because his celebrity was able to propel and strengthen Livestrong, but otherwise they are separate facets of his life. If one is to end, the other can still continue on its own, and in this case where his cycling career is ending, that shouldn’t erase the work he has done for cancer advocacy.
Even in the sport, Armstrong should not be so quickly brushed aside, especially by the ICU. His impact was so great in cycling. It became relevant (how many people outside of the sport and its fandom can name a cyclist that’s not Lance Armstrong?) and people tuned in to watch each stage.
Fan or not, everyone knows who Lance Armstrong is, and he became something important to the world. He turned his illness into a catalyst and into a story, and he was someone that made people say, “If he can do it, so can I.” And with that story, Armstrong created one of the most successful charities to date.
Livestrong now has that stigma around it, and now that he has stepped down, some of that credit will be taken away. But it’s important enough to Armstrong that he did step down and let what he built continue to flourish without his name being top-billed. At the organization’s 15th anniversary celebration last week, he promised it would not be deterred and “the mission absolutely must go on.” And that passion is believable.
With Armstrong leading the pack, Livestrong has proven to be a real force. Who hasn’t owned a Livestrong wristband at some point in their life? Those little yellow bands alone have generated $100 million to the charity. The organization provides for grants, for research, for advocacy – the fact there are people currently asking for their money back from it because of the scandal is a disgrace.
This is all so much bigger than Lance Armstrong, but he is the one that made it so big. Fan or not, everyone knows who Lance Armstrong is, and only half of that reason is because of his cycling career. What he did in the sport was illegal and he should be punished accordingly, but don’t forget his other work.