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 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT