Lance Armstrong: Innocent and Inspiring as Ever

I’m sorry, friends. I haven’t posted in a longggggg time. I know, I know it’s unforgivable (Link warning: Rated X. Or more. You know. You’ve seen it). 

THAT’S WHY I SAID SORRY!

And I know it’s getting to the point of being un-timely, but I’m a busy dude. Plus I can’t just exactly register negative breaking news about one of my heroes and pop a blog out right away. With that being said, here goes…

By now, you all know the news about Lance Armstrong. And before you react to anything, let me clarify something that a lot of people don’t seem to understand: Armstrong did NOT cheat. He did NOT admit guilt, nor did his surrender implicate him.

How do I know this? I researched. Here is the official statement Lance put on his personal Twitter account on August 23rd, after the news broke:

AUSTIN, Texas – August 23rd, 2012 – There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, “Enough is enough.” For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart’s unconstitutional witch hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.

I had hoped that a federal court would stop USADA’s charade. Although the court was sympathetic to my concerns and recognized the many improprieties and deficiencies in USADA’s motives, its conduct, and its process, the court ultimately decided that it could not intervene.

If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and – once and for all – put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance. But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair. Regardless of what Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims. The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colors. I made myself available around the clock and around the world. In-competition. Out of competition. Blood. Urine. Whatever they asked for I provided. What is the point of all this testing if, in the end, USADA will not stand by it?

From the beginning, however, this investigation has not been about learning the truth or cleaning up cycling, but about punishing me at all costs. I am a retired cyclist, yet USADA has lodged charges over 17 years old despite its own 8-year limitation. As respected organizations such as UCI and USA Cycling have made clear, USADA lacks jurisdiction even to bring these charges. The international bodies governing cycling have ordered USADA to stop, have given notice that no one should participate in USADA’s improper proceedings, and have made it clear the pronouncements by USADA that it has banned people for life or stripped them of their accomplishments are made without authority. And as many others, including USADA’s own arbitrators, have found, there is nothing even remotely fair about its process. USADA has broken the law, turned its back on its own rules, and stiff-armed those who have tried to persuade USADA to honor its obligations. At every turn, USADA has played the role of a bully, threatening everyone in its way and challenging the good faith of anyone who questions its motives or its methods, all at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. For the last two months, USADA has endlessly repeated the mantra that there should be a single set of rules, applicable to all, but they have arrogantly refused to practice what they preach. On top of all that, USADA has allegedly made deals with other riders that circumvent their own rules as long as they said I cheated. Many of those riders continue to race today.

The bottom line is I played by the rules that were put in place by the UCI, WADA and USADA when I raced. The idea that athletes can be convicted today without positive A and B samples, under the same rules and procedures that apply to athletes with positive tests, perverts the system and creates a process where any begrudged ex-teammate can open a USADA case out of spite or for personal gain or a cheating cyclist can cut a sweetheart deal for themselves. It’s an unfair approach, applied selectively, in opposition to all the rules. It’s just not right.

USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles. I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours. We all raced together. For three weeks over the same roads, the same mountains, and against all the weather and elements that we had to confront. There were no shortcuts, there was no special treatment. The same courses, the same rules. The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that. Especially not Travis Tygart.

Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances. I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities. This October, my Foundation will celebrate 15 years of service to cancer survivors and the milestone of raising nearly $500 million. We have a lot of work to do and I’m looking forward to an end to this pointless distraction. I have a responsibility to all those who have stepped forward to devote their time and energy to the cancer cause. I will not stop fighting for that mission. Going forward, I am going to devote myself to raising my five beautiful (and energetic) kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year old on the planet.

I strongly suggest reading that entire thing, especially if you are one of the people who believes that giving up a fight against personal injustice in order to better serve your own needs and your family’s needs automatically means said person is admitting guilt.

There is no reason to justify the type of person that Armstrong is. Say what you want about his record seven straight Tour de France titles potentially being tainted, but there’s no denying that a man who started an organization that has now raised almost $500 million for cancer research has his head on straight.

As Lance points out in his statement, he knows he rode clean. His teammates and competitors know he rode clean. But the pitiful fact that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and other witch hunting organizations hell-bent on exposing Armstrong because they don’t understand how he was so dominant in such a grueling sport, is downright infuriating.

How many times has Armstrong had his precious bodily fluids extracted and put into a tube or machine of sort in order to test every microscopic inch of what he has put into his body before, during and after races? How many times has a positive test come up?

I’ll give you a hint: the answer rhymes with “hero.”

Armstrong isn’t the one who should be constantly investigated. It should be the investigators that have gone to such ridiculous measures over the years to frame an honest athlete who should have the search turned on them.

Let’s look at a recent example from a more widely known sport. In 2011, news broke that National League MVP Ryan Braun had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. And in a league that has been shamed so often by cheaters, this was a terrible break for baseball fans everywhere – a popular player, the best in the league, busted.

Now remember back…Braun was indicted on a false-positive and after a minor uproar, it was forgotten. Braun continues to crush the ball this year and we can all assume he was clean.

Yet in cycling, Armstrong has never even tested false-positive and continues to be doubted by seemingly every high-ranking official in the sport? After years and years of passed tests? It doesn’t make sense. As Armstrong states, that is a blatantly illegal, ignorant way of testing athletes in any sport.

So, Lance has a family to raise. A life to live. A body to keep in shape, naturally. So let him go. Armstrong made the entire sport of cycling relevant in America once a year for 7 years, because he was more than really good at riding a bike.

Armstrong is a cancer survivor. A philanthropist to the level most can only dream of. And on the side, he’s really good at riding a bike.

When the news broke on Twitter, I was at a San Francisco Giants game, ironically enough. On Twitter, a local Bay Area radio host was tweeting to thousands of followers that a “guilty man doesn’t give up the fight for his innocence.” I called bull, he told me to get my head out of the sand. There is a difference between “giving up the fight for innocence” and realizing you are running in circles with morons who will do anything it takes to destroy your reputation.

At that point, it’s time to step away. “Giving up” is not the right term. Armstrong has never given up. He never gave up when he was battling testicular cancer. He never gave up when doctors told him he would die. He never gave up on all those steep, twisted hills in France. The term “giving up” isn’t even in the man’s vocabulary.

But the things he does hold dear to his heart are his family and his life. Can’t we all identify with that? Burn the 7 yellow jerseys. Take away the Olympic medal and toss it in the ocean. You know what that leaves him with? The knowledge in his head and heart that he was the greatest competitive cyclist to ever live. It leaves him with a loving family and a fresh, carefree (finally) life. It leaves him with a legacy of millions of fans, millions of dollars raised for millions of sick and dying people everywhere who look up to someone like him.

THAT is what matters to Lance. As it should.

Regardless of what one thick-skulled radio host’s opinion is, or how much flexing the USADA is doing in the mirror right now, any sensible sports fan knows Armstrong is innocent. Hell, Lance himself just announced at a cancer conference in Montreal that he is and always will be the 7-time Tour de France winner.

I don’t even like cycling as a sport. I like Lance Armstrong, the inspiration for the first written piece of work I ever got published. I was 16, and Bedford-St. Martin’s came calling about publishing my article about Armstrong in a college English textbook.

A $250 check and more pride than I could ever imagine later, I was a published author. All because Lance Armstrong inspired me.

So exactly as I ended that article seven years ago, as Armstrong leaves a mob of pitchfork-carrying, French-speaking crowd in the dust of his Schwinn, I will leave you with what needs to happen:

As Lance rides off into the sunset, toward the rest of his life, let us wish him luck in whatever comes his way. Thank you Lance Armstrong, for all you’ve done for athletes everywhere and how much hope you’ve given to anyone that didn’t believe they could succeed. Your legacy will live on forever in the minds and memories of everyone who knows your name. Now go enjoy the rest of your life. You deserve nothing less.

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