Earlier this week, we watched the latest sorry chapter of Lance Armstrong's never-ending "did he or didn't he?" story unfold.
The preface came last week when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency lobbed a 202-page grenade in his path. Not only did Armstrong dope, alleges the group that polices performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) for the Olympics, but he also bullied teammates to indulge.
His "goal led him to depend on [PEDs] but also, more ruthlessly, to expect and to require that his teammates would likewise use drugs to support his goals if not their own," the report says.
Allegations Armstrong denies.
Still, faced with scandal, cycling's rock star gave up the reins to Livestrong, the cancer charity he launched in 1997 after leaving testicular cancer in his wake, as he often had outrun rivals during his seven Tour de France wins.
And Nike, faced with what it called "seemingly insurmountable evidence," just did it — cut endorsement ties with the cycling icon. Yet, Nike pledged continuing support for Livestrong campaigns.
Hmmm. Nike won't stand by its man as he weathers inglorious allegations yet continues to back his glorious crusade?
Curious compartmentalization to say the least. Not that Nike wanders alone in this murky moral territory. Judging from sports talk show callers and Internet nattering, many seem torn over how to appraise Armstrong.
On one hand, Armstrong appears to be a selfish sinner who brazenly doped while boldly scolding other cyclists caught cheating. Yet, because of the other hand (the one stuffed with more than $500 million that his celebrity status helped raise to fight cancer), many have canonized Saint Lance.
Perhaps it's premature to speculate on his eternal address, or even his guilt. But it's fair to note our growing tolerance for blurring absolute truth. Once again, it seems much of America juicing with situational ethics.
Is Armstrong guilty? Seems so, if you believe the anti-doping agency's damning report. It's chock full of eyewitness teammate testimony, emails, financial records, and lab reports that suggest his guilt.
Yet, beyond our innocent-until-proven-guilty ethic, many seem willing to overlook his apparent deceit. Partly because of his compelling triumph over cancer, but mostly because of his crusade to crush the Big C.
Over the past 15 years, Livestrong's routed more than 2.3 million cancer survivors to services to help fight the winning fight Armstrong did. And Armstrong inspired even more to pony up for the cause.
Advocacy that many consider atonement. And therein lies the crux of this debate: In Armstrong's case, do the ends excuse the likely corrupt means?
Livestrong President Doug Ulman says Armstrong deserves praise for his what he's done "both on and off the bike." Hear, hear many agree.
Others, like Orlando's Dominick Castellano, a world-champion power-lifter turned triathlete, believe good works that grew out of deceit don't offer a pardon.
He "made millions riding a lie of unprecedented proportions," he says. He "destroys a faith in hard work and true sport ... and the human spirit that we believed he possessed beyond all others."
For Marion Jones, Floyd Landis, and Barry Bonds Jr., the court of public opinion's verdict was swift. Yet, with Armstrong, the jury's hung. Watching my mom fighting the good fight against lung cancer, I understand why.
Surely, through Livestrong, Armstrong has done good. Yet, if the charges are true (and it seems improbable they're not), he's also done wrong. We allow an already out-of-focus line between right and wrong blur even more if we refuse to acknowledge it.
Saint or sinner? Sometimes they ride in tandem on the same bicycle seat.
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