In a recent column in this magazine, I wrote about the public's general feeling of disillusionment over Lance Armstrong's decision to not fight the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's accusations against him, and the resulting loss of his seven Tour de France titles and a lifetime ban from competitive cycling and other competitions. Not because he was at that time admitting guilt, but because he was tired of the fight.
Now with his confession of sorts, after all these years, here is my list of the top ten reasons to stop talking about Lance Armstrong.
10) Because there simply are not enough adjectives out there to cover it.
9) Same with swear words.
8) Oprah? Why Oprah? (Nothing against Oprah, of course. She ran her marathon clean.)
7) It's best to let the Livestrong Foundation live strong quietly without him.
6) Hey look, he told the truth from the start: It really wasn't about the bike.
5) I paid full price for a hardcover copy of that book. (See No. 9 about there not being enough swear words.)
4) Fortunately because of this debacle, everyone involved in cycling, baseball, football and all other sports competitions in which money is involved will absolutely, positively, with no doubt at all, finally operate utterly cleanly. Right?
3) There is that biblical thing against casting stones. Well, at least I know I started a split second before the starter's pistol went off in my third grade's 50-yard-dash competition, and I accepted the second place ribbon without owning up. (I'd like to take this opportunity to finally say, "I'm sorry, Mr. Gilberts.")
2) He's a human being, after all. He's not the first and he won't be the last tragic public figure to be swayed by money and the desire to win, and he's going to likely and rightly lose a ton of his money along with his reputation (especially because of the people he falsely accused of lying, which could be a Twilight Zone episode itself).
1) The irony is that many of the people hyperventilating about Armstrong, the witnesses providing much of the testimony against him, were cheaters themselves. Do they hope we'll forget their names just because Armstrong was better at cheating than they were?
Upon further consideration, perhaps there's a better reason to stop talking about Armstrong and his ilk, much better than any top ten list.
Sports heroism redefined
The Persinger Recreation Center in Geneva, Illinois, has an indoor track. Eleven and a half laps to a mile. You can tell people who run on that track because they tend to walk with a lean. I have long scoffed at this indoor track as purgatory second only a treadmill. But because of some extreme weather - dangerously high winds and ice-coating storms - I've been giving this indoor track a chance now and then.
The track has three lanes. Walkers have complete ownership of the inside lane. Runners have dominion over the outside lane. The center lane is shared by a combination of fast walkers and slow runners. That arrangement works well. The direction everyone walks or runs changes every other day to help level the leaners.
While running lap No. 937 and a half, I saw a young woman approach the entrance to the track. She walked with each arm using a walking crutch, and her gait showed her crucial need for them. By my next lap, she had taken to the inside lane, walking as best she could. The track had about 15 people on it at the moment which, depending on timing, resulted in traffic jams now and then. At first I thought this was remarkable. She moved fairly briskly, although the placement of her outside crutch inconvenienced the movement of other uncomplaining walkers and runners. She carried on conversations with a couple people, and after 20 minutes or so, she left.
I began to think this was a significant moment. This young woman was there to exercise, to take whatever situation had been dealt to her and go with it. And nobody made a big deal about it. This is just how things are for her. She's a wholly accepted member of society, at least in this environment. No one singled her out as different. Yes, she has a special need for her crutches. But there she was, not looking for attention, just doing what she does, seeking out exercise like the rest of us.
The situation inspired me to not think about Armstrong, but to consider this young woman. I suspect she doesn't consider herself a heroine, and she's certainly not a well-known public figure. What she is, though, is inspiring, as were the welcoming people around her demonstrating their humanity.
The thing about sport heroes is that we really don't need them to inspire us. Yes, many physical feats in sports are amazing. Competition among elite athletes is exciting to watch. But how can all that be any more inspiring than seeing a person out there trying and doing the best he or she can, with everyone else being both encouraging and accepting?
As I was writing this, my Internet home page updated itself with an image from the New York Post of a yellow "Livestrong" wristband altered to "Liestrong." I guess that's funny. At least most of the people who left comments seemed to think so. But when will we feel we've piled on enough? Even if we never forget Armstrong's deceit, will we forgive or at least move on, especially when it comes to selecting our sports heroes?
Perhaps my top ten list is proof I've failed to take my own advice. If it's not too late to make a New Year's resolution, I think I'll add to the list that I should try to make a better effort to understand what makes a person a true sports inspiration. That may be the very thing needed to help me move on from thoughts about what's-his-name.
Bruce Steinberg is a father, husband, lawyer, novelist and a silent sports enthusiast in St. Charles, Illinois.