Lance Armstrong's confession, calculated and rehearsed as it was, is a step in the right direction. But, for a while it is going to feel like we are moving clumsily forward wearing cleated bicycling shoes, heel-stepping across the polished marble floors of our minds' galleries of inspirational sports images.
Lance Armstrong admitted using performance-enhancing drugs and blood-doping techniques for a time that predates his successful fight against testicular cancer and break-away climb to the pinnacle of celebrity all the way through to his final Champs Elysees no-hands coast across the finish line of what appeared to be one of the most dominating and inspirational athletic careers since the invention of the wheel.
There are allegations that he had, in fact, tested positive for doping during that time. Armstrong denies this. There were also suspicious-looking large "donations" and rumors about offers of quid pro quo financial support to the Union of Cycling International (UCI), the governing body of professional bicycle racing, and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which polices performance-
enhancing drug use in athletics in this country and whose investigation eventually led to Armstrong's fall through the front of the protective glass box carpeted with velvet that cultural icons are preserved in. We might never know the details about these.
What we do know for certain is that for 15 years Lance Armstrong was loading his body up with dope that propelled him to do what we should have recognized was truly impossible, and he got away with it until after he retired. This is the foul headwind that blows the legitimacy of professional cycling into the roadside ditch and goes on to cover the entire sporting world with a thick coating of choking dust.
Nobody in sports can be believed. So convincing was Armstrong in his lying, so dedicated to anti-doping did the governing body of his sport appear during his reign, so well were the secrets of rampant cheating and drug abuse kept by everyone inside the sport that one cannot see that this was a real-life conspiracy theory proved and that can now easily be imagined being perpetuated in every sport where big money is involved.
Just as we flip December on the calendar of the steroid era and begin looking forward, we realize there is a lot of cold, hard winter and false thaws left before the light of springtime's renewal. Is drug testing in baseball really effective? Do the people in charge truly want it to be? How do professional football players come back from torn ACLs in three months' time? Do modern training techniques really account for 300 pounds of solid muscle in National Basketball Association forwards? The chemically induced scandal we have recently believed professional sports to have gotten under control might in reality be only a redoubled public relations effort; another smoke screen.
Athletes are left defenseless against skepticism. What the most innocent amongst them can say Lance has already said. He said he never cheated. He suggested that anyone caught cheating should have everything taken away. He chided his distractors for not being able to dream. He felt sorry for those so small that they could not accept the greatness of his story. How difficult will it be for any honest athlete to top his force of persuasion just as we are determined not to be fooled again?
It came too late. There is no trust. It turned the sports world topsy-turvy by revealing that the "liars" were actually telling the truth and the jealously vindictive detractors are really the good guys. So convinced were we that we joyously cheered for the villain, all seven times. This is the fallout of Lance's confession.
Sports used to be good. In the past, parents had few qualms about encouraging their children to participate in sports they enjoyed and to pursue excellence to the highest level they had the ability and desire to reach. Now that encouragement must come with conditions. I want you to participate and excel, to enjoy the rewards and experience the valuable life lessons that can be learned through competition, but you must quit once you are challenged to compromise your ethics, asked to do things to your body and mind that are not healthy, begin to become a compromised human being. I pray we know when we've gotten to that point.
Lance's confession has confirmed for the time being that the unbelievable achievements in sports are most likely unbelievable. This is perhaps the greatest challenge the avid sports fans and children who dream of winning with hard work and dedication can face. It's not going to be as fun for a while.
Roger Marolt can be tested at firstname.lastname@example.org.