Maybe I’m not angry at Lance because, though I hoped he was clean, it’s simply not shocking or enraging to learn that he was like all the other cyclists who sought a medical advantage in riding up the faces of mountains. Or because I’ve long believed that what athletes put in their bodies should be a matter of personal conscience, not police actions — when we demand unhealthy, even death-defying extremes of them for our entertainment, it seems the height of hypocrisy to then dictate what’s good for them. Or because after reading the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report, and more importantly the rider affidavits, what emerges is a portrait of a sport in which needles were so deeply embedded that the choice was simply to use them, or quit riding. And I don’t have it in my heart to condemn any of the athletes in it, much less Lance, son of a Kroger supermarket checkout girl,who had a singular talent and whose career option was to go home, and do what exactly?
Maybe I’m not angry at Lance because more informative than the USADA report was an ESPN interview with his former teammate Jonathan Vaughters, who observed: “There is the huge misconception, though, that this is about Lance. This is about a culture that Lance was a part of, and that he participated in . . . If you want people to be truthful and want to know what actually happened, as opposed to chasing ghosts for the next 10 years, then you have to let them know that we won’t chop your head off.”
Maybe I’m not angry at Lance because I’ve decided that the smoldering wreckage of the bonfire that burned down Big Tex was wildly out of proportion to the offense. And because, much as I would have liked a personal or public confession from him, I suspect that he understood what the price of it would be, and found the stakes too high to call up his friend at The Washington Post and bring it all down on his head.
Maybe I’m not angry at Lance because, after reading the rider affidavits, I think it’s apparent that all of the people associated with him are responsible for themselves and their choices, just as I was. If Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, Christian VandeVelde and Dave Zabriskie took EPO during the Tour de France, it wasn’t because Lance Armstrong shot them in their butts with it. I enjoyed and profited from my association with Lance when he was on top, and so did his fellow riders. Lance never made me write a single paragraph in “It’s Not About the Bike” or the sequel “Every Second Counts,” and the vast majority of them, I stand by as honest. Such as this one: “Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing.”
Maybe I’m not angry at him because after reading the USADA report and the affidavits of the riders who spoke with USADA, I have some common-sense questions that preclude anger. Such as: Shouldn’t an organization with the initials U.S. in front of it have to follow due process? And: According to the affidavits, the U.S. Postal Team had a highly organized “doping” system in place long before Lance became a member of it, so why is he the target of this report? Or: The affidavits taken by USADA make it clear that while Lance refused to use HGH, Floyd Landis introduced it to younger riders, so why is the federal government considering giving Landis whistle-blower protection?