John E. Hoover: Armstrong remains a hero
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
1/15/13 at 7:13 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog
Related Story: Lance admits doping
Original Print Headline: Armstrong still hero
I like heroes.
Super heroes, action heroes, sports heroes. Greek mythology heroes, Old Testament heroes, George Lucas heroes.
Let's make a movie where Chuck Norris and Gilgamesh save the world from the evil deeds of Doctor Octopus and Metta World Peace.
Heroes entertain us, and they inspire us.
And when they're real, they grip us and enthrall us.
Sometimes they hypnotize us.
I was gripped and enthralled, hypnotized and ultimately fooled by Lance Armstrong.
I believed him. I believed his lies, his denials, his counter-accusations - right up until we learned last week that Oprah Winfrey was going to Austin, Texas, on Monday to let our cycling hero supposedly open up about years of doping allegations.
He reportedly told Oprah that he did indeed take performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France.
Say it ain't so, Lance.
Unfortunately, heroes aren't perfect. In fact, they are inherently flawed.
They do things of which we would never approve, yet we could never pretend to walk in their shoes.
Roger Clemens? Come on.
As a young follower of the New York Yankees, I was beguiled almost every time Clemens took the mound - for the hated Red Sox. Then, I couldn't comprehend how the Yanks could let him travel across the division to pitch for Toronto. And I appreciated every high-velocity throw when Clemens finally did wear the pinstripes.
And even though Clemens aged, his pitching did not. His work ethic and singular will and legendary focus pushed him beyond the limits of age.
For this, Clemens was my favorite pitcher since Nolan Ryan, another fireballer who traversed decades and laughed in the face of Father Time.
As the evidence and testimony stacked up against Clemens, revealing that it was chemistry, not character, that pushed Clemens, I reserved judgment for some moment of finality, even though deep down I probably knew that whatever finality arrived (he was acquitted of perjury and obstruction charges), the truth - the real, hard and unpalatable truth - would forever alter my appreciation of Clemens.
Armstrong is light-years beyond Clemens.
This skinny Texan who in 1985 won Tulsa's Hillcrest Ironman Triathlon, this steel human who stood at the edge of death and kicked cancer in the teeth - this was a hero. A real-life hero, a Nordic myth and a Zulu legend, an Old West cowboy and a Samurai warrior sitting atop a bicycle and winning yellow jerseys in the French countryside.
I couldn't care less about cycling. I couldn't care less about the Tour de France or Team USPS or even the tiny faux surge of national pride that Armstrong stirred up every time he won.
This hero beat cancer. He stood up to the insidious Enkidu that has taken so many of our beloved citizens.
He slung his rock and slay the Philistine.
Stuck a sharp stick in the eye of the marauding Cyclops, then dominated sport's most demanding challenge.
And by wearing his little yellow "Livestrong" wristbands, we got to touch a part of the Golden Fleece that Armstrong brought back from the odyssey that nearly killed him.
This was a hero we could believe in. This was a hero we needed. Ask any of the cancer-ravaged kids or the multitudes of adults who drew daily inspiration from Armstrong's most impressive victory.
Whatever tears Oprah draws out of Armstrong (the show airs Thursday on her network), whatever confession he offers, his reputation as a hero is damaged. So is his Livestrong Foundation.
Armstrong lied, refuted, pointed fingers and even sued, no longer battling cancer, but taking on former competitors, teammates and the sport's various governing bodies to protect his seven Tour de France titles.
It was a battle well fought, but futile. He is defeated.
And all during his latest conflict, under a tidal onslaught of public opinion, I clung to the flickering hope that Armstrong might be telling the truth. Cancer claimed someone dear to me, too, and like so many Americans, I needed a hero.
I'm not angry with Lance Armstrong. I'm not insulted or even offended.
I'm disappointed to finally know the truth, but I'm not let down, not crushed that he's not the greatest cyclist in human history, the tireless champion we all wanted him to be.
Lance Armstrong's heroics should never have been about winning races, anyway.
Life teaches us over and over again that those heroes are hollow and void of profundity.
Armstrong is and ever shall be an indomitable cancer survivor. And just like the countless cancer survivors Armstrong helped guide out of death's domain, I shall remain hopeful and inspired by his true conquest.
Armstrong lied. A lot. But he'll always be a hero.
Real heroes are flawed, remember. They have to be.
Lance Armstrong carries the United States flag during a victory parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris in 2005 after winning his seventh straight Tour de France. PETER DEJONG / AP file