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Letter to the Editor: Lance Armstrong ... Icarian

“Icarian” — adjective: of or relating to an overambitious attempt that ends in ruin.

Lance Armstrong did indeed fall from grace, out of the sport, out of his foundation and out of the record books. Sponsors couldn’t run away fast enough after paying millions of dollars, but having earned millions more. Former friends, teammates and others turned their backs on him. This, after his “business plan” kept them employed and in the spotlight with steady streams of income they would not have had. The sport and the Tour de France flourished. French tourism benefited, and the TV audience and sponsorship increased. The fans were entertained!

After each victory, the prize money was split among the team members. Armstrong got the trophy bowl and the pleasure of hearing our national anthem. Thousands cheered and the TV audience suffered withdrawal from the beautiful French countryside. We all had a good time!

Armstrong became loved and idolized by the masses. But what happened next? The Lance Armstrong Foundation, on a suggestion by Nike, promoted yellow wristbands. About 50 million of them helped catapult the foundation into programs helping cancer victims across the globe, to “LiveStrong” after learning, surviving and dying from cancer. Millions were inspired by the mission of LiveStrong.

Armstrong’s “business plan” for the Tour was not an honest one, but was designed to keep pace with other “plans” used by athletes in endurance sports at every level. I watched an Olympic skater win five gold medals and East German sprinters, with thighs to match, wipe up the unsophisticated without a challenge in World Cycling Championships. Is it to level the field of play or gain an advantage? The top tier of Tour finishers had similar “plans.” So, ultimately, the Tour organizers could not anoint a clear winner.

What do the critics say about surviving cancer (hard to fix), or even finishing seven straight Tours without a serious Tour-ending injury. Every battle and war has aspects that one might declare to be unfair or illegal. Sports are primarily “entertainment.” Why else would salaries be so outrageous? They make money for the franchise owners, the television rights and the licensed souvenir sellers. Fans don’t even support safer playing conditions for players. They want their brutality and excitement at any cost.

So, then, there was a line of accusers who filed by to clear their consciences. Their remorse does not come with offers to return their prize money, salaries or perks. They took the flawed opportunity and benefited well from it. The bureaucrats claimed a victory for “sports.” There was rush to judgment by everyone except those wearing yellow bands who have cancer and still have hope, or a survivor praying for a clean exam.

Truth is a complex thing often linked to the society that embraces it. Columbus discovered the Americas while brutalizing the natives. Thomas Jefferson had vision, and also slaves. Michael Milken, Wall Street “bad boy,” claimed he did more for the world than Mother Teresa by creating jobs.

Ambition brought Lance Armstrong ever too close to that “sun.” The yellow wax melted and sent him into the abyss, as did his diagnosis did many Octobers ago. We all know how that turned out!

Bob Lettieri
Santa Barbara

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