“It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: Lance Armstrong is an American hero.” That’s how I began an editorial I wrote over a decade ago.
In the summer of 2001, I was the newly named news editor for The Daily Cougar, the student newspaper at the University of Houston. I also served on the Cougar’s five-member editorial board, which was charged with coming up with five topics a week on which to pontificate.
That July, Armstrong won this third Tour de France, and was in the full glory of the perfect media story: the cancer victim who successfully beat the disease and go on to become a champion.
I was much younger then (although, as a returning student, older than my four colleagues) and still pretty idealistic. It was all too easy for me to become enraptured by fellow Texan Armstrong’s story.
I pitched the editorial idea to my colleagues on the board, and after we hashed it out for a bit, wrote the editorial, oh so cleverly titled “Mon Dieu! ” (While the piece was officially the product of the entire board, the words are entirely my own.)
Looking back at the editorial now, it’s almost touchingly naive. Like nearly all Americans, I knew next to nothing about competitive bicycle racing outside of the annual Tour de France frenzy. I even seemed to believe that Armstrong, as head of the U.S. Postal Service team, somehow worked as for the Post Office in his “day job.”
If there were any hints of widespread doping in those days, I don’t remember them. But in the ensuing dozen years, the rumors, media stories, investigations and denials, Armstrong’s image long ago fell from the burnished hagiography that I, in my small way, helped perpetuate.
All that culminated last night with Armstrong’s much-ballyhooed confession to Oprah Winfrey, a fittingly made-for-media event. I didn’t watch the program live since I’m still in my self-imposed break from daily television watching. But in a social media age that didn’t even exist when I wrote that editorial, I was able to follow the revelations and reactions through Twitter and Facebook, and later in mainstream media.
By most accounts I’ve heard, Armstrong’s initial confessions seemed genuine, but in the later portions of the program he appears to practice a lot of evasion and backpedaling. As a fallen hero who’s trying to salvage a reputation and career while in the midst of a mountain of litigation, that’s probably to be expected.
Armstrong has done much for cancer research, and is rightfully lauded for that. Perhaps last night’s mea culpa is a step toward his road to redemption.
For my own part, I hope that I am long past the point where I’m given to heedless hero-worship. But somehow I’d also like to still believe in heroism.
Copyright © 2013 Ken Fountain. All rights reserved.