National Columnist

Lance's good works matter above all else, even steroids


Hate Mail: Someone went and angered Jets fans

For the sake of argument, let's assume Lance Armstrong really did use steroids. That's what Sports Illustrated would have you believe after you read another exhaustive, exhausting piece of gotcha journalism on Armstrong, the cyclist who might have used steroids to fuel his incredible surge to the top of his sport -- and who made that surge after nearly being killed by cancer.

For the sake of argument, let's say Sports Illustrated is right, and Armstrong is guilty. He did it. He swallowed steroids, he shot them, he might even have snorted them. Let's accept that as truth, but let's also acknowledge this:

Instead of vilifying Lance Armstrong, we should thank him, even if he used steroids. (AP)  
Instead of vilifying Lance Armstrong, we should thank him, even if he used steroids. (AP)  
It was worth it.

The world is a better place because of it.

Since 1997 the Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised $325 million for the fight against cancer. Swish that around your brain for a few seconds. Savor it like a satiated man would savor a sip of fine wine, or like a thirsty man would savor a gulp of water.

Lance Armstrong has helped save lives. And steroids made that possible.

No, the end doesn't always justify the means, but this isn't a philosophical debate on that topic. In this very specific case, if we assume the worst of Armstrong and assume that steroids fueled his rise to cycling greatness, the ends do justify the means. Even if the means were steroids.

Because the ends are not those seven consecutive Tour de France races he won.

The ends are the $325 million he has raised and the lives he has helped save. Because of Lance Armstrong, more than 70 million of his Livestrong yellow bracelets have been sold. Because of Lance Armstrong, presidential candidates have held forums to discuss what they would do, if elected, to help fight cancer.

That $325 million figure is concrete, by the way. It's factual. As a non-profit, Armstrong's organization has to account for every penny it receives and where each penny goes. Some fund-raising ventures, you may have heard, are brazen money-making schemes. Once upon a time I worked nights as a telemarketer -- true story -- for a sheriff's department in Florida. We called folks for money, and if they asked what percentage of their donation would go toward the actual sheriff's department, we had to tell them the truth: only 15 percent. It was a racket, I tell you.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation? Not a racket. Roughly 85.8 percent of the money raised goes directly to the cancer fight. That's a remarkable percentage, and it's verified by an outside source.

As for my other assertion -- that Armstrong has helped save lives -- there's nothing concrete there. There's no way to know how many people have been saved by a program Armstrong has advocated, be it tobacco awareness or sunlight overexposure or fighting obesity.

Also there's no way to quantify how many people have been inspired to fight their own cancer, and to beat it, by the example set by Armstrong -- who was told in October 1996 that he had cancer in his testicles, lungs, abdomen and brain. He was told he had a 60 percent chance of dying. In 1999 he was very much alive, and winning the first of seven consecutive Tours de France.

So what if steroids helped him do that?

This wasn't perfectly healthy Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds trying to hit a baseball farther. This wasn't Roger Clemens trying to throw one harder, or Marion Jones trying to run faster. This was a man climbing off his deathbed and trying to race again. Let's assume the worst, that Armstrong cut corners to greatness. And then let's take this one step further and assume that Armstrong's motivation when he returned to training in January 1998, just 14 months after his cancer diagnosis, wasn't to raise money to fight cancer, or to inspire other victims. Let's assume all of that came later, an unintended by-product of the races Armstrong won with the help of steroids.

So what?

Here, the ends justify the means. Sports are not life and death -- cancer is. This year, according to the American Cancer Society, cancer will kill 569,940 Americans. That's 1,561 deaths today. And 1,561 tomorrow. And on and on. Every day, without pause.

Look, I'm not trying to be maudlin or melodramatic here. Melodramatic is what I was last week when I wrote that the Patriots would do the world a favor by eliminating the Jets in the playoffs.

Do the world a favor? By eliminating the Jets in the playoffs? That's absurd.

Lance Armstrong would do the world a favor by eliminating cancer -- and he's trying. His supporters have helped him try as well, but they needed a reason to believe. By winning the Tour de France every year, Armstrong gave them that reason.

No, I've not been maudlin or melodramatic. I've been realistic, and pragmatic, and grateful. Maybe I'm about to become maudlin or melodramatic now. You be the judge.

What I will tell you is this: Someday I'll get cancer. My grandparents, on both sides of the family, had it. My mom had it. My dad had it.

Someday it'll be me. I'm positive of that.

Someday we're going to cure cancer. I'm positive of that, too.

Maybe the cure will come first. Lance Armstrong, and people inspired by Lance Armstrong, are doing everything in their power to find that cure. They're racing against time, and they're trying to save my life. And your life. And our kids' lives.

And people might be upset that Armstrong used steroids to win the Tour de France, and that he has lied about it? Not me. I forgive him.

And I thank him.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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