|Lance Armstrong is banned for life from cycling and has given up control of his Livestrong foundation. (AP)|
Only one way out of this mess, Lance Armstrong. America can love a fallen hero, but only if he admits the fall -- and apologizes for lying about it. Do those two things, Lance Armstrong, and we'll love you again.
At the moment? We're disgusted.
It's not the cheating, because lots of world-class athletes cheat. We've come to grips with that generality, and particularly with the notion that cycling is the dirtiest sport of them all. That's what we think, and even if we're wrong, it doesn't matter. What matters is, people truly believe cycling is dirty -- as in, everyone is dirty. You can't get to the top of that sport without cheating. History has shown us that.
Lance Armstrong has shown us that.
So did 2006 Tour De France champion Floyd Landis. And '07 and '09 champion Alberto Contador. And 1997 champion Jan Ullrich. From 1997-2009, 11 of 13 Tour De France titles have been vacated. We didn't need the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to tell us last week that Lance Armstrong was guilty to know cycling champions are cheaters. Hell, we didn't need the USADA to tell us Lance Armstrong was guilty to know Lance Armstrong himself was guilty.
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Even people who supported Armstrong, people like, ahem, me -- right here, in January 2011 -- assumed Armstrong was guilty. But we were OK with it for two reasons. One, his cancer-fighting Livestrong foundation had helped raise so many hundreds of millions of dollars that we were willing to forgive the cheating, to see it as an ugly means to a beautiful end. And, two, Armstrong technically hadn't been caught cheating. So even if he was dirty, and even if he was lying to us about not being dirty, people like me could find a small island of doubt, just enough of a safe harbor to embrace Armstrong for the cancer-fighting force of nature he has been since 1997.
But that island has been wiped out. The safe harbor is gone. Our illusions, as flimsily concocted as they were, have been eliminated. There is no doubt anymore: Lance Armstrong is a cheater.
And again, here in America we could get past that -- but we need Armstrong to stop denying it. Stop lying.
Stop treating every single one of us like we're morons.
We're not morons, Lance, but every day that goes by without your admission of guilt tells us you really do think we're stupid. And if there's one thing America won't abide, it's a fallen hero who thinks he's fooling us.
You're not fooling us, Lance.
Mark McGwire wasn't fooling us, either. From the moment that baseball reporter spotted that bottle of Andro in his clubhouse locker in 1998, we knew. Suddenly everything fell into place. So that's how McGwire is hitting all those home runs. He's cheating!
We knew, but McGwire treated us like we were idiots. He denied it. So did Rafael Palmeiro. And Roger Clemens. And Barry Bonds.
Look at the four names in that last paragraph: McGwire, Palmeiro, Clemens, Bonds. Three of them are jokes. Three of them are punch lines. Pariahs.
One of them is the respected hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. Know why we tolerate the sight of Mark McGwire on our baseball fields, after all his cheating and lying? Because he stopped lying. He admitted it, threw himself at our mercy, and you know what? We're a pretty merciful people, if you roll over and show us your belly. This goes for all walks of life, by the way, and is a lesson for every last one of us: When you screw up, and everyone knows you screwed up, admit it. Say you're sorry. Move on. Trust me, it's one of the best feelings in the world.
When you don't admit it? When everyone knows what you did, and you treat everyone like they're wrong? Like they're idiots? Lance Armstrong is going through it right now. He is no longer chairman of Livestrong. Nike severed ties with him Wednesday, and not quietly but with a damning statement meant to impale Armstrong upon his own lies.
"Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him," Nike said.
The statement continued, finishing at 66 words -- but only one word mattered. Misled. Truth is, Nike could have put out a statement with the news in the headline -- "Nike severs ties with Lance Armstrong" -- followed by a single word, and it would have said everything that needed to be said:
Don't lie to us, Lance. We don't like it. And if you lie to us, and then lie some more, and more, and more? And sit around in all your guilt, stinking of it to the point that we have to cover our mouth and nose, and continue to tell us you're innocent?
We hate that, Lance Armstrong.
We can be a forgiving people. We can be merciful.
But we can also be merciless. How do you want us to be, Lance Armstrong? The choice is yours.