Last week, when Lance Armstrong decided not to challenge the United States Doping Agency’s umpteenth attempt at tagging him with illegal doping charges, one could say his surrender was met with mixed reviews.
Travis Tygart, the USDA’s Chief Executive, clearly felt Armstrong’s legacy would disappear, forever marred by Armstrong’s indirect confession by surrender.
“It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and athletes,” Tygart said. “It’s a heartbreaking example of win at all costs overtaking the fair and safe option. There’s no success in cheating to win.”
Let’s assume, for a moment, that Tygart and the USDA are correct about Armstrong’s drug usage, and that the International Cycling Union also decides to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. Forget about the fact that the sport of cycling is absolutely contaminated by doping to begin with (meaning Armstrong’s doping, if it truly existed, would only even the playing field, right?). And forget about the countless doping tests Armstrong has previously passed without a hiccup.
What, then, are we supposed to make of the huge jump in donations to his Live Strong Foundation since his surrender? What about the outpouring of support on social media?
Clearly the public doesn’t think like Tygart.
The thing is, titles or not, Armstrong will still be known as the most dominant cyclist ever. The titles are a matter of ceremony—the performance is what everyone remembers. And the remembrance of that performance is what sustains a legacy.
Oh, and those millions he’s raised to fight cancer aren’t so bad, either.
Unlike Joe Paterno’s legacy, which will forever have the unshakeable specter of child molestation looming over it, Armstrong’s legacy is challenged by unproven accusations. What’s more, those accusations don’t extend beyond his athletic performance, so it doesn’t even touch his accomplishments outside the track.
If people think Armstrong’s legacy will take a hit if and when he’s punished, they better think again. Indeed, his public stock may even rise, given the USDA looks like they’re pursuing an innocent man (and have been for years).
People tend to root for either the underdog or the favorite, and in this case, Armstrong seems to be both.