Goodman: After reflection, Armstrong still my personal hero

Meredith Goodman, Columnist

As a typical overachieving Northwestern student, I finished my original Lance Armstrong column four days early with the title “Lance Armstrong is Still My Personal Hero.” I became very smug until my editor emailed me the morning before my column was due with an article titled “Armstrong steps down at Livestrong.” This article also revealed the news that major sponsors Anheuser-Busch and Nike dropped Armstrong, with Nike also planning to remove Armstrong’s name from its “Lance Armstrong Fitness Center.”

Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles were stripped by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency because of his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.  On Aug. 23, Armstrong announced that he and his legal team would no longer fight USADA’s ongoing investigation against him. To many fans like me, it seemed as though Armstrong was tacitly admitting that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. Even worse for fans, USADA released a gigantic collection of evidence last week that could be used against Lance Armstrong, including 24 witness statements.

Armstrong was my hometown hero, and the Livestrong Foundation (as well as Armstrong’s personal bike shop) is located in Austin, Texas. I remember my entire city cheering Armstrong on in the summer of 2005 as he won his record seventh Tour de France. Those cheap, plastic Livestrong bracelets and yellow jerseys were everywhere around Austin.

As I frantically race to edit my column after the last-second news of Armstrong stepping down from his foundation, I cannot help but feel disappointed. This man was my hometown sports hero, the man for whose cause my entire middle school class wore those tacky yellow bracelets. The man who was given only a 40 percent chance to survive stage 3 testicular cancer, but fought valiantly and came back to win seven of the most grueling races in the world.

My original column included the sentence “Sports heroes can be fickle and disappoint us when we need the inspiration.” What cruel irony — though I don’t care much if Nike and Anheuser-Busch continue to put their names on the Armstrong cycling brand, it’s like a gut-wrenching punch that one of the most inspiring cancer survivors is handing down the reins of one of the most visible and successful cancer-fighting foundations.

But this foreshadowing sentence was followed by a more positive proclamation that “personal heroes always fight for what is right,” which I believe Armstrong will still continue to do. Just as Armstrong became the best cyclist in the world only two years after being diagnosed with cancer, I believe that he will return to making a positive impact on millions of cancer patients and survivors through Livestrong.

His foundation supports cancer research, cancer survivor support, grants, governmental advocacy and general education and awareness about cancer. Today, people diagnosed with cancer can visit the Livestrong website and access valuable information to guide them through their cancer treatment and post-treatment, preserving their fertility, financing their medical treatments and even what emotional effects to expect from fighting cancer.

I wrote my column with the intent of exploring sports issues and society, but I feel like I have to make a moral decision in this column. Does a person’s charitable involvement mean more to me than his cheating at his biggest accomplishment? Can I trust all of the conflicting evidence against Armstrong? If all of the Tour de France cyclists were doping, does Armstrong’s doping even count?

Unfortunately, whether Armstrong did or did not use performance-enhancing drugs, these moral questions will always be in the back of the minds of fans, including mine. My personal hope, though, is that fans can forgive this entire doping scandal and refocus their energy on the Livestrong Foundation, Armstrong’s most incredible accomplishment. As long as Lance Armstrong continues his fight for cancer patients and survivors, I can still call him my personal hero.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].