There’s a lot being said about Lance Armstrong right now. About his upcoming confession. About how he cheated, who he cheated, and why he cheated. There’s a lot of talk about his apology to the staff of LiveStrong, and whether the LiveStrong faithful will remain . . . faithful. A lot of people are interviewing and being interviewed.
But you know what? I’m interested in hearing about the people who are – or were – the LiveStrong faithful. I’m interested in hearing what the people who he directly lied to think. I’m interested in knowing how the folks who had Lance’s back feel right about now.
Oh wait. That’s me.
You know what? Someone should ask me some questions.
What, no takers? Fine, I’ll do it myself.
I know, I know. Interviewing yourself is about as ridiculous as interviewing an empty chair. And presuming anyone is interested in what I think and feel about this whole thing is about as self-absorbed as a person can get.
But then again, what is a blog if not a public proclamation of self-absorption?
And to be honest, it’s helpful for me to get my thoughts down. It makes my reasonable beliefs more clear, and it helps me recognize my stupid beliefs as such.
So let’s get started. Q&A with me.
How do you know Lance?
My first real interaction with Lance was before I ever became known as someone with a gift for fundraising — back when Susan was really sick — took the time to send over a picture of him holding up a “WIN Susan” sign and tweet encouraging remarks our way.
When Susan passed away, Lance tweeted a touching message my way.
Gestures like that meant a lot to me, and they still do.
With everything being said about Lance right now, it seems to be forgotten that whatever else he has done, he cares deeply about the fight against cancer, and has taken a lot of his time to support individual people during their fights.
So maybe it’s not such a bad idea to bear in mind that he is not a pure villain. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to bear in mind that he can be incredibly thoughtful toward someone he doesn’t know at all.
Apart from those interactions, up until about a year ago, my interaction with Lance were pretty much the interactions any person who raises a lot of money for LiveStrong has: meet him at fundraisers, get my photo taken with him. That kind of thing.
OK, so that’s up until a year ago. What happened then?
I was in one of my blog blackout weeks, working on my day job offsite, in a conference room. I wasn’t following the news or anything else, really. No time for it.
Then I got an email — my first — from Lance. He was wondering what I thought about Bill Gifford’s article in Outside. At that point, I hadn’t read it, so replied that I’d read it and get back to him.
That night, in my hotel, I read Gifford’s piece, then wrote my reaction to it. (I just went back and read it, and am happy to say that I stand by it.) I emailed Lance back and told him he could check out my post. He replied and thanked me.
Was that manipulation? I think it was, albeit of a very mild sort. At the time, though, it just seemed really cool that he thought enough of my opinion to even want me to have his back.
And did you stay in touch?
We did. I actually became a bit of a pest. For example:
When I asked him to give me a pair of his old running shoes as a semi-joke incentive for a fundraiser for LiveStrong, he obliged (and even made a video of him sending it).
When I published my “Best of” book, I asked him to tweet a link to it; he obliged.
When I saw on Facebook that what Jenni Laurita really wanted for her birthday was a tweet from Lance, I asked him if he would; he obliged.
When I was upset by the way the Susan Komen foundation scrubbed funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, I emailed him and Doug Ulman saying I wanted to do something about it; he wrote back right away, saying he agreed and that they were already on the case.
So it sounds like your own experiences with Lance were overwhelmingly positive?
Almost all of them were. But not all.
When he found out I was going on TourChats to promote my book, Lance actually called me and told me I should prepare to be attacked by the Neil Browne and some of the people who watch Tourchats (Lance was correct about some of the people, but completely incorrect about Neil, who was gracious while we talked and with whom I’ve since become good friends).
Lance sounded angry. He went on for about ten minutes, on a roll, getting more and more pissed off. I don’t get angry like that — honestly, I can’t remember ever just flying into a tirade of the intensity and scope he was on — and I just wanted to get off the phone.
At some point during this call, the talk turned to accusations of doping. I asked, “Is there anything to be worried about?” It was as close to coming straight out and asking him as I dared to be.
“There’s nothing there. Nothing at all,” he said.
This made a little red flag go up in my mind, because by this time there was enough evidence that he had doped that I had a hard time believing he could have been clean. So I had to resolve my personal “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy against my belief that he had doped, mixed in with his assertion, made personally to me, that he was clean.
I decided that I’d hold true to my philosophy. I wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon of condemnation. Further, I would provide contrast to all the claims of what a mean, vindictive person he is.
But at the same time, I decided I wouldn’t — couldn’t — assert that he’s clean.
My compromise position was that I’d leave doping out of my blog more or less altogether.
Which I wasn’t altogether happy about, because I would sometimes have a funny thought about doping, then have to abandon it.
When’s the last time you communicated with him?
Back in August, while I was racing the Breck Epic. I texted him, saying I was about tot start my fifth straight day of racing and was completely wiped. I said I never understood before how hard it is to race day after day. I told him he should come race the Breck Epic in 2013. He asked when it is.
We haven’t been in touch since then. And to be honest, since the USADA reasoned decision came out (here’s my post from that day), I haven’t been all that excited to communicate with him.
Because I feel stupid. I feel like I’m easily played. I’m the guy who believed Tyler and went on and on about it.
I’m the guy who believed Floyd and went on and on about it.
And now I’m the guy who thought he’d learned his lesson and so — rather than come out and say something I suspected but didn’t know for sure about Lance doping — just talked about Lance and LiveStrong.
But that’s a nuanced position, and it was misinterpreted to mean that I believed everything Lance said. And nuance on Armstrong doesn’t exactly register with the scorched-earth crowd.
And they have a point. Clearly, I defended Armstrong. And the good will I created contributed to his camouflage for his cheating, lying, and intimidation.
I feel sick about that. And used. At the same time, though, I don’t want to become one of the cynical people — the people who sneer at and suspect everyone.
I’ll try to be wiser. But I’m not going to try to change my fundamental nature.
Do you feel like Lance owes you an apology?
I don’t even know how he could phrase it, if he does. “I’m sorry I was kind to you and your dying wife, then leveraged your gratitude and trust into a smokescreen for my cheating and lying.”
It sounds calculating to the point of being ridiculous.
I don’t want an apology, and I’d feel weird getting one.
Do you feel like you owe your readers an apology?
Readers, I’m sorry I was one-sided about Lance. My inclination is to talk publicly about the good people do, and to keep my reservations about people to myself. That was a disservice to you.
So where do you stand regarding LiveStrong?
I still support them, and plan to continue fundraising for them. I haven’t come to this decision lightly, either. I know that the image of LiveStrong has been tarnished by Lance’s cheating, and in a lot of people’s minds, they’re one and the same. So I know it will be harder to fundraise for LiveStrong, at least for a while.
I’ve considered whether, for the amount of time and energy I have, LiveStrong is one of the places on which I should focus.
But the fact remains that while I’ve had a few nice Lance-related LiveStrong experiences, the people who really made me a believer in this foundation are the staff of the organization. They’re the people who helped me when I needed it. They’re the people who have helped numerous people I’ve referred to them. They’re the people I’m thinking about when, whenever I get email from someone who has cancer, I strongly recommend contacting LiveStrong immediately.
But will you continue wearing your yellow LiveStrong bracelet?
I’ve never worn those. I like orange.
So what would you like to see happen next?
I’d like to see this burn as hot as it needs to, for as long as it needs to. And then, once it’s done, I’m looking forward to seeing what rises from the ashes.
I’m looking forward to writing about riding my bike and joking about bikes and riders and riding.
I’m looking forward to the future, and hopeful that those who need to — me, for example — will remember this as an important cautionary tale.
PS: If you would like to ask me questions in the comments, I’ll do my best to answer, as long as you are civil. Non-civil questions will be deleted without comment.