Saturday, August 11, 2018

"Lance Armstrong's moving finish line" and cases for fallen celebrities deserving a second shot at reinstated celebrity

There's a piece at Mbird about Lance Armstrong, who had a Freakonomics show recently.  As someone who was an American kid back when Greg Lemond had his first win and had not just so happened to start watching the Tour de France when that first win happened, I guess I was just not primed to go along with the tone of the article at Mbird from its first two paragraphs.

Wasn't the Oprah interview aired in 2013?  Armstrong was banned from the sport of cycling but since he never had any serious place in "my" heart I not only didn't care that he was banned from the sport of cycling the cumulative case of what he did wrong within the realm of cycling seemed like a fairly clearcut case that that lifetime ban had been earned by his lifetime of conduct within cycling. 

Nonetheless, let's quote the essay so you can get a chance to see why I might not be on the same emotionally resonant notes as Bryan J.
Wasn’t it 2013?
Lance Armstrong’s Moving Finish Line
by Bryan J. on Aug 2, 2018 2:34 pm
Where were you in 2012 when Lance Armstrong confessed his steroid sins to St. Oprah? Did you immediately take off your 2004 (!) Livestrong wristband and trash it, or did you simply let it fall behind the bedroom dresser? Was it the talk of your town, or did it just confirm your lack of interest in professional cycling?

It’s been six years since Lance Armstrong was banned from the sport of cycling (and our hearts). Now that a series of lawsuits has been completed and other scandals taken the spotlight, Lance has started to reenter the public square. He’s hosting his own podcast and he’s getting into the cycling commentator business. He’s also beginning to talk openly about his life for the past six years, and wondering aloud what it would take for America to forgive him of his sins.

And a sinner he is, no doubt. He’s started to talk about a number of the practices he went through to keep his steroid use hidden from drug tests. Blood transfusions, backdated prescriptions, carrying out independent tests on his own body to see how big a dose he could take before he hit the allowed drug test limits. It was a massive cover up, and a good one too–a UK newspaper published allegations that Lance had doped in 2004. When Lance sued them for libel, they settled, retracted the article, and apologized.
So when Lance confessed, he was banned from cycling and made public enemy number one. On the most recent Freakonomics podcast, Lance shares what happened as recently as last year as he was leaving a bar in his hometown of Austin, Texas:
And I walk out I’m getting in my Uber and there’s one guy goes, “Hey Lance,” and I fully expected him to go, “What’s up, dude?” and you know, “Right on man, love you,” you know? And I go “Hey what’s up?” He goes “F— you. F— you! F— you!” and he wouldn’t stop. And the next thing you know, the entire patio is screaming “F— you, f— you, f—.” I’ve never had that happen. I was like, “Oh.” I was shaking.
America’s all-star cyclist was finished, and while the rest of America moved on to its next scandal, Lance Armstrong did not have that luxury.
How do you come back from that? It’s a question that drove Lance himself up the wall. It turns out that the course back into public life has a moving finish line. Take this exchange from the same interview:
The question of whether or not anyone who was found guilty of such conduct "should" come back to the fold in which the fraud and cheating was perpetrated and perpetuated doesn't seem to be up for consideration.

DUBNER: If you look at the post-career resurgence and public embrace of Alex Rodriguez, here’s a guy who doped at the highest levels and also performed at the highest levels. Do you look at someone like him and wonder why he gets more of a pass than you seem to be? And what are the differences?
ARMSTRONG: The answer is absolutely. But I just want to be really clear that when I ask the question to myself and really, really want an answer, it’s not because I’m jealous or envious. I’ve met Alex many times, he’s been perfectly nice to me and my kids. I wish him the best. The reason I ask is — I just want to know why. Like what, what is the difference? And I actually, this is so funny. It’s f—ing crazy, like you’ve been tapping my phone. Six months ago, I woke up one day, and I was in Austin alone and I woke up and it was on my mind. And I went crazy. I was literally running around the house. And I said, “Okay, I’m going to ask five of the smartest people I know what they think the difference is between Alex Rodriguez and myself.” And the answers were pretty consistent. The one key thing is that Alex Rodriguez was allowed to come back and play. And Alex Rodriguez was part of a team sport. And, thirdly, Alex Rodriguez never stood for anything else other than baseball.
No consideration of something Greg Lemond said about how if Armstrong's comeback from cancer to win a Tour would have been the greatest comeback of all time if it was clean or, that if it was not, it was the greatest sham in the history of the sport?
So, I was never allowed to come back to my sport at any level, and most people viewed it as an individual sport. And I stood for much more than just cycling. You want to hear this crazy little side note of that day? I was running — I’m not s—ing you, I was running around the house and it was a Sunday. And I was watching the N.F.L. on Fox, because I love watching football. And the lady says, “And we’d like to introduce our newest cast member on the desk here on N.F.L. Sunday on Fox: Michael Vick.” And man — and then I just lost it. I was like “Okay, you know what, I don’t — f— it. I don’t know what’s going on.”
But cycling is clearly also a team sport and has been for decades. Over time it began to look like the cheating and the deception had a team element to it, too. If you lawyer up and threaten a libel suit when you're challenged ... .  What's different about Armstrong?  Well, did Vick or A-Rod sue a British publication for libel and get them to retract a story and apologize even though it turned out they had a legitimate story? 
Michael Vick the dog-fighter is back, A-Rod the doping liar is back, and both of these men did the same thing or worse than Lance Armstrong. And while A-Rod got to earn his way back into Major League Baseball, Lance was never given the chance. 
The question of why Armstrong would deserve another chance to be a cycling celebrity or a cancer-survivor celebrity when so many people who ride bikes and survive cancer aren't celebrities still hasn't come up, has it?

It’s an example of what we at Mockingbird call the “little l laws” of life. While the admonition “do not use steroids” is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, it is explicitly mentioned in the cycling handbook. More importantly, “thou shalt not use steroids” is codified in the court of public opinion, right next to the commandment “thou certainly shalt not lie about it.” It may not be written down on a stone tablet, but that doesn’t make it less of a standard to live by. 
Is there a little l law that says all who attain to celebrity must keep being celebrities until the day they die?  Is there a little l law that says that megachurch pastors must always be able to somehow keep on in that line of work after credible evidence of misconduct or copyright infringement have come up?  This is the blog Wenatchee The Hatchet I'm writing at, after all.  Sometimes the trust broken along the way raises questions as to how and why someone got the level of prestige and fame they gained, and raises the questions as to the legitimacy of that gained status in a way that invites a fair question as to whether a person deserved it in the first place and should continue to have that status moving forward. 

The problem with the law of public opinion is that there is no agreed upon method of justice or atonement for its sins. Lance shared in the interview that he’s traveled the world to make amends with specific people, and that he’s payed out $111 million dollars (!) to compensate spurned sponsors and settle lawsuits. It sounds like a lot, but the wife of one of Lance’s former teammates told the media that she believed Lance “got away with it,” meaning the punishments weren’t harsh enough. Another friend said to Lance that his attempts at atonement had two different audiences. “For the cycling fans it wasn’t enough. For the casual fan it was too much,” reflects Armstrong.
And yet, the “little l” law may not even be a good law. Lance often articulates that he has been singled out for engaging in practices that every single other cycling team used. He’s not wrong to recognize that there are deeper forces signaling him out over the other cyclists of his era. Perhaps there is an unacknowledged projection of our hopes and dreams that Lance didn’t meet. If Lance could could beat cancer and win a national championship seven times, that means there’s hope for us, right? If Lance could do it, that means it’s at least possible.
So if Armstrong was symbolically punished as being the apotheosis of the sins of the entire industry is that unfair? Were the sins of Israel in wanting a king distilled in some fashion in the sins of King Saul, their first appointed king?  That a king at the top of an empire can embody and distill the virtues or vices of a kingdom can receive a punishment that is considered in some way commensurate to the nature of the power misused doesn't seem like it's actually unfair. 

If Armstrong had beaten cancer and then won a race like the Tour de France seven times that means he could afford the resources to do that.  It says nothing about whether there's hope for us.  Now if we just say that Lance Armstrong embodied a precept of single combat where he somehow represented "us" when he raced then that gets us back to whether those victories were done "fair and square" or whether there was an epic level of cheating and then lying about the cheating involved.  If Armstrong was punished because the way in which he made a sham of the race by how he won and how he hid how he won cast doubt on the credibility of the entire sport then at one level, sure, Lance Armstrong can be upset that he believes he was symbolically punished as the embodiment of the vices of an entire industry.  But so what?  Hasn't it been the case in combat that kings were slain or publicly paraded as slaves to show that a kingdom had been defeated in battle? 

Look, anyone who knows the history of cycling knows that Greg Lemond won decades ago.  He also got accidentally shot, recovered from that, and came back to race again.  Maybe this makes me old school but there was nothing about the Armstrong comeback that was anything we hadn't seen before in the history of cycling or even, to be brutally honest about this, in American cyclists who participated in the tour.  Cancer is bad in its own unique way but getting shot is pretty bad, too.

I was a Greg Lemond fan when I was into cycling, back before too few guys won the race too many times in a row for me to care about who won any more (that started with Miguel, for the record, and not Lance, so Lance wasn't even the only cyclist to win the Tour de France too many times for me to feel like it mattered any more). 

So there's never been a point at which I have wondered why Lance Armstrong should be "back" in the world of cycling as a celebrity.  It's a pedestrian point to note that cyclists peak and decline and drop out of racing to participate in the cycling culture and industry in other ways.  Sorry, that pun wasn't intentional but I'm leaving it in there now that I've seen it.  The question that seems to have an assumed affirmative answer is whether or not Armstrong's reputation should be rehabilitated.
Again, the finish line keeps moving further out. He wasn’t remorseful enough. The financial punishments weren’t punitive enough. His public apologies aren’t enough. See this artifact of a news article from 2013, published in the wake of the Oprah Interview. It’s a step-by-step breakdown analyzing whether Lance really understood and felt remorse for his actions. 
Truthfully, it may be the case that, in 2013, Lance didn’t understand just how bad his decisions were. In fact, Lance articulates that the shoe really dropped in 2016 when one of his former Livestrong staff reached out and shared her experience: 
I had a longtime employee at Livestrong finally reach out to me after, oddly enough, she rode the whole wave of this thing and then absolutely hated my guts. Somebody came to her and said, “Let’s listen to his podcast. I don’t know. This guy sounds a little different.” And so she listened to a couple and she started to come around and then she reached out and she said, “Can we go have coffee?” and I said “Absolutely.” 
And so she’s walking me through — I asked her about the process of what was happening at Livestrong while all the accusations were there and there was a lot of smoke. And then eventually there was fire. And you know, she walked me through the whole thing, and she said, “You know, at the end of the day we all felt really complicit." 
DUBNER: That must made you feel really good, huh? Now you drag everybody in.
ARMSTRONG: Well, it changed my life.

DUBNER: How so? 
ARMSTRONG: Look, “betrayal” is a terrible word. It’s a word that nobody wants, a child to their parent or friend to another friend, a spouse to a spouse, a C.E.O. to — whatever. It’s a very heavy word. Complicit is 100x. For me, I had already started to get my mind and my heart around the fact that people had suffered this tremendous amount of betrayal, and then I was hit with complicit. And it just — it rocked me to the core. But it was, I tell you, it was the greatest — her name is Melissa — it was the greatest gift that anybody has given me the last six years.
 To be complicit here suggest that people who supported Armstrong were complicit in his cheating, the bullying he did of those who questioned the honesty and integrity of his victories, and those who believed in what he was doing through his organizations.  If Armstrong was a fraud and a bully then people were complicit in contributing to that whether they realized it or not.

He made a whole lot of people unclean is one way to put it.

When I was attending Mars Hill in later 2007 and 2008 I had some people tell me that just by attending that church I was approving of all the terrible things the church and particularly its leadership had done.  The point I raised at the time was to say, "Look, I have to know what these evil things are if I'm going to know I'm party to them just by attending."  It wasn't that I couldn't conceive of a church leadership team doing or saying terrible things, it was that there were a couple of people telling me without explanation that if I attended the church I was party to the evils.  They were functionally saying I was unclean by association without breaking down in more detail what the guilty parties had done.  Now that Mars Hill has collapsed and a whole lot more things have come to light I am still not sure that merely by dint of attending a church whose leadership perpetrated abuses that I was guilty of those abuses myself but I sure can say that I felt that my contributions of money and time were misused when I began to have a clearer sense of the ways in which I became convinced Mars Hill leadership had revealed itself to be incompetent and even malicious towards people who gave to its cause. 

I don't think anyone has a compelling case to make to me that I should send Mark Driscoll Ministries a financial donation.  Forgiving someone does not require that a person be reinstated to some status they had before you discovered they had been misrepresenting things to you.  As someone once put it, trust is gained slowly and lost quickly.  Perhaps another proviso might be that trust can be gained and lost incrementally or it can be gained and lost as a whole.  Armstrong's conduct while he had, let's call it total trust, meant that once he lost that trust that loss of trust was total. 

That's why it's hard to take this Mbird piece talking about Lance Armstrong as accomplishing a life lesson in a little l law.  I've seen those pieces from time to time but to make Lance Armstrong the springboard for such a discourse without considering that there may be good cause to have that guy banned for life from cycling, particularly when people who read the interview with Armstrong can get a strong whiff of how he sees himself as unfairly scapegoated for the collective sins of cycling--we can flip the script and ask whether cycling deserves attention?  If Armstrong, the king of the cycling empire, turned out to be a sham then we don't just have to ask what it will take for him to be given a way back in, we can also ask why anyone would watch cycling, too.  I stopped watching cycling by the time Armstrong won because I was bored.
If only repentance had a set number of stages and pre-arranged stopping points along the way, where one could complete a course and be done. 
One of the great benefits of God’s Law is that it does have a fixed finish line. It’s just that crossing that finish line is harder than winning the Tour de France seven times after cancer–without steroids (zing!): be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. There are no questions of good enough, no unwritten rule book, no people sitting around discussing your success or failure at the water cooler. 
To hear Lance talk about his exile from cycling is to hear a man desperate to atone for his sins, someone who has traded one race for another. Winning seven Tours after cancer may have been pretty easy compared to the challenge of this new race. The confessional of St. Oprah can only go so far.  
Ah, no, some of us read Armstrong and get the impression he really misses the status he had when he was king of the hill; feels he was unfairly scapegoated for doing what everyone else was doing, too; and failing to grasp that as the symbolic king of the hill his fall was emblematic of how he came to his kingship.  If you won the throne by cheating you didn't honestly win the throne, did you?  We could just set off to the side the question of why men want to seize thrones and just stick to the observation that Armstrong might just have been banned because after having the proverbial throne for so many wins it turned out he won it by doping and intimidating people who had questions and doubts about the integrity of his wins into retracting their public statements. That's more Megatron than Optimus Prime if we want to keep the discussion at a pop culture level.

To my way of thinking, better the race you know you can’t win than the one that says you can but keeps moving the chalk mark. At least in the first instance, victory has substance. It may not be yours or mine to accomplish, but apparently someone did pull it off once. It was so tough, they say the guy was sweating blood.
So by article's end it seemed that Armstrong was in some sense an interchangeable cog for a general observation about how celebrities can't catch a break after they've been caught doping, lying about the doping, and using lawyerly power to intimidate people who published allegations about doping into retracting their stories.   
Now, maybe we shouldn't make heroes of cyclists.  That bromide for the bros is easily trotted out.  We can talk about how we shouldn't make celebrities of cyclists and that says something about the idol-factory in our heart.  Yeah, yeah, I get that.  I'm a Calvinist, after all.  But Armstrong sold people a story, a heroic story, and people believed in this story, they literally bought into and invested into that story. 

I doubt I could find a more apt summation of this buying in aspect about Armstrong than the following:
And Now He Is Nothing
By Michael Specter
August 24, 2012
I moved from Moscow to Rome with my family and two bicycles in 1998, and spent a lot of that year—and the next—obsessed, I am sorry to admit, with the bicycles. Italy, after all, was a place where thousands of middle-aged men felt perfectly comfortable spending many hours a week in brightly colored spandex. I rode most days, (often, idiotically enough, on the highways that ringed the city) and by the next summer, when I wasn’t on my bike I was often parked in front of the television, mesmerized by a man who hardly seemed human.
Lance Armstrong—could a Hollywood screenwriter come up with a better name for an American hero?—had returned that year to the world’s most gruelling test of endurance, the Tour de France. He had spent the previous two years being treated for testicular cancer that had spread throughout his body, which, at the time, was more often than not a death sentence. The chemotherapy Armstrong received was so powerful and so toxic that he suffered burns on his arms from the inside. How could somebody even ride a bicycle after that, let alone win a race that lasted a month, scaled the highest peaks in Europe, and covered more than two thousand miles?
But he not only rode—he won. Again and again and again. Each victory seemingly more thrilling than the last. Seven Tours in all; a feat unmatched in sports. Cycling had long been tainted by the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs, and Armstrong’s achievement was so astounding that many people simply assumed he relied on them just as others had. The French were the loudest and most persistent critics (reason alone, in my book, to feel for the man). But others wondered, too. As I wrote in my lengthy and adulatory Profile of Armstrong, Greg LeMond, America’s first Tour de France champion (he won three times), put it well, if somewhat uncharitably, after Armstrong won his third straight Tour, in 2001: “If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.” But who could pull off a fraud like that? Armstrong was, and remains, one of the only top cyclists never to be caught doping. He almost certainly received more drug tests than any other athlete: he was tested whenever he finished among the top three riders in a race (most days). In addition, representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency would periodically show up at his house in Austin, during the off season, with vials he was forced to fill. He seemed perfectly justified in making a famous (now infamous) Nike commercial ridiculing his detractors. (“Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”) [emphasis added]
I have already conceded that I was, perhaps, overly beguiled by Lance’s excellence. And there is little left to do but lament what we have lost. It’s worth pointing out that the enormity of his achievement, even with drugs, can hardly be overstated. There has never been a more visible symbol in American sports of a man who just won’t quit.
That is why I am so deeply appalled by his announcement yesterday that he would no longer fight the charges against him. He said he was tired of the fight. Tired? Really? Armstrong made it clear on several occasions he would fight to the death. (My favorite Lance quote about pain, clearly applicable to the accusations, is, “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”)
Yes, quitting lasts forever. And he did not even have the decency to admit his guilt. Oddly, two of my colleagues—both of whom had ridiculed me mercilessly for supporting Lance—wrote to me today to say that they actually felt sorry for the guy.
I do not. Lance Armstrong stood for something. He was a man who, despite the hatred, the envy, and the odds, would never quit, would never concede. He was the great American—a man of principle who also won. Now, I am afraid, he is nothing.
So it's not just that Armstrong admitted he was a fraud, he sold himself as the man who wouldn't quit.  If you quit, it lasts forever.  He quit, so to speak, in the middle of 2012 and by early 2013 he admitted to doping. Quitting meant he had failed to live by the maxims he advised to others.  The confession meant he'd ... failed to live by the rules that he'd been alleged to have ignored as a way to gain his victories. 

I am just going to have to spell out that when I read Mbird pieces that are apologies for celebrities who lost their celebrity status with cause I'm just not "feeling it".  Defenses of why celebrities who were shown to be shams should be back on the celebrity train in their industry just don't connect with me. 

If you want a run down of a sample of the coverage.

So here's the podcast that got referenced in the Mbird piece, or large chunks of it. 
The Tour de France is so famous that it’s known even by people who know zero about cycling — which, in America, was pretty much everyone. That changed with Lance Armstrong, especially when he won again the following year. He put half the nation in spandex. Then he won again, again, again — an unprecedented seven Tour wins, all in a row. He became a hero, then a legend, and then something even bigger. Because he won those seven Tours after having survived cancer and starting a cancer foundation called Livestrong. You know those yellow Livestrong bracelets? He put even more people in them than he put in spandex. Armstrong was loud, cocky, and combative — on and off the bike. But it worked. It seemed he literally couldn’t lose, at anything. He had a rock-star girlfriend. There was talk of him going into politics someday, maybe running for governor of Texas. But there was also talk of him cheating, of doping his way to victory. Cycling — along with most other sports — has a long history of cheating.
ARMSTRONG: You know, the original Tour riders were jumping on trains and holding on to cars and taking cocaine.
Journalists and others came forward with seemingly credible evidence that Armstrong was using, among other things, erythropoietin or EPO, a naturally occurring hormone thought to boost performance. Armstrong aggressively denied the charges.
ARMSTRONG: [From this clip] I have never doped. We’re sick and tired of these allegations and we’re going to do everything we can to fight them.
In some denials, he seemed to wrap himself in the cape of a cancer-survivor superhero — like this one [emphasis added], from his 2005 Tour de France victory speech:
ARMSTRONG: [From this clip] The cynics and the skeptics, I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t dream big and I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.
But in 2012, seven years after his last Tour de France victory, most of the allegations were finally proven true.
HOST: [From this ABC News clip] Some breaking news now on Lance Armstrong: the global governing body of cycling has just announced moments ago that it will ban Armstrong for life and strip him of his seven Tour titles.
Ultimately, Armstrong confessed. But America wasn’t buying it. It wasn’t just that he’d doped; that’s what cyclists did. Nor was it that he lied. It was the way he lied — attacking his accusers; suing them. Even his confession seemed to lack an ounce of contrition. Armstrong had gotten very rich, but between lawsuits, lost sponsorships, and other clawbacks, he now lost something like $100 million. He was sued by, among many others, the U.S. Government, for having defrauded his team sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service. Armstrong also got kicked out of his own cancer foundation. So where does all this leave a person?
The 2018 Tour de France is finishing up this week. There are still constant doping allegations and, occasionally, penalties. Armstrong still feels he was unfairly scapegoated for all of cycling’s sins. [emphasis added]
ARMSTRONG: I raced in a generation and on a team that was amongst 20 other teams that all did the same thing. Every single one of them did the same thing. I went to the American team in ‘92. And I’ve referred to this a lot over the years, I referred to it as low-octane and high-octane: cortisone and things like that are low-octane and then when you get into EPO, the 10 percenters, those are high-octane. And the sport of cycling in the mid 90’s, EPO was like wildfire. And we were holding out, holding out, holding out, just assuming that, “Come on, there has to be a test for this,” and we got to this moment where we looked around and were like, “Oh my god. We don’t have a choice.” Or, well, we do have a choice. Our choice is to go home. We could just quit. Retire. But if we want to stay and fight — we were all walking around with knives, because we were told we were going to a knife fight. And next thing you know, everybody had guns. And we said, “Oh s—, these boys are carrying guns.” And so in the spring of ‘95, we went to the gun store.
DUBNER: Are you surprised at how long you got away with it? And I’m curious what kind of cost or burden it must have been to keep it secret for so long, especially when you’re getting accused of it.
ARMSTRONG: It’s made a lot easier when you have drugs that were undetectable — not even drugs plural, really a drug. Right? That is really all about EPO. Two things. One, a drug that was undetectable for very long time. So, it was the Wild Wild West. And secondly you had a drug, EPO, that had a half-life of somewhere between four and five hours. It’s very easy to monitor that, and if you knew that you were going to be in that window of time you’d be tested, if you could just do some basic math, you could figure that out. And then thirdly, and I did say this — and I’ve got a bunch of criticism for it, which I should have — my line used to always be, “I’ve passed every drug test they’ve ever given me.” And people sort of laughed at that after the fact. But the reality is that that’s actually true. Because every time those tests were given, they were clean. Because if you manage the half-life and you manage the time of year — there’s a window of risk. [emphasis added]
I cared about one event. And that’s the Tour de France and it’s in July. So I knew that I had to open up that window of risk for six to eight weeks. And that was it. So come August, September, October, November, all the rest of the months — “Guys, you can come all day long, any day, any time of day. Doesn’t matter.” Of course that doesn’t change anything, right? Most people would say, “Well, just because you managed the half-life and did the math right, that doesn’t mean that the test was clean.” But I guess it’s all to say that there was no other nefarious masking or anything. It was just about managing the math.

Let's stop a moment and highlight the last highlighted quote.  It emphasizes that the way in which Armstrong had cheated the system was calculated to be beyond the accountability protocols that were in place.  It's not just that he cheated but admitted he cheated in a way that ensured he would pass based on the testing criteria available. 

And ...

But there was some masking. Swapping out blood, for instance, to avoid detection. Here, from the 2013 documentary The Armstrong Lie, is the journalist Daniel Coyle.
Daniel COYLE: In 2000, they developed a test for EPO. So the smart guys — Ferrari being one of them — go back to an older technology which was you take out bags of blood out before the race. During the race you put them back in.

“Ferrari” is Michele Ferrari, the Italian doctor and doping expert who worked closely with Armstrong and has also been banned from the sport.
ARMSTRONG: The transfusion became part of our world once they developed the test. It became a part of everybody’s world. I mean, transfusions is old-school, right? That’s retro. That’s what they did in the 70’s and 80’s. And so people said, “Okay, well, we’ll just go retro.” 
DUBNER: If we’re talking old-school and doping, you can go back to the early days of the Tour. You can go back to the original Olympics. Performance-enhancement drugs have been around as long as, if not longer than, sports, right?
ARMSTRONG: Well all of that is true. But none of us thought about the ancient Greeks. We were thinking about ourselves and thinking about just how f—ing hard this sport is, and how we’re just getting throttled.
DUBNER: You’d been riding for so many years, you had this unbelievable endurance, physical and mental. And then you started taking EPO. And now you’re riding off in the same courses, the same hills, whatnot. You knew what’d it feel like before. What did it feel like, physically, in comparison when you had EPO in your bloodstream?
ARMSTRONG: It’s very hard to compare. I can try to imagine. I’m 46 years old and 15 pounds heavier than I was then. So, naturally it’s a lot harder. You go a lot slower, you breathe harder, you sweat more, and that’s just that.
DUBNER: Did it feel like you had a little engine helping you out. Was it that drastic, or not really?
ARMSTRONG: It’s interesting. There’s no, that I’ve ever heard of, or seen, or taken — there’s no compound that prevents suffering. Right? So even with EPO or whatever, you still feel all of the effects of — if you’re in a race and you’re over the limit and you’re suffering. I had — the only thing I’d point to is that I had an unbelievable ability to buffer lactic acid. So when you’re on a one-hour climb at the Tour de France, the thing that starts to make you go slower is lactic acid. If you just went running uphill as fast as you could and sprinting, you would start to slow, slow, slow, slow, stop. The thing that stops you is lactic acid. So I had this ability to not only buffer it, but clear it. So once we hit the downhill, then my lactate levels would drop significantly faster than anybody else. That’s really the only thing we could point to. And then I just trained my ass off. I loved it. I thrived on the work in the process, it was my favorite part of it, to be honest. And then when I got in the race I just didn’t want to lose.
DUBNER: But do you think you could have won any Tours de France without doping?
ARMSTRONG: Well, it depends what the other 199 were doing.
DUBNER: Well, considering what was actually happening at the time, considering your opponents.
ARMSTRONG: Say I did nothing?
DUBNER: If you did nothing, could you have won?
ARMSTRONG: Zero percent chance.
And yet a generation ago it was commonplace for people to just drop out of the Tour de France.  They just plain couldn't finish the race.  Being able to get into the race at all was considered something of an achievement and yet Armstrong talks about how there's zero chance of winning if you didn't dope?  That's what I find puzzling.  Thirty years ago when I was introduced to cycling I was told that the Tour de France was grueling, that lots of people didn't even finish it, and that if anyone actually did win it they had successfully worked with their team and strategically played the best game to win as an individual but also through teamwork. 
So for me the idea that Armstrong needs to be rehabilitated seems moot.  His cheating reflected badly on an entire sport, sure, but if that's the case then I don't think thee question is why "we" can't have Lance Armstrong back in cycling, the question should be why there's still cycling as a professional sport if the cheating has been as endemic as Armstrong has said. 
I'm just not seeing why a Lance Armstrong needs to have a firm "finish line" if the "finish line" is whatever he needs to say or do to be welcomed back as the crowned king of professional cycling.  That's over.  He can find other things to do.  He can at least try.  It's not that there's no ability to feel compassion for someone who has discovered that the world has discovered he's a fraud and a bully who has attacked people publicly for raising what turned out to be legitimate doubts about the integrity of his story and conduct.  I can feel compassion for a man who has done these things and still suggest that finding some way to make an honest day's wages that doesn't involve going straight back into the realm in which you were discovered to be a sham is the better way to go. 
If we live in an era in which "everybody" cheats to win some game why aren't we asking why that game should be played rather than talking about what it might take to reinstate a cheater into the game?  I'm not sure I can understand this.

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