The Lance Test

Lance Armstrong is someone I know. Sort of. I was at 11,000 feet riding up Independence Pass a few years ago, and he blew by me like I was standing still. I know, being passed by Lance is a privilege, but it’s a common one. Except that I was on my motor scooter.

Let’s stipulate that what Lance did was wrong. He broke the rules of the game, and he broke the rules of life. He’s been prosecuted for it, he’s confessed to it, he’s been convicted of it, he’s been shamed for it, he’s been punished for it, and he’s apologized for it. And he’s implied that he will ask for forgiveness at some point in the future, but right now he doesn’t think he’s deserving of forgiveness, so he won’t even ask.

But people still want to stone him. Now the government is suing him for “defrauding” the U.S. Postal Service, which paid a zillion bucks to sponsor him. (No word on when the government will sue the Postal Service for spending a zillion bucks of taxpayer money to sponsor a bicyclist.)

There’s even talk about government lawyers prosecuting him criminally – they want to put him in jail. Not for doping, which was not a crime, but for lying about it. Lawyers, whose job is to spin the truth, want to put a man in jail for spinning it too well.

If this were softball, we’d call the 10-run rule and go home. If this were a boxing match, we’d say there has been a technical knockout. If this were football, they’d call a foul for unnecessary roughness. In short, there’s been a lot of piling on.

I have a test for all of you angry people who love to hate Lance, for all you underachievers who build yourselves up by tearing Lance down, for all the lawyers who feel threatened by Lance encroaching on your turf of trickery, for all you overweight armchair athletes whose idea of sport is to watch on TV a game you’ve never played while spraying beer-soaked exclamations like “Tell you what! He got hit a ton!”

To all of you (and you know who you are), take this test:

1) Have you had cancer? The kind that usually kills?

2) Have you had killer cancer in your testicles?

3) Have you had a cancerous testicle cut off?

4) Did you grow up without a father around?

5) Were you a teenage phenom – an athlete literally off the charts – on whom people placed extraordinary expectations?

6) Have you undergone chemotherapy?

7) Did you compete as a Texan in a European sport against Europeans in Europe who were all on performance-enhancing drugs -after your cancerous testicle had been cut off and you’d undergone chemotherapy?

8) Have you established a foundation to help cancer patients?

9) Have you had to confess your most embarrassing secrets to millions of people on national TV?

10) Have you had to confess your most embarrassing secrets to your son and tell him, “Stop defending me”?

Bonus question: Have you ever passed a motor scooter on your bike going uphill at 11,000 feet?

If you scored 8 or above, then feel free to continue piling on Lance if it makes you feel good. If you scored 4 to 7, then some introspection is appropriate. If you scored 3 or less, then you’re out of your league. You’ve never walked a mile in Lance’s shoes, much less ridden 100,000 miles on his bike.

(For the record, I personally took the Lance test. The game of life is not yet over, but I’m in the fourth quarter, and Lance is ahead of me by a touchdown, a two-point conversion and a field goal.)

And if you’re one of those fleshy government lawyer/prosecutors with six weeks of paid vacation, ask yourself whether Lance is truly a threat to society or just a threat to your fragile underperforming squishy, emasculated self. (If a guy with just one testicle is stronger than you, after all, then how many do you have? Do the math.)

Let’s reflect a bit. Why do we as a society worship strangers on TV? Why do we idolize people we never met and know little about? Why do we deify them, then envy their status as deities, then hope for their fall and then celebrate their destruction? And then find someone else on whom to repeat the whole pointless exercise?

Here’s a different approach. If you need a god in your life (and I, for one, do), then stop looking for him on ESPN. Look instead in the local church, synagogue or mosque. Look for him in people you love. Best of all, look for him inside yourself, for indeed the kingdom is within you. Beat the cancer within you. Win the race within you. Find the charity within you. Get in the game, the real one. The one that is – I’ll say it again – within you.

If instead you insist on making gods out of humans you’ve never met because that’s easier and more entertaining for you, OK. In a free country, that’s your prerogative. But when your godly humans turn out to be more human than godly, please don’t bore us with your self-righteous sanctimony.

Published in The Aspen Times on March 21, 2013 at