Lance Armstrong raced a local 35K trail race this past weekend in Woodside. A lot of people think he shouldn’t have been allowed to, and it’s not like that argument isn’t without merits. I don’t think, though, that it’s for us to ban him from every local race ever.
Look, I get the argument for lifetime bans for dopers. I do. You want to raise the stakes, make the incentive to dope less appealing, because right now there’s way too much to gain and not enough to lose. (Plus, there’s increasing scientific evidence that there may be lifetime benefits to part-time doping.) So ban anyone who gets caught doping from ever competing in a race with a prize purse, from making any money off it, from WADA-sanctioned events. They violated the rules of their profession, so never again let them partake in that profession again. Fine.
But to argue that they should never ever be allowed to participate in any kind of recreational race just doesn’t even make sense. And in the vein of not perpetuating the insanity of the Republican debates, let’s try not to make vast proposals that are neither reasonable nor logical. How are you going to ban every doper from every small local event? It’s not possible. Here in Marin, we have these monthly pick-up running races that cost $5 and are definitely not sanctioned by any governing body. How would you even stop someone from doing one of those? You think there’s some kind of master database of every informal competitive gathering ever? People wouldn’t have even know about this race except that he’s Lance Armstrong.
What it really comes down to is if the individual race directors want to ban dopers from their individual races (assuming they’d know by name and be able to spot every doper who registers for every small race). To a degree, race director can let in or not whoever they want, with some obvious exceptions—you can’t not allow women, for example, or minorities.
What you’re fundamentally arguing then is that there is some line past which people are too terrible to be allowed the privilege of getting on a starting line. OK, fine. So you get to decide what that line is? And you think it’s doping?
Yeah, doping is cheating. Yeah, it’s really bad for the sport. But you’ve read a newspaper this week, right? You know that there are a lot of worse people than Lance Armstrong, right? And, yet, we aren’t banning racers based on the crimes they’ve committed. In fact, we acknowledge the ability of running races to help former inmates, former criminals. Either you believe in rehabilitation and you believe in the power of sports, of goals, to give focus and structure to people’s lives. Or you don’t. You can’t just believe in it for some people.
Would it make a difference if Lance was really really sorry?
Because, fundamentally, what it seems like is that people really want to stop being confronted with the conundrum of Lance Armstrong. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: when we vilify an individual, instead of actually examining the entire system that helped create that individual (which includes our role in that system), what we’re really doing is trying to get out of actually fixing the problem.
There was evidence for a long time that Lance Armstrong was not a good person. But people ignored it because they wanted to ignore it. They fed the machine that created the incentives for him to do what he did in the first place. To pretend that he did those things in a vacuum absolves us of our responsibility. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching so much Law & Order: SVU it’s that the line between victims and perpetrators isn’t always dark and straight. I don’t know exactly how many of those Russian athletes who were asked for bribes to cover-up positive tests were part of what is clearly a corrupt Russian system and how much they were the instigators. I think we now know that many of the Eastern bloc athletes were victims of their country’s system, and some weren’t. Yes, I think Lance Armstrong organized and masterminded much of the doping push within the cycling world at that time. But if you really want to fix the whole thing, then heaping punishment on one person isn’t going to do that. It’s only going to make you feel a little better for a little while.
Now, if I was Lance Armstrong’s PR person, I would probably advise him against getting back into competitive sports. I’d suggest laying low. But he’s clearly pathological and I’m not his PR person. So it’s not for me to tell him what he can and can’t do with his free time. I don’t have the right.