Last night I was on Twitter. As usual. Wasting my time whilst on the trainer and between naps, I was scrolling through my favorites of what I like to call ‘the athletic nerd journalist’ accounts – namely, cycling and other niche-sport writers whom I deeply respect but who are, ultimately, overeducated white people who are lucky (and bored) enough to write about things wholly inconsequential to the rest of humanity.
Thus I stumbled upon the USA Today’s recent write up, titled ‘How the Oprah confession has weighed on Lance Armstrong’.
As a cyclist, as a professional athlete and as a human being, can I just say how goddamn tired I am of the circus surrounding Lance Armstrong? I’m exhausted of the ongoing and obsessively-covered ‘controversy’ surrounding one man who hasn’t been involved in pro cycling for years now (close to a decade) and who, contrary to popular opinion, was not the devil nor the end-all of professional doping within sport. Nor was Lance the Darth Vader of evil for sport in general that he’s often cast as, nor has sport at large changed that much since he was blackballed from the bike world.
Why are we still covering him? He’s a guy who cheated, lied and bullied his way through sport. GREAT! That doesn’t make him exceptional. In fact, it makes him normal amongst his peers, particularly in the world of pro cycling. Why is sporting media babysitting him? Why do the sporting masses even bother clicking on articles about him? Because at one point we idolized him? At one point we pretended he was the savior Jesus Christ incarnate? Come on. We do that with everyone from Barry Bonds to Tiger Woods to Tom Brady and beyond. We put them on a pedestal, bow at their feet, then rejoice at their downfall when they prove to be human beings doing what humans do.
Why is sports journalism (and cycling journalism in particular) taking so much time and energy to vilify and demonize Lance? More importantly, why are we giving such valuable press coverage to the guy when there are far more insidious and dangerous people and organizations still in cycling today that are not only actively damaging cycling and people within it, but situations where press coverage would actually be relevant and have impact?
For every person still manically grinding their teeth over what Lance Armstrong did, there are three to ten other people in cycling who can identify bullying, abuse and cheating in the sport who remain silent. For every Lance Armstrong himself, I’d bet my very small race winnings that there twice as many athletes, coaches, program directors, doctors and ‘insiders’ still doing the bullying, abusing, cheating, blackballing and career-destroying that go entirely unacknowledged while we collectively self-fellate about the Armstrong lawsuit and consult Landis (another cheater and liar) about his entirely obsolete opinion.
Why are we doing this? Is it because Lance is easy click-bait? Is it because the facts are there in black and white and sports journalism at large is lazy as hell? Is it because journalists are terrified what will happen to them if they actually talk to the athletes who have experienced training under programmes run by folks like Shane Sutton? Is it because cycling at large is just a bunch of cowards who would rather scapegoat a single person for all the issues within a sport rather than self-critique and take stock of what is still going on?
We have women inside cycling who have formed secret Facebook groups to enable them to safely discuss the topics of very real physical, emotional, mental and financial danger they’re in without getting doxxed, threatened, black-balled and/or dropped by sponsors. We have media websites who approve bike reviews for publication with blatant and dangerously sexist content. Cycling has companies who still employ female nudity, entire squads of half-dressed women and sexual ploy to sell bikes and an entire federation who won’t even mandate that factory teams hire women, let along pay them equally.
Cycling has no bottom line for how much pro female athletes should earn, no industry-wide mandate for the equal treatment, benefit, payout or protection of athletes, organizers, disciplines or even Olympic athletes and we’re still writing about Lance?
We’re embroiled, once again, in a pro men’s peloton-wide doping scandal that our federation continues to turn a blind eye to and that even the US national federation has failed to put down in the Master’s category and yet we are still writing and reading about Lance’s apologies.
You’re kidding, right?
We participate in a sport where women have been assaulted at events, where we’re just coming to grips and battling over trans/non-binary sporting rights, where people of color are a minority participation and where exploitation, abuse and tokenism rule out entire toxic atmosphere and we’re still talking about Lance.
You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s high time that we stop talking about someone who has completely nothing to do with our sport other than a blip on the radar in the continued doping and life-ruining scandal and start talking about the things that matter. Because no offense, Lance, but until we take the lessons to heart that Lance’s reign taught us, Lance just doesn’t matter.