published Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

David Cook: The Walking David vs. Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong has been stripped more times than Debbie in Dallas, losing last week his seven Tour de France titles.

Armstrong, the once and super-fit king of global cycling, has become the main villain in what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has called “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program” in the history of cycling.

Accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong is falling from great heights in the way only super sports stars can (read: Tiger) as his sponsors (Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Trek) flee and public opinion turns hostile.

(It should be noted that Armstrong has never tested positive; the enormous case against him is based on testimonies from eyewitnesses, teammates and cycling officials.)

Me? I think his drug use is a good thing. In fact, I think the world is better off because he doped.

Before I explain why, let’s turn our attention to the news coming out of Atlanta.

Zombies. Everywhere.

The zombie apocalypse has hit Georgia. Everyday, normal folks like your neighbor Larry are being turned into mindless zombies who do nothing but shuffle around and search for food (which, come to think of it, was a good way to describe Larry anyway, especially on the weekends).

All is not lost. Led by a deputy sheriff named Rick, a ragged band of humans continues to survive. Barely.

This, of course, is the plot summary of the AMC hit series “The Walking Dead.” Viewed by millions, the show combines all the best parts of gory zombie fiction with the great questions and ethical dilemmas of a modern morality play.

In the face of such dehumanization and destruction, how does one remain moral and ethical? Humane, when so much is inhumane? Do the rules still apply ... when the rules no longer apply?

“The Atlantic” recently reported that the show’s writers read Viktor Frankl’s Holocaust memoir “Man’s Search for Meaning.” The well-known book claims that our surroundings — a zombie apocalypse, cancer, the Holocaust — do not trump our own individual spiritual and mental power. We can make meaning out of any circumstance, however hellish.

All things can have purpose. What may seem bad can lead to good.

Which brings us back to Lance Armstrong ... and this column. Beginning today, this online-only column will examine three of the most stirring topics — zombies, pop culture and our search for a meaningful and moral existence — and the ways they intersect.

We’re calling it The Walking David.

And today, I argue that a doped Lance Armstrong — a figure in our collective culture caught in a moral mess — has saved lives.

Normally, our ethical compass would condemn Armstrong. He lied. Cheated. Used illegal substances. It’s plausible to say, though, that for Armstrong to reach the tippity-top, he had to dope. So many top cyclists — Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, George Hincapie, Alberto Contador — have admitted doping (Ullrich said he did to compete with Armstrong), it’s hard to think of Armstrong becoming “The” Lance Armstrong without doping.

Sure, it’s not like he just squirmed into spandex and starting riding up France. Cancer had left him as thin as a bike pump. His return was mythic, the once-doomed Texan winning seven Tour titles in a row and, along the way, creating maybe the most well-known cancer-fighting group in the U.S. — The Livestrong Foundation, which claims to have raised more than $470 million for cancer research and aid for cancer victims and survivors.

Which means that cancer is that much closer to being whupped.

Which means that, directly or indirectly, you or someone you know with cancer may have benefited from a doped Armstrong.

Which is far more important than winning the Tour de something.

It’s messy, but in ethical mathematics, Armstrong’s deceit on the bike is reduced by his altruism off the bike.

Now, if we could just get him to ride the Tour de Georgia. You know, through Atlanta.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Salsa said...

The Livestrong Foundation doesn't raise money for cancer research. People commonly believe that it does, but if you check with them they will tell you themselves that they don't fund research. The money they raise goes to other things.

October 30, 2012 at 12:45 a.m.
xx said...

The proposition that you make in your article is that the ends justify the means: that as a result of Lance Armstrong's fraud the world is a little better off because he created a vast cancer-fighting organization.

I could possibly, maybe, kind-of, sort-of accept this premise if the objective all along behind Lance Armstrong's years-long, systematic, organized, bullying, coercive massive deception was to succumb to cancer (he admitted to his doctor during his cancer treatment that he had already used performance-enhancing drugs) and then create the Livestrong Foundation to aid the worldwide battle against cancer. Seen from that perspective, then, Lance Armstrong could almost be viewed as a messianic sort of character: sacrificing himself, humbling himself to save others.

But that's not what the evidence demonstrates happened. Lance Armstrong's deception was all about aggrandizing Lance Armstrong. He is today one of the wealthiest figures in sports. He was, until recently, one of the most revered figures in sports. The cancer angle only magnified the benefits that accrued to Lance Armstrong. How much of Lance Armstrong's ill-gotten $125 million net worth has he donated to the fight against cancer?

The world is not better because of the mammoth con-artist that is Lance Armstrong. What of the the legions of cancer victims who have felt very personally the blow and terrible let-down that is Lance Armstrong's lie? What of the faith that has been lost in heroes by young and old alike? What of the lives that Lance Armstrong ruined in his sociopathic drive to mask his deception? What of the damage done to the sport of cycling? What of the donations that will not be made to worthy organizations because of the skepticism and lack of trust that Lance Armstrong has freshly created?

October 30, 2012 at 4:41 a.m.
fahzure said...

I like your thinking, but let's make a real equation.

On the plus side: LA advanced cycling in the US; raised money for cancer "awareness" and patient services; he acted as an inspiration to patients.

On the minus side: he used cancer awareness as a propaganda and influence machine, specially targeting victim services to get the most gloss for the buck; he stole the professions of dozens of good, clean up and coming US cyclists; he sued good, honest who told the truth, bankrupting and silencing them; he intimidated potential witnesses; he lied under oath; he accumulated vast personal wealth; built a lie around cancer survivorship (what do you think might have caused that cancer?);and...oh yeah he doped and cheated.

Your ethical math disrespects the victims of this narcissistic megalomaniac. You have not read the USADA Reasoned Decision or listened to the many victims coming forward. You are a sucker basking in the shine that LA falsely created.

October 30, 2012 at 10:25 a.m.
pikeville said...

David, I really wish you would spend some time looking at the state of DCS. From the Dependent/Neglect foster care side to the DYD side. Over 300 children have died and many staff and clients in JJ will if something isn't done!!! It is the worst department in Haslam's administration. Look at the numbers!! The public needs to know how the unfortunate children of Tn. are being cared for.

Thhttp://www.tennessean.com/article/20121028/NEWS03/310280070/Youth-violence-soars-DCS-detention-centers?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGEe

October 30, 2012 at 11:36 p.m.
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