We Are All Liars: The Confessions of Lance Armstrong

“You can pay me now, or you can pay me later”  This old adage comes to mind after having watched the first of two installments of Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey last night: he had used performance enhancing drugs since 1995, including all seven of his Tour de France victories.

Lance is paying big-time now.  In light of the many years that he vehemently denied doping, the confession was incredible.  This is truly a sad story.  For Lance, of course, but more importantly, the sport of cycling, and beyond that, our faith in all heroes.

The “Lost Generation” is how the cycling racers of the last 20 or so years are being described.  We will never know who the truly best racers were during the time period 1990 to 2010.  All the time I spent listening to, reading about, and watching bicycle racing was the equivalent of watching pro wrestling: totally farcical and rigged.  The difference is that I think most of pro wrestling’s fans knew and accepted the farce!  We cycling fans were duped, pure and simple.

We wanted to be duped.  Lance’s story of coming back from cancer was incredibly compelling.  Some of us saw enough smoke several years ago to believe there was a fire.  I stopped wearing my yellow Livestrong bracelet about 2007 after I read David Walsh and Pierre Ballester’s LA Confidential.  That book, and the many other rumors and allegations flying about, pushed me over the edge.

Even so, it was still shocking to hear Lance last night.  The greatest sadness I have is for the human condition: how people can delude themselves so completely.  Lance confessed, not just to doping, but also to truly not thinking, at the time, that he was cheating.  A lie to the world that was as complete as Lance’s could not have been perpetrated unless he was totally duping himself.

It’s a type of schizophrenia, if you ask me.  All of us do this to a greater or lesser extent.  Yes, all of us.  The difference (or not) between Lance and the rest of us liars rests on a twofold continuum: first, the degree of self deceit; second, the impact on the rest of humanity.

The first continuum: we lie to ourselves out of fear, and our degree of fear determines the extent of our lie.  Lance has plenty of fears, perhaps the greatest of which was of being abandoned, as he was by his father at the age of two.

The second continuum: some liars may not affect many people, but some of us affect millions, as did Lance, including all those that believed in the miracle of his recovery, and the inspiration of his commitment to succeeding.

I am left to examine the lies I have told myself over the years, the fears that lie beneath them, and who I have hurt and disappointed.  That is the gift of Lance Armstrong’s confession for me.

Postscript: Lance’s troubles continue.  Travis Tygart, CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency, told Sixty Minutes’ Scott Pelley that Lance was lying to Oprah about when he last used PEDs.  On February 6, 2013, federal prosecutors reopened the investigation they mysteriously closed a year ago.  Lance may face criminal charges of obstruction, witness tampering and intimidation.  Additionally, Lance faces civil suits that could cost him about $90 million, should the claimants prevail.

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