I don't like Lance Armstrong and I believe he doped.
But it doesn't matter what I like or believe (in this case at least). Armstrong's fate now lies with a grand jury. What they believe certainly does matter.
I just watched 60 Minutes' interview with Tyler Hamilton. It makes for some viewing that is a combination of things that I can't really put my finger on; perhaps riveting, powerful, honest and in some ways purely fascinating. Lance Armstrong transcended the sport of cycling and yet here we are being fed descriptions of him lying on a bed getting his own blood transfused into him, injecting himself with EPO (which he and his teammates imaginatively labelled "Edgar Allen Poe") and supplying his fellow riders with doping products. It's salacious stuff to say the least, at the same time both unsurprising and surreal.
There's plenty of stuff that's whirling around in the media about whether he did it and what it means for him, cycling and sport in general. I don't want to talk about that stuff here as all the angles have been covered many times over.
I want to talk about the cyclists involved. People are pretty quick to judge cyclists. And by "judge" I don't mean convicting them of guilt. By "judge" I mean condemning and slating cyclists who are found to be dopers. I should say at this point that I don't condone doping. But I do think people need to be a little more empathetic.
Listening to Hamilton on 60 Minutes explain how he came to dope made a whole lot of sense to me. Cycling was his profession, he had devoted his life to it, and here he was being told that if he took EPO he would be able to race in the Tour de France. You don't have to be a cycling fan to know what that must mean to a cyclist (despite this the 60 Minutes reporter did see fit to translate the term Tour de France into American; Super Bowl).
Another of Armstrong's former teammates, Frankie Andreu, explained that lesser cyclists who he would normally be able to beat were riding away from him in races. It was simply impossible to keep up, let alone win, without doping. I'd love to say that put in that situation I would have the moral fortitude, the ethics, the strength, or whatever it is that so many accuse dopers of lacking, to resist. But I am pretty confident I would have rolled up my sleeves and said "stick it in".
If that makes me a bad person, then a bad person I am. But my mum says I'm nice. I hope you can forgive me too...for hypothetically doping.
Some may say that it's different because they are professionals who should know better. I say it makes no difference. They're humans with the same weaknesses as the next man.
What does that mean for Lance? Not much, except that he probably did what the majority of others did and what many more would have done given the opportunity.
If Lance is found to be guilty, he will hit the ground harder than the numerous (countless?) others before him. Why? Because he will have fallen from much, much loftier heights.
If you've got 44 minutes you should check out the 60 Minutes story below.