Saturday, July 4, 2009

Time for Lance to "man up" ...

Boston, beautiful (for a change!) ...

OK, let me get this right out front. I'm in the minority regarding my opinion of Lance Armstrong. I think the guy is a peerless bicycle racer (the best of his generation), and an inspiration to thousands, if not millions, of cancer survivors. I get all that, and I admire Armstrong's myriad accomplishments. The guy is an absolute stud, and I still enjoy watching his Tour de France and World Championship wins. I've interviewed him on a number of occasions, and found him to be charming, clever, charismatic, articulate, and incredibly bright. But that's not enough.

In this day and age, we don't have to settle for athletes who tell us: "Hey, I get it done between the lines." Sorry, but that doesn't completely justify the multi-million pay days that these men and women are collecting. Lance has earned a gazillion dollars through his hard-earned cycling victories and multiple endorsement deals. He's given hope to millions of cancer victims through his Lance Armstrong Foundation. Kudos to him. I don't begrudge him the money, or the acclaim he deserves for his cancer work. Just don't ask me to ignore what a putz he can be, and has been, to friends, teammates, fans, and loved ones.

I always got a kick out of Charles Barkley's "I'm not a role model" commercial for Nike. That's because the message was clear and straightforward: Don't expect sports stars to raise your kids. I get that, and I'm OK with it. The difference with Lance is that he wants it both ways. He wants to be the role model, and collect the ducats and accolades that come with it. But he only wants the celebrity on his terms. Lance is always talking about others having to do "the right thing" (like raising more money for cancer research), yet he doesn't hold himself to the same standards, and he lashes out when people expect that of him. Lance doesn't want people to pry. If anyone - friends, media, fans - does cross him, he'll cut them off at the knees without a second thought. That's just the way the guy is wired.

One of my favorite writers, Roger Angell, once said that athletes "are what they do." I believe that. But when a guy (or woman) is pulling down a hefty seven- or eight-figure salary for his or her athletic feats, we're allowed to expect more. We have every right to judge the entire body of work, not just what Nike or Madison Avenue decide to spoon-feed us. When former Boston slugger Manny Ramirez body-slammed the Red Sox's elderly traveling secretary for not doing his bidding, I was happy to see his steroid-enhanced butt shipped out of town. And when Lance dumps the girlfriend who nurtured him through chemo, dumps the wife who gave birth to his kids, or dumps the celebrity singer/significant other the moment she was diagnosed with breast cancer, we have a right to weigh in on those actions as well. Which is why I've repeatedly said that I'm a fan of Armstrong the cyclist, but not necessarily Armstrong the man.

Am I being judgmental? Without a doubt. Do I have the right? I suppose that's debatable. But I choose to consider the entire package. Lance, as great an athlete and ambassador for cancer research as he is, shouldn't be given a free pass for his shortcomings. Not in my book, anyway ...


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