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The Real Problem With Armstrong

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I haven’t written about the revelations that have shocked nobody except Buzz Bissinger, in part because I can’t claim to have ever cared about him in the first place. (As the Editors said about Tiger Woods, I pledge to respond to Armstrong’s doping by never watching the Tour De France again, or come to think of it ever before.)

However, I do think one thing separates Armstrong from most of the athletes accused of doping. It’s not about cheating, per se. It’s true that the case he cheated is, on a formal level, stronger than the case against Bonds and Clemens, in that he was violating rules he agreed to in advance and were being enforced with a transparent mechanism. Having said that, saying that Armstrong cheated seems as fundamentally meaningless as Caro’s claim that LBJ “stole” the 1948 Senate election. Since everyone at the upper levels of the sport was apparently doping, it’s hard to be outraged that Armstrong didn’t unilaterally disarm. And while Armstrong did seem like an incredibly sanctimonious liar, I’m also reluctant to use that against him much. It’s too easy to end up with the double standard under which Petitte seems to get a pass for his PED usage while Clemens and Bonds don’t because he’s a nicer guy (and not as good.)

But what is a problem with Armstrong is this kind of thing:

But that’s not all there is to it. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s report on Armstrong, issued three months ago, details numerous incidents in which Armstrong, according to sworn witnesses, pressured, threatened, or intimidated others.

If Armstrong was a doper in a context in which all of his major competitors were, I don’t care. When he’s using lawsuits and other techniques to try to destroy the lives and careers of people who told the truth about him, though, that’s a different story. For example:

Betsy Andreu, a University of Michigan graduate with a quick wit and sharp tongue, has long been considered one of Armstrong’s biggest enemies, but over the past week she has felt mixed emotions. She is one of the few people who refused to remain silent over the years about Armstrong’s dark secrets of doping. And, like the others who questioned his fairy tale story, she was one of those Armstrong tried to crush.

He has called her obsessed and vindictive. He has tried to blackball her husband from working in cycling. He did all that because the Andreus — who were once inside Armstrong’s inner circle — refused to lie about a doping confession they said they heard Armstrong make in 1996 while he was battling cancer.

I don’t care about his doping, but the way he attacked others really is indefensible.

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