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.
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 email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
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 ...