Say it ain’t so, Lance!


One of the most memorable lines in sports emerged from a scandal involving the Chicago White Sox. Eight White Sox players, including leftfielder “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, were banned for life from major league baseball for allegedly conspiring with gamblers to fix the 1919 World Series in favor of their opponent, the Cincinnati Reds.

Lance Armstrong wins his seventh consecutive Tour de France in 2005

In 1920, as the story goes, Jackson emerged from a Chicago courthouse where he had testified before a Cook Country grand jury and was confronted by group of young fans. “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” one of the boys reportedly pleaded with his onetime idol.
That line has banged around in my head during the past couple years as legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong has been dogged by increasingly credible allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs en route to a record seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France, from 1999 to 2005.
Armstrong’s announcement on Wednesday that he is retiring — for the second time — from professional bicycle racing again stirred conflicting emotions.
Is he one of the most remarkable athletes who ever lived — one who first defeated testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs and then went on to “own” perhaps the world’s most grueling sporting event for seven straight years? Or is he a fraud whose extraordinary powers were enhanced by some substance injected by a needle?
Say it ain’t so, Lance!
Winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times ranked as a sporting feat as difficult to match as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in that magical season of 1941 or swimmer Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It seemed incomprehensible to ordinary human beings that Armstrong, whose cancer nearly killed him in 1996, could win the Tour even once, much less seven times.
To be fair, Armstrong has been saying “it ain’t so” ever since suspicions about the use of performance-enhancing drugs started swirling around in 1999, after his first Tour de France victory.

A sign at Mellow Johnny's, Lance Armstrong's bike shop in Austin

How could someone who nearly died of cancer win Le Tour, some wondered, if he didn’t have some help from a needle?
But Armstrong tested clean after every Tour de France and has repeatedly and vehemently denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration launched an investigation into professional cycling last year following accusations against Armstrong, including those by Floyd Landis, who won the 2006 Tour de France but was stripped of his title after testing positive for drug use. A federal grand jury in Los Angeles has been hearing the case.

Armstrong fields questions about the Sports Illustrated report on Jan. 19 in Australia

Sports Illustrated convincingly outlined the case against Armstrong in its Jan. 24 issue, fueling speculation that indictments could be handed down at any time. But The Associated Press reported Feb. 12, citing lawyers familiar with the case, that “a decision on whether to indict” Armstrong “is not imminent and the federal investigation has encountered serious hurdles.” One problem, apparently, has been lack of proof of any wrongdoing.
Armstrong’s comeback from a devastating disease to achieve dominance in one of the world’s toughest athletic endeavors is a story that has transcended sports and tugged at the emotions of us all. It would be very sad, indeed, if one day he emerges from a Los Angeles courthouse after being indicted and is confronted by a youthful admirer who says: “Say it ain’t so, Lance.”

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7 Comments

Filed under Americana, History, Texana

7 responses to “Say it ain’t so, Lance!

  1. Fortunately, our system remains “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” I reserved judgment on Floyd. I owe Lance no less. One major factor would seem obvious – why did virtually nothing pop up about this until after Lance was past his prime and why are many accusers irrevocably tainted? Even the SI article was mostly anonymous sources that cast doubt on their willingness to point the finger in the full glare of the public spotlight.

    I could as easily suggest Jim Peipert is a doper (anonymously, of course)…

    • Steve,
      I, too, reserved judgment on Floyd and wanted to believe him almost up to when he ‘fessed up. But he let us down — hard. I also want to believe Lance and hope he doesn’t suffer the same disgrace as Landis, particularly because of all the fine work that has been done by his Livestrong Foundation.
      Jim

      • You’ll note that Jim slyly avoided saying anything about that last sentence that could be considered perjury!

        Seriously, Floyd was at least officially accused and not merely “under suspicion with not much evidence.” Floyd eventually admitted that the official accusations were accurate. That is a WORLD of difference than Lance. Besides, Lance is a Texan.

  2. John Vandevelde

    Lance is a hero of mine for his many victory charges uphill on the mountain stages and his absolutely masterful control of the peloton and its special politics. Nobody has ever been better at either aspect of bicycle racing as far as I am concerned.
    If Lance was “using” performance enhancing drugs, something tells me he was no different than most of the riders. I hope he was not using, but it was so long ago, so far away, and the inquiry is so bereft of credible evidence, and so utterly not the business of U.S. prosecutors, that it seems relatively unimportant to me at this point.
    To me Lance is a far bigger hero because he did something he did not have to do. He gave his time and energy to turn his negative experience of cancer into a positive inspiration for so many people who face the trauma of the many variations of that horrible and scary disease. He did so by winning races, but he also did so in a far more important and lasting way by establishing the Livestrong Foundation. I do not think there is another athlete or celebrity, not even Jerry Lewis with his many years of fighting for kids suffering from Muscular Dystrophy, who has done more to raise consciousness and money in the fight against a disease.
    So no matter what the truth is about any use by Lance of performance enhancing drugs, he will remain a hero to me. And if he is so unfortunate as to be prosecuted and even convicted for some ancient event in a foreign country, and if I see him walking out of the courhouse in Los Angeles, I plan to say, “Thank you Lance for all you have done for me and many others. You are my hero.”
    –John

  3. Well said, John. I, too, want to believe. But I have to keep struggling against my cynical nature.

  4. Dale Armstrong

    Jim, Hope your hero doesn’t turn out to have feet of clay.

  5. Would you mind enabling rss feeds, because this page is difficult to read on my phone. Don’t mean to be a complainer, but I figure if it would help me it would probably help others as well. Thanks 🙂

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