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Why Lance Armstrong Is Still a Hero

by Joseph Misulonas | Northwestern University

F Posted in: Sports and Culture, Voices P Posted on: August 30, 2012
Joseph Misulonas headshot Joseph Misulonas

Last Thursday Lance Armstrong ended his multi-year fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). By doing so, he appears to have acknowledged that the USADA’s accusations against him in using performance-enhancing drugs on his way to winning seven Tour de France titles are true.

Armstrong continues to deny that he ever cheated. He notes that he has taken hundreds of drug tests and has not been found positive once. He says the reason he is dropping his challenge to the USADA is that he is tired of fighting them and believes that he cannot win. However, when your reputation and legacy are at stake, wouldn’t you want to fight until the very end? Especially when being a fighter is part of your legacy?

At the age of 25, Armstrong was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer, which spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. After having one of his testicles removed, his doctors still only gave him a 40% chance of survival. After a series of chemotherapy and another surgery, his cancer went into complete remission in January 1998.

Surviving cancer, no matter who you are or what you do, is worthy of hero status.

But Armstrong’s story did not end that January. A year and a half later, he won his first of seven straight Tour de France Titles. Armstrong became a hero to throughout America. He was the perfect example of an athlete overcoming adversity, and more importantly, he became a beacon of hope to those around the world diagnosed with cancer.

People will argue that all of the above does not make Armstrong a hero. Some may say that he didn’t enter the Tour de France in 1998 to become a source of hope for those with cancer. Instead, he wanted fame and fortune. He wanted to win, and to do so, he took performance-enhancing drugs. In order to succeed, he was willing to break the rules, and cheaters aren’t heroes.

However, Armstrong’s success was not his alone. In 1997 he created the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Since 1998, the foundation has raised nearly $500 million in cancer research. How many people did you know growing up who wore a yellow Livestrong bracelet? How many other charities piggy-backed on the success of Livestrong and created their own bracelets to raise money? It is impossible to count how many lives have been touched by Lance Armstrong’s charitable endeavors.

Some will still argue that does not make him a hero, that the ends do not justify the means. But what are those means? Armstrong cheated in, arguably, the most tainted sport in the world. Since 1998, 28 cyclists who have finished at least once in the top 10 of the Tour de France were later proven to have taken performance-enhancing drugs. If there is a cloud over Major League Baseball, there should be torrential storm hanging over professional cycling.

I believe there is no athlete in recent history who has better used his or her image for good than Lance Armstrong. While many athletes start charities and raise a lot of money, none of them do it with the passion that Armstrong did. Half a billion dollars raised in a little more than a decade. Show me the athlete you point to as the paragon of honesty and prove he has done more good than Lance Armstrong.

We idolize athletes far too often in our society. We worship them as gods walking amongst mere mortals. We are willing to overlook their flaws because they perform for our favorite team week in and week out. Armstrong was one of the few athletes we could look up to for a reason other than performance. He was a man trying to make the world a better place. Finally, an athlete who deserved admiration and could be a role model to children. It was not his amazing cycling ability that parents wanted their children to imitate: it was his charity. His career as a cyclist was secondary to his career as a humanitarian.

Armstrong’s legacy will transcend sports. Will we remember that he cheated? Yes. However, I think that he will be remembered for doing more for a charitable cause than any other athlete in history.

I believe Lance Armstrong cheated, but I do not care. He’s still a hero to me.

Joseph Misulonas Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Joseph is double majoring in Journalism and Political Science. He is obsessed about two things: sports and national politics, which are really quite similar. I hope others will agree with me after reading my work.

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