What do American sports fans care about more: cheaters or liars? We live in a curious age of sports where the two categories are intertwined, leaving us in a precarious abyss. Most people are upset when they find out that their sports heroes are cheaters, but the overwhelming majority is even more upset when their hero lies about cheating.
Of course, the situation with Lance Armstrong and Oprah brings this discussion to light. Armstrong has been the most vehement proponent of his innocence for years, if not decades. Fans were forced to choose sides, either standing by the former seven time Tour De France winner, or thinking him a cheater. But interestingly, the members of the latter category found themselves there not because Lance cheated all those years, but because he was lying about it.
In 2008, Andy Pettitte admitted to using H.G.H. in a graceful apology to fans from the Yankees press room. Fans across the country recognized the humility of the statement, understood the pressure to recover quickly from injury and most of all, appreciated the honesty. We all had seen too many phony conferences with adamant denials from the likes of Roger Clemens and Barry “Hat Size” Bonds. Pettitte’s candor was refreshing.
So we forgave and forgot. Andy Pettitte suffered almost no backlash from his admission and will be in the starting rotation for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Think about that for a minute. An admitted user of performance enhancing drugs will be representing his country versus the world in baseball’s only global event.
In a year where the Baseball Writers of America kept players out of the Hall of Fame due to their connection with PEDs, the dichotomy between right and wrong has been blurred. Are we punishing the eligible athletes because they cheated, or because they lied? Pettitte continues to embellish his resume and is being rewarded with the opportunity to play for the USA, while arguably the best pitcher and best hitter of all time are kept out of the Hall.
What will Armstrong’s apology accomplish? Pettitte nipped the issue in the bud by coming clean right away while Lance has been covering his tracks and “ruining lives” for years. It doesn’t seem like the American people will be as forgiving with Armstrong as we were for Pettitte. For most people, this admission only serves to affirm what they already knew: Armstrong is a cheater and a liar.
What if Armstrong had admitted to doping years ago? People may have chalked his behavior up to his overcoming cancer, or to the notoriously dirty culture of professional cycling. For a man so famously dedicated to winning, it would have been reasonable to deduce that he was only doing what he could to keep up with the rest of the cheaters. And while that wouldn’t completely absolve him, neither will this long-overdue confession.
Armstrong’s two part interview with Oprah will be compelling television. The American people want and deserve to hear what Lance has to say. How did he get away with it for so long? Will drug testing be improved by learning about Armstrong’s evasion tactics? Does Armstrong feel bad, or is he still as ruthless as he was when he dumped Sheryl Crow? Can we even trust anything Lance says? It all remains to be seen. One thing that the American people will definitely learn if they didn’t already know: cheaters gonna cheat, liars gonna lie.