Monday, October 15, 2012

Lance Armstrong - Taking the Good with the Bad

FROM ALL THE AVAILABLE evidence in front of us, there is only one logical conclusion - Lance Armstrong is a dirty cheater. Armstrong, who won cycling’s most prestigious event, the Tour de France, seven consecutive times is accused with using performance enhancing drugs in order to achieve his amazing athletic successes.

On Wednesday, the Anti-Doping Agency released an over 1,000 page document detailing the vast orchestrated cheating campaign run by Armstrong’s US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. According to a press release the agency claims that, “the evidence also includes direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS Team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.” In addition, and perhaps most damning, the report contains detailed testimony from his former teammates who paint a picture of rampant drug use within US cycling.

Unless there is some massive conspiracy Lance Armstrong’s goose is pretty well cooked. He will likely be stripped of his titles and banned from the sport that he loves. But before we condemn him to the purgatory reserved for other performance enhancing drug users, along with fellow club members Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Marion Jones, Ben Johnson, et al, I think it is only fitting to take a moment to reflect on the legacy of Lance Armstrong, for he is not your everyday drug cheat.

For millions of people Lance Armstrong was and remains an inspirational figure. After surviving a battle with testicular cancer, which spread all over his body, he became a symbol of hope when just three years later he won his first Tour de France title. Those struggling with cancer looked at what he accomplished and said to themselves, “If he can do this, why not me?” Armstrong established a foundation dedicated to fighting cancer and helping those afflicted cope with their disease. Over the years, the “LiveStrong” foundation has raised almost $500 million dollars for the fight against cancer, and his charity has seen its donations rise astronomically during the past few weeks. I encourage you to visit to see all the good this organization does and its many, many success stories. Lance Armstrong, the athlete, may have been a phony. But there is nothing fake about the hope and inspiration Lance Armstrong has provided cancer patients all over the world.

There is a midrash which tells of two types of trees which were intertwined. One of them contained life-giving medicine, while the other contained a deadly poison. The gardener said, “If I water the tree which yields life giving medicine, the tree with the deadly poison will grow along with it. But if I don’t water the tree with the deadly poison, how will the tree sprouting life-giving medicine continue to exist?

When it comes to Lance Armstrong, I suggest we have to take the good with the bad. While he cheated his sport and himself, this does not wipe out the tremendous good he has done for those battling cancer. Despite his actions, it is OK to break out your yellow “LiveStrong” bracelets, for truly, in the case of Lance Armstrong, it is not just about the bike.

Rabbi Josh Lobel is Associate Rabbi at Congregation Shir Hadash in Silicon Valley, California.