There is no greater scandal in sports than Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal. And there is no more of a tragic, fallen hero than Armstrong himself. The former cyclist’s career represents the widest extremes a pro athlete can experience. Nearly a decade has passed since the storm hit, and Armstrong’s career came to a crashing halt. How has his reputation held up?
Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal
In 1996, the story of Armstrong was the story of pure, unfettered inspiration. After success during his first Tour de France, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Armstrong, who was the rising face of professional cycling, went into battle mode, swiftly beating his cancer. He formed the Livestrong organization in order to raise money to help others with their own diagnosis.
After his cancer went into remission, Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005. Around the time he won his first Tour de France, doping rumors began to swirl.
The first accusation came in 1999, reports The Guardian. But he promptly explained away with a doctor’s note. Another accusation occurred in 2002 when a major inquiry was launched into the entire US Postal team’s potential steroid usage. Then from 2005 until 2012, a series of never-ending accusations and investigations remained the backdrop to everything he did.
In 2012, it all came to a head. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency opened a new investigation. This resulted in Armstrong losing endorsement deals, stepping down as Livestrong chairman, and rescinding every major title he ever received including his Tour de France titles and Olympic medal. Throughout it all, he maintained his innocence. Then, he finally admitted it during an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Armstrong attempts to make amends
Throughout his tempestuous career Armstrong hurt a lot of people, as Outside reports, especially those who stuck by him as the accusations escalated. For them, his continual lies were a deep and bitter betrayal.
In the seven years since Oprah, Armstrong has led a campaign of self-redemption. He’s attempting to make amends with some of the many people he hurt along the way. A precious handful have even forgiven him. Emma O’ Reily, his long-time massage therapist whom he publicly scorned forgave him, as did fellow team riders Fillippo Simeoni and Christopher Bassons, both admitted to steroid use before Armstrong was accused.
A hallmark of Armstrong’s apologies were their incredulity. Bassons and Simeoni only reluctantly accepted an apology years later. Many people did not. Take Greg LeMond and Frankie Andreu for example.
When doping allegations first began hovering around Armstrong, legendary cyclist LeMond, already a vocal advocate against steroid use, spoke out against the star and was immediately threatened into silence for nearly three years. He has not forgiven Armstrong for his bullying.
Teammate Andreu was a key part of testimony contradicting Armstrong’s denial. He claimed that Armstrong told him directly of his dope use when Armstrong was recovering from cancer in the hospital. During the investigation that followed, Andreu claimed that Armstrong threatened him and his wife with physical violence. He has not forgiven Armstrong either.
Lance Armstrong’s journey to forgiveness
Armstrong ripped the world of professional cycling into pieces. After nearly a decade of denials and aggressive posturing, he finally admitted what everyone else knew all along: he was guilty. His time since has been marked by a mix of litigation and half-hearted atonement.
There is something to be said for the effort, however. Always the eternal competitor, Armstrong was banned from competitive sports for life, which is perhaps the true punishment for an athlete of his caliber. Although he’s found ways around the ban, mostly through organizing amateur cycling events, perhaps this version of Armstrong is the calmest, most penitent version we’ll get.
Whether the world forgives him or not, he’s had a profound impact on the world of professional cycle racing. You can decide for yourself whether he deserves our forgiveness when the new ESPN documentary on him premiers this summer.