"Sic Transit Gloria Mundi" and the Two Armstrongs

Lance Armstrong, on the left, in his competitive heyday, celebrating a Tour de France victory on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  Neil Armstrong, on the right, posing as one of the USA's astronaut heroes. On July 20, 1969, Neil delivered the goods for the USA, and humanity, by not crashing the Eagle into the Moon.
In a fiercely competitive world, not only is fame fleeting, as the Latin phrase "Sic transit gloria mundi" tells us, but, since there are few winners and vast hordes of losers in such a cruel environment, it is unreasonable to think that the winners will escape envy and resentment.

Indeed, when greatness is alleged, there will always be that crew of skeptics seeking to destroy it, and call the world a bunch of saps for believing in it. And, sometimes, that is a real public service, because it turns out that the alleged greatness was a fraud, and the world was foolish to buy the story.

And so we come to the case of the two Armstrongs, Lance and Neil, who made news the last couple of days by shining a very bright light on the nature of American heroism, a word so diminished in its meaning that it is often assumed that everyone is a hero, just for getting up and struggling through another dire day on the Earth. Further, the notion of heroism is held in many cases to be equivalent to doing one's duty, as opposed to shirking it, or to following the rules as opposed to gaming the system to win no matter what.

Regarding the latter, the once much-heralded sports figure, Lance Armstrong, this week gave up his seemingly endless battle against charges he obtained his record seven Tour de France victories through cheating with performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong, who, while using (immune system) performance-enhancing drugs, fought for his life against an advanced testicular cancer, and won, said on Thursday:
"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, "Enough is enough." For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999...The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our [cancer fighting] foundation and on me leads me to where I am today—finished with this nonsense."
On Friday, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which claims it exists to "Preserve the Integrity of Competition" (shouldn't they be working on politics?), issued an official "Lance is a bad boy" proclamation, taking away Armstrong's Tour wins and banning him for life from competitive cycling:
"USADA announced today that Lance Armstrong has chosen not to move forward with the independent arbitration process and as a result has received a lifetime period of ineligibility and disqualification of all competitive results from August 1, 1998 through the present, as the result of his anti-doping rule violations stemming from his involvement in the United States Postal Service (USPS) Cycling Team Doping Conspiracy (USPS Conspiracy)."
One of the bad things the USADA accused Armstrong of doing was getting injections of testosterone. While that might sound like cheating, we should recall one glaring, striking, fact about the life of Lance Armstrong:
"On October 2, 1996, then aged 25, Armstrong was diagnosed as having developed stage three testicular cancer (Embryonal carcinoma). The cancer spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. On that first visit to a urologist in Austin, Texas, for his cancer symptoms he was coughing up blood and had a large, painful testicular tumor. Immediate surgery and chemotherapy were required to save his life. Armstrong had an orchiectomy to remove his diseased testicle. After his surgery, his doctor stated that he had less than a 40% survival chance."
So, if Lance Armstrong actually was shooting testosterone into his body, along with whatever other chemicals he was doing, to try to make up for all that, is that a bad thing?

Or—is it fairly treating a severe performance disadvantage with a chemical equalizer?

And, did you know that's actually OK in sports?

Just check out the recent Olympics, where a guy with prosthetic legcompeted against people with plain old biological appendages. The company that made the prosthetic legs claimed that they offered no competitive advantage to the South African runner, Oscar Pistorius, but merely served to "minimize" his obvious and considerable competitive disadvantage from having no legs. And the Olympics said—cool, let the peglegged dude compete.

And yet, somehow Lance Armstrong, treating his situation of being ravaged by a near-fatal cancer, and losing an important competitive advantage—a testicle—isn't the same thing.

Of course, one can rightly argue that the Olympics and other authorities approved Pistorius's prosthetic leg in competition, but nobody in authority approved anything Lance Armstrong did with testosterone or other drugs he may have used. But, who thinks that in the looney, hypocritical, world we live in, any sports organization is going to approve an athlete getting to use a drug nobody else gets to use?

Drugs are EVIL saith the drug-drenched anti-dopers. Fake legs are a kind gesture. And so Armstrong's taking drugs or doping, if he did so, is beyond the pale.

Lastly, let's imagine for a moment you have a guy (it was actually two guys), in a competitive sport, called the Cold War, and he is about to land on the Moon, to give the USA the Gold Medal in the FUCKING FIRST IN HISTORY, COMMIE BASTARDS! competition. And let's say we needed to give that guy some performance-enhancing drugs to do extra swell in the final leg of his race.

Are we now going to go up to the Moon (if we could figure out how to get back) and pull down the American flag, because maybe Neil Armstrong took some aspirin or who knows—shot up with some testosterone—to get the Eagle landed?

The fact is, you don't care what drugs Neil Armstrong was doing on July 20, 1969. He could have been high as a kite (OK, an astronaut on the fucking Moon) on LSD, and you'd think that was amazingly cool new information to add to why you think he was one of America's greatest heroes.

Now, I'm not defending Lance Armstrong. Maybe he doped. Maybe he didn't. If he did, I'm just not that busted up about it. There are many more important things to care about than that.

That's really the point.

When it comes to believing in things, and especially in heroes and their stories, people in the USA need to get their values and priorities straight. For one thing, maybe we should dump the sports worship. And the war worship. And pretty much all kinds of worship.

There is a lot of bullshit in this world, and a lot of people peddling it who claim you have some reason or need to afford them honor. Recently, the Supreme Court affirmed we all have a constitutional right to falsely claim to be war heroes. And we have a presidential candidates who have to affirm to the people they shoot the incredibly dangerous drug, godsmack, and depend upon it to help them make policy decisions! This year, one of the candidates, Mitt Romney, is a pusher for a particularly silly variant of this asscrack poison.

Maybe there are a few people, very few, who might actually rate your spending some of your precious time giving a rat's ass they ever lived or died.

Be careful in how you hand that out to people.

And be careful in how and why you decide to snatch it back. Don't get mad at others because YOU sold your respect—or maybe gave your vote—too cheaply.


  1. Brilliant piece Glenn. Love your work and will follow.


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