By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) It’s not about whether or not Lance Armstrong cheated, anymore.
Even those trying as hard as possible to give him every last benefit of the doubt on that count have all but conceded the fight, just as Armstrong himself did when he quit his years-long war against the truth. A mountain of evidence has a way of doing that.
The retreat position for the dead-enders, now, is that everyone in cycling is on drugs, so the playing-field is level and his accomplishments retain their greatness. I guess the logic they apply is that he was better than everyone else at what the sport has become – a doping contest that involves incidental bike-pedaling – so he’s still worthy.
It takes a special kind of mental gymnastics to get there, and even that twisted thought ignores the other clear conclusion presented by the USADA in its exhaustive report, that this guy is just an utterly contemptible ogre.
Deadspin.com on Friday did a nice job combing the evidence for specifics, and what emerges is a pattern of behavior that almost seems cartoonish in its over-the-top wickedness. This is not merely your typical tough-guy athlete, competitive to a fault, fueled by a burning desire to succeed that blinds him to the cares of others. That’s been said for years about Bobby Knight, Michael Jordan, and any number of high-function pathologies. That’s nothing.
This is drama-queen megalomania that nobody would even write for a low-budget TV movie, lest they get laughed out of a meeting. As a fictional villain, the Armstrong character would seem implausibly cheesy, with lines like “I have a lot of time and money, and I can destroy you!”
That’s what he told Italian rider Filippo Simeoni. He was angry because Simeoni testified in a case against dopemaster doctor Michele Ferrari, and he even made a zip-it gesture to underscore his point. Who does that?
The same guy who would say something like this to teammate Tyler Hamilton, probably: “When you’re on the witness stand, we are going to f—ing tear you apart. You are going to look like a f—ing idiot. I’m going to make your life a living…f—ing…hell.”
What, no “BWAAAHAAAAHAAAA!!!!” ?
It’s not just his ridiculous words, either. He made good on the numerous threats to teammates and their wives, using his endless resources to vilify them in the media and drain them in court, all because they had the audacity to tell the truth. He systematically forced cyclists to fill themselves with drugs to keep their jobs, and extorted their silence with the size and scale of his operation’s influence.
He got curious doctors fired from other teams, and even wielded power from within the UCI – the nominal governing body – itself. He still has congressmen in his pocket to try to change laws that threaten him. His tireless lawyers are buoyed by millions of dollars of yellow-rubber bracelets, and they fought all the way to the point that USADA was ruled to have valid jurisdiction, and Armstrong quit.
They are still fighting in the court of public opinion, where they have had so much past success manipulating the enthralled hordes by whatever combination of misinformation, hypnosis, outright lies and personal attacks was necessary. Even after this comprehensive inquest, even after 11 former teammates – including trusted, respected domestique George Hincapie — provided consistently-detailed, sworn testimony, they are still fighting.
They call it a “witch hunt” that is unfairly pursuing their client.
The public will soon decide the tolerance point for Armstrong, since he isn’t going anywhere and his questionable charity will still try to exist. Is overwhelming evidence of cheating enough to reject him? What about his role as the leader of a doping ring, and one that may have spent taxpayer money in the process?
If nothing else, it’s clear in the testimony that he is some kind of monster, and that should matter. The wrong kind of crazy. An unchecked, vainglorious psycho.
This hunt was finally a success. He’s a witch.