The winds are brisk today and so before hitting the road I pulled on my arm warmers. As it happens, they’re the only pair I own, all black and accented with a bright yellow “Livestrong” racing stripe running the length of my arm. I got them at a charity ride benefitting the Livestrong Foundation and I like them: they take up almost no room at all and they’re permanently stuffed into a pocket of my Ozette Rando Bag until days like today roll around.
If you ride these parts much you quickly come to realize that most cyclists here are fair weather riders. Thus it’s quite unusual to encounter anyone else on a bike on these days. As I topped the first hill I was surprised to see another rider with maybe a hundred yard lead on me. My legs were fresh and the route was all downhill, so catching up was a no-brainer. We gave each other a nod and rode wordlessly side-by-side before stopping for traffic at an intersection.
Unclipping my left foot, I turned and gave him my standard cyclist greeting, “Great day for a ride, huh?”
“A little cool,” he agreed with a nod. He noticed my arm warmers and gestured toward my right arm. “Dude. You cool wearing those? Y’know – Lance, right?”
I just shrugged. He turned right and I continued on out of town and into the country. Slowly I started to fume, and at first I wasn’t really sure why.
Partly I guess it was because riding is my chance to escape from the bullshit of the world – and that definitely includes political discussions and any media sensationalization – and this unknowing mutt introduced a decidedly unwelcome wheelbarrow load of those thoughts into my peaceful ride. Partly it also had to do with such an out-of-context reference to Livestrong: as if I should abandon all visible support of a deserving institution because of the connection to Lance Armstrong. So let me offer a little perspective here.
Lance Armstrong is an athlete, pure and simple. The Tour de France is a bicycle race… like professional football, baseball, soccer, basketball, etc., it is a game in which grown men get paid to play. If Lance broke the rules of the game then it’s something he has to live with. Compellingly, it’s something the supporters and organizers of the sport and of the Tour have to live with as well, because they’ve all been complicit. See, it’s important to note that when all is said and done, you’re still talking about a game. Like football and basketball, it’s entertainment. And we’re all complicit in the rule breaking because, after all, we really, really want to see someone hit 800, 900 – 1,000 homeruns in a season. To run or ride faster, longer, harder than anyone else. To go unbeaten all season. We all want to see it! To be a vicarious part of it all.
But for God’s sake, don’t tell us how you accomplished this feat. We’re fine loving and admiring our heroes until we discover the dirty secret of their doping or smear of pine tar or spit-coated baseball. It’s all ok, so long as it’s a “secret” … usually one that everyone is talking about. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.
But it’s still just a game.
Why on earth do we waste extraordinary amounts of time and effort and money on congressional investigations and media and God knows what else just to get to the bottom of what unfair advantage one player has over another. What exactly has changed along the way, from the time we were spectators watching in ignorant bliss until the time we evolved into equally ignorant spectators clamoring for someone’s head on a pike?
Love him or hate him – that’s your choice. But clearly the Livestrong organization has undertaken a monumentally positive challenge. It provides support to anyone affected by cancer. And that is not a game.
So yes, dufus on a bike, I will continue to wear those arm warmers. And my yellow Livestrong hat. And my yellow Livestrong shirt. And to you, I offer this chance to gain a bit of perspective about something that is really important. Get a clue: it’s not a freakin’ game.