Sally Jenkins and Lance Armstrong. Best Friends Forever!
Sally Jenkins did what any embarrassed writer might do when trying to defend a really terrible story. She threw out most of the chapters and tried to refocus on one small, positive detail.
Lance is my friend.
It’s quite a bold attempt and I suspect United States Anti-Doping Agency boss Travis Tygart is having a pretty good laugh. There’s a certain horse with blinders, eyes closed, ears plugged, “nah-nah-nah, can’t hear you” quality to her attempted escape.
For Jenkins, the new revised Lance story has nothing to do with the rules that he broke, or the doping program he enforced or the nasty tactics he used to destroy people who spoke the truth or the countless people he mislead and abused. Jenkins doesn’t care about the colossal damage he has now done to the sport as it tries to survive the worst doping scandal in history.
Sally is not angry with Lance because they’re friends. Gosh, that’s wonderful.
No, these are not damning issues for Sally because they don’t exist for her and therefore there’s no reason for anger. Isn’t that great — simply lower head into sand! As she makes clear right from the start, she side-steps this horrific mess with one reductionist move. Lance is her friend, she admires his feisty competitive nature and his inspirational work fighting cancer — never mind the “most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
So all that other stuff — the cheating, the lying, the bullying, the intimidation, the cover-ups, the character assassination, the cynical manipulation, the ego and avarice, the entitlement — Jenkins doesn’t judge that. It’s an amazing Get-Out-Of-Judgement Card.
She’s not angry because she is not judging Armstrong on any measure that would make her angry. She has successfully narrowed her focus to allow her to go on loving. Lance is my friend. That’s pretty much her reaction and defense when the rest of the world is terribly sad or seriously outraged. Armstrong has lost his seven Tour de France titles, all of his high profile sponsors, his name has been erased from buildings and a US race series, he’s been burned in effigy in England and owes a lot of people money.
But Lance hasn’t lost everything. No, he still has his loyal biographer Sally. She’s not gullible, she’s defiantly blind.
Jenkins’ response is largely the same one Armstrong himself gave on twitter after the USDA bomb detonated and his sports legend blew up in a matter of weeks. He pronounced himself “unaffected.” Jenkins is also untouched by pro cycling’s biggest fraud – even thought it was a myth she played a significant role in creating with her two ghostwriter books with Armstrong. The man Sports Illustrated recently named the “anti-sportsman of the year” is still a pal despite everything.
Jenkins takes the personal route because it allows her to ignore virtually every damaging thing Armstrong has done and simply write it off. This friendship isn’t based on facts or testimony or affidavits or the assessment of his fellow teammates, USADA, the UCI or the Tour de France or cycling fans. Hey, we’re friends, nothing else matters.
By golly she just likes this Lance Armstrong guy and his can-drug — sorry, can-do — attitude and his plucky mom who by the way had no choices either. Jenkins is generous with employer excuses and oh-so understanding and we’ll bet she’s got a free Trek Madrone in her garage.
After her myopic”friends” defense, Jenkins moves to the usual failsafe litany that Armstrong apologists have used for ages. Raised a lot of money for cancer, cheating really doesn’t matter, everybody did it, happening 10 years ago, etc etc. That’s all expected and she can mark the boxes on her Lance Fan To The Death Checklist.
But then, Jenkins does something truly bizarre. As part of her Armstrong defense, she makes this head-snapping statement: “I’ve long believed that what athletes put in their bodies should be a matter of personal conscience, not police actions — when we demand unhealthy, even death-defying extremes of them for our entertainment, it seems the height of hypocrisy to then dictate what’s good for them.”
Ahh, okay … it’s not only our fault, we’re hypocrites. Poor suffering Lance.
I think her statement is so staggering and witless and cynical and strange that my mind goes into shock. I become so angry that can’t even gather my arguments in any thoughtful way. So before I attempt a rational response, let me go apeshit. Yeah, and is it unreasonable that we “demand” integrity and honesty from a journalist from a newspaper with the high reputation of the Washington Post?
It’s one thing to judge Armstrong against a extremely narrow set of criteria — he’s my friend, I don’t care what he did. It’s another thing to minimize doping as personal conscience — and then excuse it by blaming the Tour de France for being a hard stage race and cycling fans for demanding athletes dope for their own amusement.
This is one of those moments when you re-read her quotes several more times, thinking, is she serious, is she so desperate to salvage her own professional reputation that she’ll say anything no matter how outlandish and flat-out stupid?
I have to say, yes.
First, Jenkins attempts damage control by making this about Lance’s personal conscience. Not the people he cheated, not the teammates he threatened, not the competitors he robbed, not the sport he ultimately damaged. There’s no argument that there was an entire doping culture but as the USADA Reasoned Decision made quite clear, Lance wasn’t a victim, he was a ringleader. Jenkins presents his decision in a vacuum, in isolation, without any wider implication.The effects of Armstrong’s decision to dope were anything but personal.
Superstar athletes are incredibly influential role models for younger athletes and Armstrong was the biggest hero of them all. It’s not unintentional that the subtitle of Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race mentions “winning at all costs.” What does running a doping program for that many years tell young athletes? What does that win at all costs mentality encourage in young riders who want to be successful?
Jenkins is a career sportswriter who seems to imply that integrity and honesty and playing by the rules in sport don’t ultimately matter too much. Well, they matter to the millions who bought the two books and the Myth but now that the fairytale is fake, Jenkins sees the aftermath as largely inconsequential.
On the subject of Jenkins’ claim that cycling fans demand riders dope in order to perform inhuman feats for their viewing entertainment, well, I don’t think that even requires a response. Even a good sportswriter will find that a difficult story to sell.
I don’t want to be Sally Jenkins’ friend.
While I may be a cycling blogger with nowhere near the journalistic resume as Jenkins, I firmly believe she has lost all credibility as a sportswriter and is an embarrassment to her profession.