Doping doesn't lessen Armstrong's inspiration

The latest doping allegations leveled against Lance Armstrong don't detract from his work in the fight against cancer

Without looking it up, I couldn't name the winner of last year's Tour de France. I couldn't tell you the winner the year before that, or the year before that. While cycling fans no doubt could, I'm guessing the vast majority of American sports fans, let alone Americans overall, could not.

Without a second of hesitation, I can rattle off names of family and friends who have died from cancer. I can rattle off names of those currently battling the disease. I'm guessing any other American could do the same.

Lance Armstrong the cyclist, the indomitable seven-time Tour de France champion, is under renewed and sustained attack. Sunday's "60 Minutes" report piled new allegations and details of performance-enhancing drug use atop old allegations and details that, for many, had already hacked away at his cycling legacy.

The government is circling and it's difficult to imagine how Armstrong's reputation improves from here. If Armstrong cheated to win all those Tours, he should be punished by the cycling union, a governing body's whose own credibility came under attack by "60 Minutes."

What it shouldn't do is end the work Armstrong has undertaken in the battle against cancer. It shouldn't sour the public on what is still one of the most prominent and important athlete-driven philanthropic movements ever.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation and Livestrong brand have gathered momentum through the years, gaining speed and power like he once did flying down the Pyrenees.

His foundation raised $6 million in 2002. By fiscal 2008 it was $31.6 million. A year later it was $40.1 million. CNBC projects Armstrong's foundation will surpass $50 million this year. (At a cursory glance, his charities appear well run, too, with reasonable executive salaries and proper expenditures on its most recent tax filings).

The money doesn't begin to calculate the awareness he raised, the early testing and the healthier living options he's promoted. It doesn't factor the personal political lobbying he's done globally on behalf of increased research funding. It can't reflect the tremendous motivation provided to the afflicted who saw a man that once had brain, lung, abdominal and testicular cancer whipping around on his bicycle, dressed so often in the leader's yellow that it became his signature color.

[Related: Lance Armstrong's legacy takes another hit]

Armstrong's impact, for so many, is personal. It's the inspiration he provided against their long-odds fight against the disease. Or the connection they felt reading one of his books to ailing parents over their final weeks. Or the fleeting bits of normalcy in an otherwise depressed cancer ward that came from watching his races with a bedridden brother or sister.

Lance Armstrong helped teach the world that cancer could be beat. He provided a measure of hope to the hopeless. And as his foundation doles out huge checks to everywhere from Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York to a cancer conference in sub-Saharan Africa, his impact carries on in retirement.

Now that is a powerful legacy.

This isn't to excuse Lance Armstrong the sportsman. This is to recognize that there is a lot more to this man than sports.

With most superior athletes, the details don't match the legend, and that seems to be where we are headed with Lance, only in real time.

I personally believe Lance Armstrong used PEDs to win those Tours, mostly because I believe nearly everyone in the sport was using PEDs in an attempt to win those Tours. This, of course, creates a new definition of "cheating": If everyone was doping …

Yet it doesn't mesh with his constant denials and holier-than-thou stance.

My opinion is based on the totality of the argument against Armstrong and basic common sense. Put it this way: If everyone in the field was clean, it would have been an astounding story that a former cancer patient won a record seven consecutive titles. Probable? No. Possible? Yes. That was the beauty of his tale.

Now that we know the majority of the top cyclists were cheating, can we really believe that the one clean rider still managed to win and win and win? Couple that with the increasing number of teammates who said they cheated right alongside him, and it's enough evidence for my personal court of public opinion.

At this point, though, I only care so much. To me Armstrong is bigger than cycling, his purpose grander than sport. No, he isn't perfect. He's vain and profane and you wouldn't want him dating your sister.

Does any of that matter to someone staring down a fourth round of chemo? Should it lessen the importance of his plea for more research funding?

All of sport is riddled with PED use. And while Armstrong no doubt rode for glory and money and fame, his career became more than that. It wasn't just about slugging a million home runs. It wasn't just about getting a bigger mansion in Palm Beach. It wasn't just about pounding his chest and declaring the world to look at him.

Somewhere in that journey he made it about taking on the biggest killer in the world, in the biggest way he possibly could.

Cancer couldn't kill him. So this hard-nosed Texan decided to try to kill cancer.

Like many, I'm done with Lance Armstrong the Cyclist. I'm still riding with Lance Armstrong the Legend, though. Full blast ahead.

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