Weekend Reads: Lance Armstrong Edition

Viewed from the outside, many proponents of the War on Drugs seem intransigent in their views simply because they find it difficult to allow any new argumentation or evidence to affect what they’ve deemed a moral issue. Much as temperance was in the 1920s, those who support the American government’s battle to retain strict drug laws with severe punishments are undoubtedly engaged in a symbolic crusade (to borrow a term from Joseph Gusfield). Essentially, their support exists in the name of continuing counterproductive and often irrational public policies because, to many, such laws and strictures symbolize something more, something deeper. Many Americans don’t see the loosening of drug laws as a utilitarian means of harm reduction, but as a retreat from the “traditional” values from a morally cohesive age that never really existed.

To be fair, moral crusades regarding drug use are far too complex to be simply be reduced to the simplistic regressive, anti-modernist picture I just provided without heavy qualification. While it is true that the struggle over the meaning of drug laws remains largely politically partisan in American society, one need only look to the news to see how the issue of drugs, government oversight, and moralism can be reframed in a much more complex way. With the recent investigations of Lance Armstrong’s doping and illegal prescription drug muling coming to a close this week, one finds no clear political delineation among the cyclist’s supporters and opponents. Positions on drugs within the Livestrong Industrial Complex vary, as liberals, libertarians, conservatives, and independents struggle to disentangle the implications of L’affair Armstrong.

For those not yet aware, the Plano, Texas-born Armstrong is perhaps the most celebrated road cyclist in history, having famously won the Tour De France seven times, six times after having contracted cancer in his testicles, lungs, abdomen, and brain. Armstrong parlayed his seemingly superhuman ability to perform astounding athletic feats whilst struggling with a life-threatening illness into the multi-billion dollar Livestrong charity, which works as an awareness-raising (though not really a money-raising) foundation on behalf of cancer research. As one might expect, Lance’s combination of non-partisan do-goodery and athletic acumen – not to mention his celebrity romancing – made him an enormously popular and powerful fellow in the worlds of cycling and politics.

Because it seems counterintuitive that someone should not only recover from cancer to win a prestigious endurance race, but should do so without the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) within a sport rife with said drug use, Armstrong has also spent much of his adult life under suspicion. He is undoubtedly the most famous and divisive longtime target of both national and international anti-doping agencies. Despite numerous allegations and investigations, however, Armstrong has never (publicly) tested positive for PEDs and has vigorously defended, in both the courts and the press, his personal reputation as a “clean” racer. Nonetheless, fans and journalists have continued to widely (and openly) suspect Armstrong’s use of non-detectable PEDs, including “The Clear.” 

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