Should We Sue Lance Armstrong for Inspiring Us With His Lies?

Truthiness.

It’s one of the most important new words in our lexicon. In an age of overwhelming quantities of information available  to anybody with Internet access, and a time in which the media is obsessed with everybody’s scandals and hard-luck stories, there arises a need to describe the ways in which we feel truth, the ways in which we desire facts—but only if they fit the narratives we’ve already constructed.

Defined by Wikipedia (because Merriam-Webster is behind the times) as: a quality characterizing a ‘truth’ that a person claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. The term seems incredibly fitting for the way we, as a society, related to Lance Armstrong throughout the last few years. Despite the testimony of his teammates and former friends, despite what seemed to be irrefutable evidence, despite logic, we bought into the Lance Armstrong story.

Sure, it seemed dubious. But we felt, deep in our guts, that Lance was telling the truth. How could someone, over and over again, look us in the eye and lie about something so important? Why would he file lawsuits defending himself, if he knew he was lying? Personally, the only way I could discuss the doping accusations was by saying, “I really want him to be telling the truth. I want to believe him.”

We felt in our guts that Lance was telling the truth, and we bought into the story in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

So what do we do now with the Lance Armstrong legacy? Certainly, we honor the Livestrong foundation and all their work. Even though it may have been founded because of a cancer that possibly came from doping, Livestrong does extraordinary work for cancer patients, survivors and families. We should separate that entity from the truthiness of Armstrong’s history.

But what about the rest of it? Some bookstores have moved Armstrong’s biography over to the “fiction” section, as if suddenly nothing in it ever happened. As if, with this revelation, the man himself is disappearing like Marty McFly’s family photo in Back to the Future. Perhaps that’s appropriate; that fading happened when history was changed, and from our perspective, Armstrong’s history has, in fact, changed.

But my question is this: Does it matter that Armstrong’s success was based upon a false pretense? Yes, certainly it matters to the sport. He was rightfully stripped of his titles and banned from competition. And it mattes to our sense of being able to trust our heroes, and even more profoundly, it matters to our sense of what it means to make someone a hero.

But beyond that, were the ways in which you were inspired by Lance Armstrong false?

Some people think so. In fact, USA Today is featuring a story about two California men who are suing Lance Armstrong for lying to them in his books.

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District in California by Rob Stutzman, a public affairs consultant in California, and Jonathan Wheeler, a professional chef. Both read the book only to learn later that Armstrong’s supposedly non-fiction book contained falsehoods about how he boosted his performance as cyclist…

The suit seeks to represent California residents who bought that book and another Armstrong book “Every Second Counts.”

“Defendants knew or should have known these books were works of fiction,” the suit states.

It says the plaintiffs would not have bought the books if they had known “the true facts concerning Armstrong’s misconduct.”

All right, so give the guys their money back. That seems fair. But these guys are also seeking other damages, the details of which are unavailable.

Which leads me to ask you this: If you were inspired by Lance Armstrong’s (partially fictional) story, and you accomplished great things in your life as a result, how do these revelations affect you?

Certainly, you are shocked and hurt. You feel betrayed. But the inspiration he provided was real. Or, more precisely, it was real enough for you to have accomplished your goals. If you took up running because of Armstrong, all of those miles are not gone because of his lies. They belong to you. Your beat-up shoes and sun-faded hat are a testimony to the reality of what you gained. If you did a triathlon after the age of 40 because Lance inspired you, you’ve got a race medallion to prove it. If you went to France and rode the tour route because of him, it’s done, and nothing can take that way.

And if you found support in the Livestrong community while you were battling cancer, or helping a loved one through it, those relationships and that information still lives.

Lance Armstrong hasn’t taken any from us any of the things we gained from his inspiration. Rather, he’s given us something else: the knowledge that nobody is super-human, The insight that people are complicated and that we are all both bad and good, and the experience that tells us that making a god out of a man is a mistake.

And ultimately, what we learned is that no matter who it was who inspires us, everything we do is because of our own strength, not that of a celebrity or an athlete. Your forty-mile weekend bike rides happen because you make them happen. Your daily walks and healthy eating happened as a result of you caring enough about your health to prioritize it. Sure, Lance may have been the image you assigned to your inspiration, but none of that is gone now. You are still better because of him.

So ask for your money back on the book if you must. But as for the rest? Look at the bigger picture here and let it go.

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About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is the type of working mom who opens her car door and junk spills out all over the ground. She serves as Executive Editor of The Good Men Project and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on sites like xoJane, hlntv.com, and The Huffington Post. Joanna loves playing with her sons, skateboarding with her husband, and hanging out with friends. Her dream is to someday finish her almost-done novel and get some sleep. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.

Comments

  1. wellokaythen says:

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, are we regressing now? Or are we just litigious idiots?

    At some point unknown to me the reading public became naïve fundamentalists. If an autobiography appears on the shelf, it must be totally true and unbiased, or else it is a work of fiction. People are suing him because they assumed that since it was in the nonfiction section the book must therefore be word-for-word true. No one is ever allowed to lie in their autobiography, and memoirs must not have any self-serving or self-promoting falsehoods in them.

    If that’s the new standard, then you will need to move ALL the biographies and autobiographies into the fiction section. Americans have lied and exaggerated in their autobiographies at least as far back as Benjamin Franklin.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      This all reminds me of James Frey but I didn’t really have the time to get into it here, and it’s dicey. Authenticity and truth in memoir are different. Mary Karr dealt with this when The LIar’s Club came out, and has talked about it a lot.

      I think the distinction about “truth” matters when we start implicating others. Armstrong’s lies were clearly terrible, worse, the enormous cover ups and lawsuits. But the worst is how he and his team threatened others so extensively. He needs to be held responsible for those things, but all of the good he did isn’t erased by the bad.

  2. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    When it came to light that Greg Mortensen’s books Three Cups of Tea and the other one were kinda sorta made up to tell a pretty story, I did ask the publisher for a refund. Never got it. I think someone started a class action lawsuit sometime afyer that. I expect the main result if it is won will be to enrich some lawyers.

    Suing Lance is also on the ridiculous side, but I also think it’s funny that after he bullied people via fraudulent lawsuit, he is now maybe going to get a taste of his own medicine. :-)

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Can we ignore Armstrong?

  4. It’s just a matter of time before someone sues God, via its religion, for the bad things that happen.

    The false belief in a clean Lance was, at least for me, born of ignorance of the sport. I was not very aware of the depths of conniving that permeated the sport and how testing can be manipulated by bags full of various tricks. The inspiration is real. It’s an emotion that lives and can’t unlive itself. Regret over being falsely inspired is as pointless as it stings.

  5. No. He’s a man enough to admit it. Peace!

  6. Mark Radcliffe says:

    As someone who can’t seem to go a month without writing about Lance, myself, I’m about as conflicted on him as anyone. One part mortified by his duplicity and vengeful tactics, one part in awe of his athleticism and the lengths he went to for cancer victims. But yes, my reaction to this story the other day, too, was “C’mon, people. Don’t you have better things to do with your lives?” For one, it’s not that the book was fiction–he did get cancer, he did train 6 hours a day, he did re-double himself to his cause, but just that he left out a pretty crucial part of the story–that he had joined the doping movement in what he felt was a necessary move to compete on a level playing field. And two, regardless of the immorality of the “ends justifies the means” rationalization he banked his life on, the bigger issue to me is: have you really been so harmed by this book? Isn’t this the act of someone who loves to play the role of victim? Why do we as a culture have to pretend that a book we read by a man we’ll never meet (which was 95% true) has served us so much injustice that we have to devote countless hours of our lives to get our $15 back? What does that kind of self-pity truly get us?

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