Shame on You, Lance Armstrong

Sixth-grade field day happened in June, closer to the Fourth of July than Memorial Day, and we wore our shorts and sneakers out on the large, grassy field that comprised about three-fourths of our playground. The smaller part, next to the two-story brick building, had blacktop for playing hopscotch and four-square and getting hit in the head with a dodge ball.

We’d practiced for the big event. Kennedy had recently launched the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, and suddenly kids whose only exercise had been copying the foot work on American Bandstand were counting sit-ups.

For the 300 yard run-walk we had to make three laps around the field. I took an early lead and was soon ahead by half a lap. I couldn’t broad jump worth a darn and wasn’t any good at sprinting. But I could run and it felt glorious.

Unfortunately, I missed a flag on my final lap. Skimmed right past it. Parents and teachers shouted from the sidelines, “Go back! You missed a flag!”

I did loop back, but had blown my chances. The girl who beat me lived on my street, a foster kid who had probably never won a thing in her life. I took second and still received compliments from some of the more athletic boys. But in not coming in first I certainly didn’t die.

Lance Armstrong, apparently, thought he would.

Now everyone wants to know why he did it. Why he lied about doping. Why he insisted that he’d won seven Tours de France on his own steam.

It’s like the kid who’s told to wash his hands and comes out of the bathroom thirty seconds later insisting they’re clean – despite evidence to the contrary. At first it’s cute, and you just take him back.

But if he pulls the same nonsense day in and day out after being instructed in proper hygiene, he’s just being defiant. Or maybe he’s unable to learn and needs special assistance.

I remember thinking when I was a kid that I could walk all the way around the world by taking giant steps. England, France, Turkey, all the way back home.  I wasn’t delusional. I was using “magical thinking.” Kids are like that.

Reality struck, however, when I learned that I would have to swim a good part of the way.

For some reason, Armstrong refused to let go of his magical thinking. Sure, it’s possible to finish the Tour de France.  So why did he have to win, not just once, but seven times, all the while lying to the whole world? Frankly, I don’t want to hear that eveyone else was doing it. Poor excuse.

So when Yahoo! Sports writer Dan Wetzel went soft on the disgraced cyclist last week, I lost my appetite for his column. What Wetzel said, basically, is so what?  He rode a bicycle, he didn’t kill anyone. Now Armstrong’s learned his lesson. Let him get on with his life.

Come on. The guy knew the rules. He had his big boy Spandex on. He just decided he wasn’t going to play by the rules, and kept coming out with his hands dirty, insisting he was clean.

That’s what little kids do.

Forgive Armstrong his trespasses? Of course. But I can’t condone all the macho-sports-worship-demagoguery surrounding his “coming out.”  The guy needs therapy.

Eventually, most kids will see the dirt on the towel. By the time they’re four, they get the idea. What does it take on the parents’ part to make sure kids get the message that they need to come clean and quit clowning around?

Constant vigilance.

The kind of vigilance that doesn’t give up, but gives kids confidence in their ability to do things right. So you give the child a step stool. You stand there next to the sink. And you help him turn on the faucet.  You watch as he lathers his hands, rinses, and turns off the water, climbs down and dries off. As many times as it takes.

Kids must struggle though being made to go back and find the flag. Rewash their hands. Memorize their math facts. The basics are where life starts. Children who are allowed to skip over the fundamentals are like mushrooms sprung up after a heavy rain: soft and shallow.

It’s late in the game for Armstrong. But maybe there are some preschoolers out there who could hold his hand on the way to the sink.  FFG



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