January 24, 2013

Editorial: The damage is done


---- — It’s sad for sports fans to see four superhuman athletes found to be exactly that: too super to be human.

The Baseball Writers Association of America made that declaration apparent earlier this month when it declined to grant admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame for Barry Bonds, Rogers Clemens and Sammy Sosa, among others, for taking illicit substances to enhance their performances.

Now, cycling icon Lance Armstrong has written a similar epitaph for himself, admitting to television’s Oprah Winfrey that he took banned substances while compiling an unfathomable record of success in his sport.

We would certainly like to think all people would be brave and honorable enough to reject these substances, but the temptation is there because of the difficulty in detecting some of the drugs and the performance gaps that these athletes fear between them and competitors.

For these four athletes, the jig is up. Bonds, Clemens and Sosa — unlike Armstrong — have admitted nothing. Nonetheless, the evidence appears irrefutable. Too many witnesses, too much obvious change in outward appearance.

So what have we learned from these kinds of falls from grace?

The most outstanding lesson is to spurn that which is illegal or unethical. No matter how much success we can ever have, the descent only gets steeper upon discovery. And, in this time in history, when scrutiny is so focused, discovery will happen.

A second lesson is this: No matter how beloved you’ve become, forgiveness does not necessarily await even those who are contrite.

Armstrong was a hero among heroes. He overcame cancer to become the preeminent practitioner of his sport. He practically created the sport, as far as average fans are concerned. He established a foundation in 1997 dedicated to helping others also conquer cancer, and it has helped bring about wondrous outcomes for many people.

Armstrong has finally admitted his transgressions after straight out lying to the public for many years, but the damage is done. His many denials have offset his repentance.

Hopefully, the good he did through the Lance Armstrong Foundation — known more recently as Livestrong — will someday overshadow the harm he caused to the sport he loved.

The charitable foundation has raised almost $500 million for the fight against cancer and, according to the website, provides “free patient navigation services to survivors with financial, emotional and practical challenges that accompany the disease.”

That is a needed service and an enviable fundraising history, and the believers who rode and raised money in Armstrong’s name can still take pride in their generous efforts, even though their leader is tarnished.

But as we acknowledge the good done by Livestrong, we also warn athletes who dupe the public by using performance-enhancing drugs that you can never outrun, outride or outplay dishonor.