Why Lance Armstrong Matters and Barry Bonds Doesn’t

COMMENTARY | With the recent declaration by Tyler Hamilton that Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs to help win his seven Tour de France titles, and with the chance run-in between the two of them Saturday at an Aspen restaurant, according to Outside Online, a lot has been made of the rush to Armstrong’s defense by so many around the world. In the same light, a lot has been made about the rush to judgment against Barry Bonds. Neither has been found guilty, and both deny accusations of cheating.

With such similarities between Bonds and Armstrong yet such an apparent contrast in public opinion of the two, it’s understandable why so many are crying foul.

Unfortunately, there are always those who pull the race card in their argument, whether implied or stated, but that accusation only seeks to reduce the issue to something our lazy minds can easily grasp. In truth, the issue of why Lance Armstrong matters in the hearts of so many and why Barry Bonds doesn’t requires deeper thought.

In regard to Hamilton, it seems apparent from a May 22 60 Minutes piece that he’s a genuine soul who was put in the awful position of having to sit before a grand jury and betray a close friendship for fear of going to prison himself. Whether he spoke the truth or not is for others to decide. Regardless, judging by the FBI’s response to the Hamilton-Armstrong meeting, this issue seems to have deeper roots and more fodder than we can see, reports the Associated Press.

As for Armstrong and Bonds, their situations are different; thus, the public’s perception of each is different.

Bonds was an amazing baseball player idolized the world over for his work on the ball field. Armstrong was an amazing cyclist idolized the world over not only for his bicycle racing prowess but also for his work away from the peleton. In fact, Lance is more admired for his work with cancer survivors than his work on the bike.

That’s why Armstrong matters in the hearts of millions and Bonds does not. Lance was, and continues to be, a great humanitarian in the minds of many. He has cared enough about mankind to dedicate his resources and energy to saving and healing the lives of cancer victims. In turn, we care about him.

And that’s what it boils down to. This issue isn’t about black and white, as many would like us to believe. This argument is about us caring so much for Armstrong as a humanitarian that we don’t want Armstrong to fall from grace. In contrast, it’s also about us not caring enough for Barry Bonds, not because Bonds is black, but because we see him only as a ballplayer. Remember the vitriol about Roger Clemens and Mark McGuire? Both former ball players. Both white. Both disgraced and hardly mentioned now.

We don’t see the human side of Bonds. We don’t see him as a man who would give everything he has to save a life, though I’m sure he would. Bonds hasn’t overcome a life-threatening illness or championed some great cause that we can all get behind. Armstrong has. He has been through hell and not only lived to tell about it, he lived to forever fight against it — for our sake.

It’s a question of caring about the man, not his color. We love our heroes — especially when we’ve seen their vulnerability. That’s where the connection is made, not on a ball field or at a bike race. We connect with them in their pain and rise with them as they battle onward in triumph. That’s why many have stood behind Pete Rose as well: his battle with gambling, and how it cost him everything. We can relate to that intrinsically.

Breaking and setting records on the diamond only to have those records and your reputation called into question isn’t the type of pain we feel. That’s a world few of us know. But who hasn’t been negatively affected by cancer in some way or another? We know that world. We know its pain, its heartache, its searing death.

And that’s why we care. I mean no disrespect to Bonds and his accomplishments, but that’s why Lance matters. He’s one of us. We feel connected to Armstrong, not disconnected, as we do with Bonds.

What is happening to both men is the sad reality of sports. The competition has become so tough at the top that in order to compete, some will risk it all. Whether either of these accomplished athletes will fall into that disgraced group, only time will tell. All we can do is pray for them both and hope for the best.

Scott Pelley, “Ex-Teammate: I saw Lance Armstrong Use EPO,” CBS 60 Minutes

Abe Streep, “Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton Walk Into a Bar,” Outside Online

Greg Risling, “FBI Wants Tape of Hamilton-Armstrong Meeting,” Associated Press