Friday January 25, 2013

PITTSFIELD

PITTSFIELD

We are a nation of cheaters. We cheat on our taxes, we cheat on our diet, we cheat at solitaire. Some people cheat on their spouses or boy- and girlfriends.

The recent travails of cyclist Lance Armstrong are, in that context, not particularly surprising. But many of us are surprised -- and angry.

I think we’re angry because, while most pro athletes are involved in some form of rule-bending, the results of such activity are rarely so blatant. Armstrong may or may not have been able to win the Tour de France without blood doping. But it’s clear that he would not have been as dominant. It’s something even a casual fan can’t overlook.

So we can’t overlook it. We have to take a position. Armstrong’s position is either wrong or justifiable. Take your pick.

I’m not a cycling fan, particularly. I was certainly glad that Armstrong won the Tour de France so many times, and if I thought much about it, it had not so much to do with the sport itself. I was mostly gratified that his success had enabled him to set up the Livestrong Foundation, which poured millions of dollars into cancer research.

There are readers out there who have shared the same experience as I have: Hearing from a doctor that you or a loved one have "X" number of weeks, months or years to live. That the cancer within will eventually take its toll.

There is an inevitability about it that is impossible to convey. I remember being in a Boston doctor’s office almost 20 years ago when a doctor told my father he had 32 months to live. Thirty-two months? I thought. Not even three years? A ribbon of ice ran through my stomach.

My father was philosophical. As we were driving back to the Berkshires, he said, "He [the doctor] told me 36 months a couple of weeks ago. I got shorted."

"Well," I said shakily, "we’ll have to make the best of it."

I know. It was a ridiculous statement. But what the hell else could I say? I was so scared at that moment that I had to focus hard to stay in the proper lane on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

But 16 years after that diagnoses, my father was alive. He saw the Red Sox win the World Series (twice!), he saw the Patriots win three Super Bowls (unreal!), and he even saw the Celtics win another World Championship.

Pitiful milestones in some ways, I know. But personal ones for my father and me. I remember calling him in 2004 after that final out against the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. I was pretty emotional.

"Well, Dad," I said, "they did it. And I’m glad we’re both around to see it."

"Yeah," he said in his understated, Joe Gentile-ish way. "I’m just glad they didn’t blow it."

Beyond all that sporty stuff, he also got to see his grandsons grow into fine young men and for his son and daughters to mature into good people. That, I suspect, was probably more important to him.

Now, of course, did all the money Lance Armstrong raise for his foundation have anything to do with that? You got me. But I promise you one thing, dear readers, it couldn’t have hurt.

So yes, it’s too bad that Lance Armstrong became enmeshed in this doping scandal. I can’t argue with the powers-that-be stripping him of those titles, particularly in the wake of his public confession.

But the Livestrong Foundation is the upside. And it’s a big upside. For me, certainly, and for my family. And if I saw Lance Armstrong on the street, I wouldn’t shun him or make some cutting remark. I would step up to him and shake his hand. And thank him for raising as much money as he did. Maybe it was some kind of psychological compensation for what he knew was wrong. I don’t care. I got to see my father for a lot longer than I thought I was going to. That’s where I’m coming from.

Derek Gentile is an Eagle staffer. Follow him on Twitter, @DerekGentile.