Lance Armstrong: the Perfect Scapegoat?

I was never a big fan of Lance Armstrong. I guess that’s because I don’t like bicycles. Give me a Honda 90 trail-duster and I’m a happy camper. I once owned a Triumph 650 Bonneville Special when I was about 19 but ended up trading it for a gunny sack full of Mexican loco weed. But that’s another story and I would need permission from all my old hippie friends from those college days. So I guess by saying that, I just sealed my fate from ever running for president. Once it’s online its forever part of the public conscience.

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this is not Lance Armstrong

Since Armstrong’s fall from grace I have become more interested in him. For me, he is the most recent and maybe biggest patsy so far to be thrown under the bus by our crazed, need-to win culture. And nowhere is this bizarre pressure to win at all costs more prevalent than in the sports, losing-is-a-disease, industry.

Armstrong has been both villainized and made into a scapegoat. Villainized by the absolute purest ideologues, those who want to keep sports players in a fairy-tale of good guys and sweet ladies. But the truth is, the professional sports system (and some amateur sports) has indeed become like a fairytale or a sci-fi tale, like an evil witch with poison apples in hand, or a mad scientist synthetically creating athletic Frankensteins. When Frankenstein goes berserk, he is suddenly left out to dry by himself.

I do have some expertise on the athletic culture of drugs and enhancement supplements (witch’s apples). Many years ago when I was pastor in the Lyndon/ Bellingham area of Washington. I’d become somewhat known as the “cool pastor” – basically that meant I wore Nike’s, jeans and a polo shirt. I also developed a reputation as a fairly good counselor, hopefully for more substantive reasons. So one day while I was in my office, two suits knock on my door and ask if they could have five minutes of my time. If it wasn’t for their 6 foot 6 bigness I would have thought they were insurance salesman or Bible pushers. I said, “Come in, sit down, what can I do for you guys?” They both pulled out some credentials but didn’t give me any cards. Their credentials were from some kind of National athletic professional union or something like that. So they gave me their pitch. The pitch let me know right away that it would only take up a day or two of my time per month and being on call at all times. They wanted me to be a counselor and pastor-on-call to help athletes and other celebrity-types doing an AA-style rehab program; the representative of the Higher Being for their center at large.

I drove with them twelve miles away along the Canadian border to the biggest mansion I’ve seen outside of Bill Gates’ bungalow in west Seattle. It was named the Randy Bachman house and it was connected loosely to the Betty Ford center. Randy Bachman, the founding member of the “Guess Who” band and co-founder of Bachman-Turner Overdrive band, had donated his 20,000 sq.ft. home as a Rehab place when he had a bout of conscience hitting him from his Mormon roots. At least that’s the story I heard. I met the big guy a couple of times, and his wife was around the center quite often.

 

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The Randy Bachman House

My church board was all for me taking on this extra activity. Thinking back, I believe they thought some famous stars would end up coming to the church. This church already had enough big shots in it, from captains of fishing boats that wintered in Bellingham (part of the Alaskan fishing fleet), owners of some of the biggest dairies in Washington, a president of a Washington state college and several very irritating professors. A mecca for type-A’s. This was a sports-insane church that knew the Bachman house was where all the big sports stars dried out. I know what you’re thinking, how in the world did I get to become pastor of such a church, ha, that’s another lengthy and humorous story for another day.

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Guess Who?

My first client was a big burly white guy I recognized immediately. Because of privacy contracts I signed I can’t say who he was but he was very much in the news. I worked with big white for about a month. One day he came into my mansion office to do one of the twelve steps that required him to tell another living person all the evils he had done. OK I have to say until that moment I was a novice and prude in the world in which the pro athlete is surrounded. Of course Big White was about as arrogant as Osama Bin Laden and Bill Marr in one package. In fact the amount of arrogance, over-confidence and outright hedonism should have been rescued from the sweat these guys produced in the work-out room, then sold as Sweat of the Greats. I was actually toying with the idea, not only a power-packed perfume, but the energy of a dozen superstars that can be yours for $45.00 an ounce.

After telling me details of the first 20 women he had and how he had them, I said, “Let’s move on.” So he then relayed to me about how he started cheating in sports in high school. His assistant coaches were supplying him with steroids and cocaine before games. I stopped him and said, “Come on, not cocaine!?”

He jumped in my face and said, “Are you calling me a f____ liar?!”

I said back, “Hey, cool down, I’m Pastor Mike, I’m here for you.”

“I don’t need no f____ pastor. I had my fill of them creeps growing up and I get all that Jesus crap from my Pop. I quit going home six years ago because that’s all they would talk to me about.”

I asked, “Why are you going through this step then?”

Big White said, “The league says it looks good and I can play this week if I do what looks good.” So we continued another three hours of unbearable stories of sexual abuses of woman, of gambling and of tons of illegal drug use. Unfortunately, after he left me there was a pretty girl waiting for him and she went off with him to his room. That was called hugs for drugs. This was one story of a hundred that all sounded the same. There was becoming no doubt in my mind that these professional teams were powered by drugs and steroids. I now understood all the privacy clauses, non-disclosures, and “keepa ya mouth shut or the powers of sport’ll come down on ya without mercy.”

It all ended at about the six month point for me. The staff was all called in on a Sunday evening in late November, and told big changes were on the way. We were all seated around a big table in the dining hall waiting for the Limo bus’ return from Sunday’s Imagegame, filled with players returning to the mansion. It arrived outside the big windows, players piling out in gym shorts hanging on each other along with some ladies that hitched the trip. Everyone except for the driver and trainers were wasted to the gills, beyond pain and in “god mode.” All of them. Yah, by now I knew the drill, on the way to the game everyone was doped to the max and given enough pain killers and enhancement cocktails to give a whale the power and speed of an atlas rocket.

So the meeting happened. We were all told we would receive generous severance checks and please sign your resignation disclosure letters in front of you and we will pass out the severance checks but we cannot give any recommendations to anyone. The head shrink went on to say that The Mansion was changing direction and the league and the unions were going to take care of their own people from now on, because too much info had been getting out to the public from all the other treatment facilities across the country. That regardless of (Bachman House’s) great record with the league and the union, the decision had been made. We were told that, if the Mansion reopens, please don’t inquire about work here. Also–and this was just before the big Prime Rib and salmon dinner– “Don’t talk to any of your clients from here on out. Remember your contracts and disclosure paper you signed when you first went to work with us.” We ate and we went home and I had a check big enough to take the family to Disneyland.

Just one more thing– now I was part of the big, dark secret about competitive sports in America, and just like the players and all others part of the machine, my lips were sealed. The brain-washing the athletes went through and all of us “privileged” to work with them was like the brotherhood of a Naval Seal to his fellow Seals. I developed a strong case of paranoia from my years in Northern Washington along with periodical reminders I would get in the years that followed.

All I can say now, is poor (well, not financially poor) Lance Armstrong, caught in the system. It looks like the sports demigods have the perfect offering to the drug gods. Good thinking, outing Lance Armstrong. Yes, we all make our choices. But I hope somehow we can remember all the millions Lance has donated to help find a cure for cancer (the initial yellow arm band symbol) and the thousands of lives his organization has saved. I still think yellow before pink for cancer.

 

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  1. Lance Armstrong: the Perfect Scapegoat? « Plumbliners

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