An Open Letter To Lance Armstrong

by Gigi Ross on January 17, 2013

lance armstrong doping
Dear Mr. Armstrong,

My son is 9 years old.

He’s always wanted to be good at a sport.

He played soccer at ages 4 and 9. He did okay, never scored a goal.

He played T-Ball and coach-pitch. He held his own.

He played basketball for two seasons and scored only once.

He’s tried other sports here and there: tennis, swimming.

After he watches a football game on TV, he grabs his football and wants to go out to play catch.

When he sees highlight reels of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, he wants to shoot hoops.

He sees excellence – and wants desperately to know what that feels like.

I won’t lie. As his mom, I have indulged in the occasional flight of fancy about him being a successful athlete. When he dove into a pool at 18  months of age and swam across it, yes, I thought about whether he might be the next Michael Phelps. Each time he tries a new sport, I wonder, will this be the thing that reveals his true talentWill he ever be an athlete?

6 months ago, he earned his black belt in TaeKwonDo – an achievement that was 2.5 years in the making. It wasn’t easy. He is tall and lanky and the elegant moves of martial arts don’t come easy to him. But he persisted. He faced adversity. He sparred junior-high boys twice his age and got his nose bloodied and still had to get back in there to fight.

As I read much of the USADA’s 200-page report on the investigation into the USPS cycling team’s doping, and right now, as I watch part of your interview with Oprah Winfrey, I realized something.

My son is more of an athlete than you have ever been, or ever will be.

He may not have vivid yellow jerseys on his wall or millions in the bank from endorsements. He may not ever grace the floor of Madison Square Garden or the grass of Wimbledon. Who knows? He may never play another sport for the rest of his life.

But he can look at his collection of worn and tattered martial arts belts and know that he honestly earned every single one, Mr. Armstrong.

Do you know what the values of TaeKwonDo are? Honor. Courtesy. Perseverance. Self-control. Integrity. Courage. Community. Strength. Humility. Knowledge.

A wonderful set of life values – not just for martial arts students, but for any athlete – any person, really.

My son lives ALL of the tenets of TaeKwonDo, and you, none. With your middle finger stuck defiantly up in the air, you touted a single value:

It’s not how you win. Just win.

My son’s tightly calibrated moral compass doesn’t have that setting.

I’ll bet that sometime long ago, when you were a 9 year-old boy, your moral compass didn’t have it either.

I wonder what caused the calibration of your values to be thrown so off kilter. Money, fame,  maybe just a competitive streak gone awry. Maybe we’ll never really know.

But I know this: the word “athlete” means something very different to you than it does to me. Your definition is full of the stuff that makes this world ugly: cheat, lie, bully, intimidate. My definition involves something much more noble: an athlete is a person who uses sport to exemplify a life of excellence and honest achievement.

Once, your victories were the stuff a little boy’s hopes and dreams were made of. Now, the shining lights of real athletes – my kid and so many others like him – cast long shadows on your hollow legacy.

I have to thank you for helping me realize the greatness that is in my own child. My sincerest hope for you is that someday, you are able to rediscover the true meaning of the word athlete. Somewhere inside of you is the 9 year-old boy you once were. He’s waiting to help you re-calibrate your compass.




Theresa January 17, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Thank you Gigi!!! Thank you!

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 9:52 am

Thanks, Theresa. I’ve been struggling all week with processing my thoughts on this and it finally hit me in one moment after talking about the situation with my son.

Carolyn West January 17, 2013 at 7:44 pm

So beautifully said.

Christine @ Love, Life, Surf January 17, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Wow. Amazing post Gigi.

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 9:52 am

Thanks, Christine. And for the shout-outs, too.

Andrea January 17, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Great words!

Elaine A. January 17, 2013 at 9:43 pm

This is really good, Gigi. I love the way you put it in perspective with how hard your son has worked…

And, I just want to mention that parents live in Austin and my father would always get so ticked off at all the Hoopla about L.A. while he was living there. He said that he didn’t like him and thought there was something shady about him. My Dad is a pretty good judge of character…

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 9:54 am

Dads have that skill, don’t they? I lived in on the outskirts of Austin for 5 years. It’s funny, but I don’t recall that much hoopla back then, other than that Austin’s kind of known as his (and Sandra Bullock)’s town.

Rosstwinmom January 18, 2013 at 1:09 am

I think the thing that’s the worst was how he bullied others who knew the truth. He aggressively pursued this fake persona built on lies. It’s disgusting.

And I hope my sons are more like your son than Lance.

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 9:54 am

Yes, the intimidation is the part I am struggling with the most, too.

Susan in the Boonies January 18, 2013 at 3:55 am

I find this whole Lance Armstrong story heartbreaking. I hate that I was taken in by his lies, but, that’s me: WANTING to believe the best about people.
And I’m probably not alone in that desire.
I think America WANTS a hero, and apparently, Mr. Armstrong was willing to step up into that void, and portray himself as one, by knitting together a story we all wanted to hear.
Should I regret that quality in myself, that makes me occasionally an easy mark? Should we as a nation all become cynics, about anyone in the public eye?
Honestly, I feel that’s one of the legacies of Watergate: people who lived through that political scandal, by and large, are immensely cynical in regard to politicians. Knowing someone has been in politics (unfortunately) causes me to look at them askance, rather than be grateful that there is someone who might be idealistic enough to believe in the concept of public service.
Will this debacle cause us now as a society to become completely cynical in regard to all professional athletes?

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 9:56 am

Such a thoughtful comment. I don’t know the answer. Maybe as a society, we expect too much of both politicians and sports figures. Maybe they don’t deserve the mantle that is placed on them. Although in this particular case, as you said, he knitted the story together himself.

uyen January 18, 2013 at 5:15 am

Well said, Gigi!

Steph {Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom} January 18, 2013 at 5:46 am

YES. Thank you for writing this!

Erica January 18, 2013 at 6:09 am

Yes! well said!

Julie January 18, 2013 at 7:22 am

This right here is why no matter the sport, I will always, always, always watch college sports over professional. College athletes – for the most part – won’t become famous for their playing… But rather do it for the love of the game/sport as they get their education and work toward their next steps in life.

I truly do wonder what would happen if all professional athletes – no matter the sport – were put to the most rigorous testing and see how many truly come out “clean”. I suspect this attitude – the one Lance is showing – is running rampant through so many of the “role models” kids see today.

That is the most sad thing of all.

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 9:57 am

I agree. He’s not the core of the problem, but he’s one of the big faces OF the problem. That’s why we need to find our heroes in other places, I fear.

Candi January 18, 2013 at 7:31 am

I didn’t get to see the interview but I get the gist of it. Yes, we want our children to do their best and we look at famous athletes, but fame and fortune turn most people into something other than what they really started out to become. This is something I can take with me when my children quit a sport or activity that I so desperately wanted them to succeed in. I will try to teach my children more values about life and that people aren’t perfect and they fail to live up to our standards.

Lori Popkewitz Alper January 18, 2013 at 7:39 am

Beautifully said Gigi. We place so many athletes high up on a pedestal. They are role models for our children, yet a situation likes this keeps everything in perspective and helps us define what a true athlete is.

Lindsay January 18, 2013 at 7:49 am

Great letter, thank you!!! It’s a shame that cheating and doping are so common. I would like the few (if any?) cyclists who race the tour de france w.o doping to get a metal. They, like your son, are the real heros. Beautiful and your son sounds amazing.

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 10:05 am

You know what, my son is just an average kid who has a really strong sense of what right and wrong is. I just hope that never changes.

Stacey Ross January 18, 2013 at 8:17 am

Here is to real heroes and to integrity. Everyone does it, then everyone is expected to live a lie, so much that they will fight for it. The shame only comes in when they are busted, Not what I call a true athlete. TY for posting.

Kerry January 18, 2013 at 8:25 am

I love your letter! At one point, he pretty much justified it the doping by saying he was “in the zone” and that’s why he did it and kept doing it. He came across as cold, period.

Your letter is eloquent and thoughtful ~ thank you for sharing!!!

Mike Olsen January 18, 2013 at 9:28 am

It’s pretty bold to read a report and think you have all the answers. As a father of 5 sons, I do have a bit of experience and similar understanding to you. But why don’t you find the mother of another 9 year old who’s received the benefit of Lance’s cancer efforts and have a conversation with her; hear her story. Ask her what Lance’s influence meant to her son and family. Then have the fortitude to write that. I am no Lance fan…trust me. He has callously ruined peoples lives but he has also saved many.

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 9:45 am

I don’t believe I have all the answers. I am, however, a former attorney and prosecutor, and I have confidence in my ability to read a 200-page evidentiary report and distill what’s important from it. And based on his interview last night, I think he’s corroborated much of the high-level events outlined there.

I agree that his philanthropic efforts have done good for many – and for the most part, I don’t take anything way from that. But we also have to keep in mind that the reason he was ABLE to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer was because of his “epic story” (as I believe he called it last night): that he beat cancer and went on to honestly and cleanly win 7 Tour de Frances. Had he not been on that winning streak, he might have just been a talented cyclist who happened to survive cancer. Would people have been willing to donate money out of their pockets to support a guy they now know to be a liar? We’ll never know, but I believe that his charitable efforts would have been exponentially less significant without those yellow jerseys and the Lance brand/myth.

Either way, I stand by my post. It’s meant to share how I *feel* about the situation, and that can be neither right nor wrong; it just *is*. I can’t imagine anybody disagreeing that Lance needs to right-side his moral ship.

Thanks for your response!

San Diego Momma (Deb) January 18, 2013 at 9:29 am

This is exactly what I’ve had a hard time articulating. That the winning was more important than how he got there. And that’s not being an athlete, that’s being a sore loser.

Jenny January 18, 2013 at 10:04 am

I admit that I basically live under a rock when it comes to current affairs like this one, so I am not in a position to yell AMEN or high-five you over your thoughts on Lance Armstrong. But I AM in a position to yell AMEN and high-five you over your thoughts on what an athlete is and how pure the 9-year-old incarnation is, and how gorgeous that little moral compass in a child is. It’s a lovely post.

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

Jenny, thank you so much for seeing the real thrust of my post. That is truly the point I was trying to make. I really do hope that Lance can find that place in himself again.

Katie January 18, 2013 at 10:08 am

I agree, 100%. I was listening to ESPN this morning and a guy was on there telling everyone to forgive Lance Armstrong because he made a mistake. And, when people ask for forgiveness, its our responsibility to forgive them. I wanted to punch the guy through the TV. Lance Armstrong has raised tons of money and helped many people, but a part of me just feels that because all of that was based on lies, that it’s still just not ok!

Meg {Phase Three of Life} January 18, 2013 at 10:34 am

LOVED this post. I can actually almost forgive the cheating… but I can’t forgive the way he has treated other human beings and is still unable to show remorse for it.

Gigi Ross January 18, 2013 at 10:37 am

I couldn’t agree more.

Andrea@beatittreadmillcreeper January 18, 2013 at 10:55 am

Great Post! Love the point of view and so true.

Bob January 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Dear Gigi,

Your son will never be a great athlete. If he grows up and wants to enter the MMA, he will run against those that take steroids. Before you criticize steroids, first learn what is wrong with them. If you are suggesting the only thing wrong with them is that they provide an unfair advantage, that is completely irrelevant. This is because almost every major professional athlete today take steroids. Steroids as part of the game like going to the gym. To those that do strength training be banned from cycling too?

If you are concerned about the adverse health effects of steroids, did you know that the FDA, the DEA, and the AMA all had recommended steroid NOT be banned! Congress didn’t anyway. Should an unjust law be followed anyway?

There is nothing wrong with steroids, except that the US government has decided that should be against the law.

I hope your son grows up to take steroids so that you can understand that is absolutely nothing wrong with it.


Missy | The Literal Mom January 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Awesome, awesome, awesome post. I’m LOVING that the only naysayers are men. Isn’t that interesting to you too?

Joann Woolley January 18, 2013 at 4:40 pm

A reminder to the idea that the journey is what is important, not the destination. If it is the destination we care about solely we miss the point of life. I hope there is one athlete that adjusts their compass based on this revealing interview. It seemed to reveal a different character than who many of us thought he was. It seems we forget that most of us do not WIN at what sport we are involved with, yet most can say that they enjoy it for the sake of the sport and the other highs that come from participating and giving it your all. Where is it that the definition of happy changes? I too wonder about that 9 year old boy in Lance and what pushed him out of the athlete’s seat and into the seat of deception. Kudos to your son and all of our children that forge ahead in something that is challenging and learn along the way who they are and what they’re made of.

joann mannix January 18, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I am astounded, simply astounded.

First of all, Geeg, kudos on such an insightful and to-the-heart-of-it-all post. It isn’t about the actual steroids, reprehensible as that is in itself. It is about the essence of sportsmanship, just like you said. Lance not only cheated, he decimated people’s innocent lives in an attempt to keep his dishonorable secrets, violating not only every moral code, but the code of athletes everywhere.

As for hoping Gigi’s son grows up to take steroids? You have got to be kidding me! I’m not sure where you’re getting your inflammatory information, but anabolic steroids can cause serious physical and psychological l problems, some of them irreversible. One of the proven effects of prolonged steroid use, among many others, has been a risk of various cancers, including testicular cancer. Um, ring any bells?

And how about roid rage? There have been unfortunately too many athletes who have committed suicide, their deaths linked to steroids. Chris Benoit, a superstar in the world of professional wrestling, not only killed himself but his wife and 7-year old son. The murder-suicide was attributed to his steroid use.

Perhaps instead of legalizing a dangerous drug that will most certainly be abused as athletes need more and more to keep up with each other, the focus should be more on getting rid of the dirty athletes, people and politics that have infiltrated sport.

Unfair as it is, that so many athletes choose to cheat, there’s also the old mom adage that has stood up to the test of time. Just because everyone else jumps off the bridge, doesn’t mean you have to do it. It’s a great creed for life, not just for sport.

Cynthia January 18, 2013 at 8:12 pm

You GO girl! This is exactly how I feel too.

It will be so interesting to see what he does and where he goes from here. He’s got his amazing cancer work on the one hand, and this appalling scandal on the other, with quite a bit of life ahead of him. Can he take that huge ego and do something positive with it after all that disgrace?

Chris Carter January 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Awesome post! What a shame… Watching him talk- I don’t see ANY remorse. Just factual. Pathetic really. What a mess he created- and what a mess of a man he is. Athletic moral compass….human moral compass…gone.

joann mannix January 19, 2013 at 6:43 am

I have a friend who is an avid cycling competitor who has been staying on top of all of this. He sent me this article yesterday. Out of everything I’ve read on the subject of Lance, this SI interview with an ex employee of his, epitomizes the true character of Lance Armstrong. And for all of those who see him as a hero for all his charitable work, this interview shows another side to the “cancer champion.”

Jess January 19, 2013 at 9:47 am

Well put. It’s a shame, the whole thing. That he did it, and that he felt the need to do it.

Ann January 21, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I got so angry, listening to him as Oprah interviewed him the other night. All I kept thinking was “Sure you’re sorry; you’re sorry you got caught!”

Jo January 22, 2013 at 10:58 pm

WOW, just WOW!

Thank you!

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