October 24, 2012
On Tuesday, the day after he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, Lance Armstrong swallowed another dose of punishment, a uniquely modern kind: He removed the references to his Tour titles from his Twitter bio.
In the long doping scandal that has finally crushed Armstrong's cycling career, that little detail seemed curiously significant.
All day Tuesday, it was the stuff of news stories and tweets and Facebook posts. Just as a bio sums up a life, his reduced bio seemed to sum up his fall.
Armstrong without titles is like Samson shorn of the locks that gave him power. But what he has lost goes beyond power, beyond status, security and the right to race professionally ever again, beyond the zillion-dollar endorsements for helmets, bikes and fancy eyewear.
He has lost the most valuable of all possessions — his good name.
Armstrong's downfall brings to mind the disingenuous but accurate lament of William Shakespeare's great villain Iago, whose treachery was all the worse because his friend Othello had trusted him so deeply.
"Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, is the immediate jewel of their souls," said the deceitful Iago. "Who steals my purse steals trash, but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed."
It seems inarguable by now that the thief who stole the jewel of Armstrong's soul is named Lance Armstrong. Even though other cyclists were doping too, even if he felt he had to dope to stay competitive, even if his feats of strength remain astonishing — his cover-up robs his accomplishments of truth and beauty.
Not that he has admitted to wrongdoing. He hasn't, and may never. But his revised Twitter bio struck a lot of people as evidence of guilt by deletion.
On Monday, the bio said: "Father of 5 amazing kids, 7-time Tour de France winner, full time cancer fighter, part time triathlete."
By the next day, he sounded like just another dad: "Raising my 5 kids. FightingCancer. Swim, bike, run and golf whenever I can."
Viewed benignly, of course, his new bio is not a confession, it's simply a concession to the fact that he no longer owns the titles that made him rich, revered and famous.
But reading his revision made me wonder: What if we spoke more frankly in our bios?
In modern life, almost everybody has one, and bios are more public than ever before, broadcast to the universe on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.
In your bio, you are your best self, your best imagined self. You angle the camera just so, dim the lights, cover the scars and warts, fire up the band. You polish your name to a high gloss. You wait for the applause.
In your bio, you distill yourself to your grandest achievements, your most presentable relationships. And if there are quirks on display? They're only the ones you carefully chose so as to make yourself just that much more attractive.
Attractive to whom, though? A potential boss? A potential lover? A former boss or lover? Your parents, your kids, strangers, posterity? Yourself?
It's crazy to think Armstrong would be any braver or more revealing than the rest of us.
Still, I like to imagine that he might post a braver bio, one that might restore some luster to his name, some faith in his brand, something like:
@lancearmstrong Raising my 5 kids. FightingCancer. Thinking about how I've gone wrong and how to make things right for the people who trusted me.
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