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SIDE STREETS: Armstrong jersey in museum is a powerful symbol

By: BILL VOGRIN
November 2, 2012
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photo - Matt Mayberry, director of the Pioneers Museum, says the drug scandal surrounding disgraced bicycle racer Lance Armstrong enhances, in his mind, the value of displaying a U.S. Postal Service bicycle racing jersey autographed by Armstrong. Photo by Bill Vogrin - The Gazette
Matt Mayberry, director of the Pioneers Museum, says the drug scandal surrounding disgraced bicycle racer Lance Armstrong enhances, in his mind, the value of displaying a U.S. Postal Service bicycle racing jersey autographed by Armstrong. Photo by Bill Vogrin - The Gazette 

In the main hallway of the Pioneers Museum, a showcase holds a once-treasured souvenir of Colorado Springs’ proud history as a bicycling mecca.

It’s a jersey from the old U.S. Postal Service professional bike racing team, autographed by Lance Armstrong.

Of course, Armstrong no longer is known as the heroic son of a single mother who became a bike racing prodigy felled by testicular cancer only to triumph over the disease and go on to win an unbelievable seven consecutive Tour de France racing titles in 1999-2005.

According to a report of the Colorado Springs-based U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, released Oct. 10, Armstrong turned those races into a doping Tour de Farce.

Worst in my mind is the way he demanded everyone on his team use drugs and then viciously attacked anyone who dared tell the truth by unleashing his attorneys on them. It doesn’t help that Armstrong remains defiant and arrogant in his denials.

Armstrong, I believe, belongs on the Mount Rushmore of disgraced sports figures along with Joe Paterno, who stood by and allowed serial child sex abuse by his assistant football coach; O.J. Simpson, ex-NFL legend accused of murder and convicted of armed robbery, kidnapping and wrongful death; and Tiger Woods, the spectacularly unfaithful husband.

Some critics say it doesn’t matter that Armstrong raised millions for cancer research and improving the lives of cancer victims through his Livestrong foundation. They say it was all a cynical public relations ploy to sway public opinion amid charges he was cheating. Of course, in hindsight, it seems the foundation should have been named Livewrong, instead.

So I wondered if it was time to take down Armstrong’s jersey.

After all, the Pioneers Museum is the community’s trophy room. It’s where we display all the souvenirs we cherish. Should Armstrong still hold a place on our mantle?

I asked Matt Mayberry, the museum director, and was surprised at his response.

“This jersey is a symbol and in the last couple weeks its meaning has changed,” Mayberry said. “It’s still a symbol we want to display. The only question in my mind is whether we add to the display.”

He noted that many people enshrined in the museum had their warts.

We honor, for example, Winfield Scott Stratton, the gold king and generous philanthropist who gave much to the community. Yet historians like Mayberry know he was a “dark figure” plagued by alcoholism and a reputation for fathering children with prostitutes.

Mayberry said it may be appropriate to explain in the exhibit the local ties to the worldwide scandal that destroyed the Armstrong myth and forever altered his legacy.

“Maybe we need to make that local connection for people,” he said. “It should talk about the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency located here and Colorado Springs’ connection to the sports world.”

On second thought, I guess I agree with Matt.

No one is perfect. Certainly not me. And not Armstrong. Shame on me for ever buying into the Armstrong myth as promoted by his public relations hype machine.

He’s a flawed hero, like so many throughout history.

So, I guess I’d vote to leave the jersey and use it as a teaching tool.

Instead of being an object of hero worship, let the jersey reflect the scandal and the scourge of drugs and cheating in sports and in life.

Let it remind any who remain blinded by Armstrong’s drug-fueled feats of the risk of mimicking his behavior.

Actually, that would be a really valuable exhibit.

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