"The Lord put a mark on Cain . So Cain went out from the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden." - Genesis 4:15-16
East of Eden. I long wondered about an existence in such a destination. Wondered how a person could survive in exile on the edge of paradise, where life had been so full of joy and wonder and triumph.
I don't wonder any longer.
East of Eden?
That's where Lance Armstrong dwells.
Nobody in American sports history ever tumbled from respect and grandeur in quite the way Armstrong did in 2013. Pete Rose and O.J. Simpson fell, but their descent did nothing to diminish their dominance on the baseball or football field. Their sins were not connected to hitting baseballs or eluding tacklers.
Armstrong will wander through America for the rest of his life with a mark on him. He is forever branded in the public eye as America's ultimate cheater, a liar who attacked the brave women and men who dared tell the truth about his deceptions. Cain was banished to Nod after murdering his bother Abel. Armstrong has been banished to his mansions in Aspen and Austin.
I'm similar to just about every other American. I cherished the Armstrong myth and wanted this unlikely tale, with more heartwarming twists and turns than a Frank Capra movie, to be true. Armstrong grew up poor but determined in Texas. He was later afflicted with cancer but the disease miraculously failed to halt his rise as a cyclist. He became the finest cyclist in the world, and maybe the greatest of all time, while conquering all those snooty riders from Europe. He dated a rock star and a movie star.
The years went by, and Armstrong's story grew more and more difficult to believe. As cyclist after cyclist was forced to admit he had cheated his way to impressive times, Armstrong continued to loudly insist on his innocence. He had defeated the cheaters for years, fair and square.
Or that's what he said.
I raised questions about Armstrong a few times in columns, and the reaction always arrived swiftly. Many Gazette readers wondered how I could side with the French, who also suspected Armstrong. The French, readers said, were just jealous of our pure, triumphant American hero.
Almost a year ago, Armstrong sat beside Oprah Winfrey, the woman who serves as a kind of priest for famous Americans. It was time, finally, for Lance to tell the truth, to end his lying.
Many of my friends were unimpressed and unmoved by Armstrong's confession session with Oprah. They wanted him to show more contrition, wanted him to reveal more truths about his doping and his lying.
I was surprised by his candor and understood his efforts to place his lying and cheating in context. Yes, he had taken performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong said, but that was as central to winning as putting air in his bike tires. Everyone, he suggested, did both.
Armstrong must have believed baring his flawed soul would enable him to retain the flow of love and adoration from his millions of fans. He must have believed if he told the truth, he would be allowed to enjoy the embrace of American sports fans.
Instead, he tumbled. Armstrong will forever be remembered as the despised cyclist who deceived so many into believing his wonderfully improbable storybook tale.
He dwells now where he will dwell the rest of his days.
East of Eden. Walking through his native land, as Cain did so long ago, cursed with a mark and burdened with visions of a lost paradise.