My husband and I have raised our four sons to be keen on two things: chess and cycling. This week, two of their mightiest heroes have fallen, and we are faced with exploring their actions and the apparent lack of something all children prize highly – fairness. First grandmaster Garry Kasparov was jailed in Russia during a social protest, and today seven-time Tour de France Winner Lance Armstrong, who has fought mountains and his own body, gave up the fight over doping allegations.
"Mom, this is the worst week ever," said Quin, age eight, when he heard about Mr. Armstrong. "Did he really cheat? That would stink. How could he just give up if he didn’t do it?" A moment later he added, "And have we figured out if that grandmaster is going to jail for biting a police officer?"
Both these men are heroes to my boys and both have always been highly controversial figures. Explaining two major falls – albeit quite different kinds – in a week has been a challenge.
Kasparov became the youngest ever undisputed World Chess Champion in 1985 at the age of 22 by defeating then-champion Anatoly Karpov. He has had long-term battles with chess' governing body FIDE over political issues and has become a loud voice in and outside Russia against President Vladimir Putin. The answer about Kasparov was easier than the one about Armstrong.
I explained that Kasparov recently announced he would run for the presidency of the Russian Chess Federation against President Vladimir Putin's man. Kasparov made Putin angry and suddenly Kasparov is arrested, beaten, and accused of something crazy. I believe the police dog bit the officer. Quin's response was, "But that's not fair!" Sometimes life's not fair.
Today I find myself at the dining room table with my husband and sons poring over every detail of the decision made by Armstrong to stop fighting the charges leveled by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that could cost him his seven Tour de France titles. His entire career has been dogged internationally by charges of illegal doping, yet he passed every test. He has decried the USADA's practices as a "one-sided and unfair process." This is an American quasi-governmental agency that appears to have little oversight and perhaps not the actual authority to overrule the International Cycling Union, which has been backing Armstrong in this fight.
"I don't understand," said son Ian, 17, who cycles and along with all of us has sat glued to the TV during Tour de France time each year since he could sit. "Is Armstrong admitting he doped?" To take no action is an action, some say.
My husband hopped on at that point, saying something that made me cringe, "I don't care. Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France titles and every one was a feat of strength, endurance, and amazing to watch."
Uh-oh! Now Mom's on quicksand in the parenting department.
Ian quickly took up the beat of that drum announcing, "Exactly! So what if he doped!"
NO! Flag on the play. Parents back in the huddle. We do not support doping or cheating.
However, we also don't support agencies that cheat by making rules of engagement for self-defense impossible to follow and your innocence an unwinnable prize either. We don't support governments, foreign or domestic, that take away people's right to free speech, be it on the steps of a courthouse or courtroom.
The International Cycling Union has opposed the anti-doping actions by claiming it has jurisdiction. That position has been recently backed by USA Cycling, the official cycling organization recognized by the US Olympic Committee.
As a parent, I am telling my sons to keep believing in their heroes, even when their heroes show signs of not believing in themselves.
I am forced to teach them that governments and their agents can and do lie and hurt people who are innocent. Thanks to Mr. Putin, I got to tell my sons how great it is to be an American. Thanks to the USADA, I was forced to tell my children that sometimes our government (or in this case quasi-government) is not much better than Putin's at being fair.
In the end, I told them to believe that truth will out, sooner or later and meanwhile we have to keep believing in due process, fairness, and standing up for yourself and for those who can't stand for themselves.
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