Dear Lance Armstrong,

I’ve been in quite a state this week, ever since you announced you were going on Oprah and word got out about your impending confession. I’ve been pacing around the house, my insides at a continuous low boil, and pretty soon I’m going to lose all my friends because my internal focus is bordering on a mood disorder. It finally dawned on me that I will get no sleep until I get a few things off my chest and into your head for consideration.

Deep inside I always hoped you would come clean. But you need to understand something. Even people who struggle to follow reality TV show story lines can see through you now. The motivation behind all your decisions is to preserve your ability to be a rich, public figure. Without an identity in sports, you can not achieve that, and for now, you are banned from sports for life, at least the ones that are governed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) like running and triathlon.

If you can change public opinion enough, you believe that you can get your ban reduced for your disgusting crimes against the athlete profession and the career trajectories you’ve negatively affected…allowing your return to competition in triathlon in a few years. Nobody ever said you weren’t smart.

If public opinion shifts enough such that you lose your leprotic status in the sports world, the governing body of Triathlon may start to view you as a way to raise the profile of their sport. They just might come to your aid, giving you the arena for athletic prowess that you so desperately need in order to remain relevant.

You know what just might make your plan work, Lance? The silence of professional athletes on this issue. Over the years, we have all been taught that taking a public position on you is a lose-lose situation. One outspoken tweet previously prompted 80 angry replies by your army of defenders. Your army was so strong that endurance athletes trying to build fledgling public identities of their own couldn’t afford to speak their minds. Even though everyone now knows the truth, we have been trained in silence. But things are going to change, Lance.

Professional athletes are going to realize that unless we speak up, the governing bodies of our sports will make the decisions for us. They will mistake our silence for approval. We have seen what you and your friends have done to the sport of cycling, and we will not trade the integrity of our sport for the media coverage that you may bring us. If our governing bodies are going to go to bat for you, they will do so knowing that they will have a mutiny on their hands.

Why would we fight so hard to protect our sports? Here’s what you have never understood, Lance, in all your years as an athlete. To you, the most important thing in sports is winning. But the central tenet of being a professional athlete is not winning; it is fair play. In your warped world, everyone is a cheater, but in reality, 99% of us are doing it right. A commitment to fair play is THE defining element of the profession. We sign agreements to it. Regularly. If you violate that, you may seek forgiveness as a person, but you need to find a new job. The public may not understand sports as a profession, which could lead them to feel sorry for you, but we will help them understand.

A doctor who intentionally harms a patient will never practice medicine again because the central tenet of medicine is to “do no harm.” A lawyer who lies under oath or commits a crime will never practice law again, because adherence to the law is the foundation of their profession. If a financial planner steals a client’s money, if a teacher has a sexual relationship with a student…each profession has its unforgivable sin, and in sports it is doping. I do not wish for you to go to hell, or live a miserable life…I simply want you, along with all the other cheaters, to find a new profession so that mine continues to mean something.

There will still be pro athletes who are reluctant to speak up, but to them I will say this: For every cheater, there are 99 of us doing it right. If we allow our governing bodies to aid in softening Lance’s sentence, we will suffer far more than we benefit. If we allow Lance to be used as a marketing tool to elevate the public profile of our sports, guess who will swallow all the appearance fees? Guess who will drain the sponsorship budgets? Do you really think you will be on an even playing field with someone who can demand that the fastest bikes and the best gear be saved exclusively for him? Guess who will cast a shadow of doubt on your clean performances? Is it worth it? If we don’t start taking a firm line on cheating, demanding lifetime bans for all athletes who intentionally cheat, then we have no profession. We must take a stand for fair play, and the time is now.

I beg you Lance. Do the right thing tonight. True forgiveness comes to those who not only apologize, but stop contributing to the problem. Make a career for yourself as an advocate for cancer, or pour your heart into a working class job like your clean competitors have had to do to make an honest living. Real people are hurt by cheaters, and a person who was truly regretful would see that. We compete clean. It is our hippocratic oath; our swearing in. Our profession will never be a true profession until we draw a hard line protecting what we stand for. You have an opportunity to do something noble tonight, Lance. Retire.

Sincerely,

Lauren Fleshman

Professional runner drawing a hard line for #FairPlay.