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Editorial | Athletics not root of Armstrong’s honorary degree

Published: Monday, December 3, 2012

Updated: Monday, December 3, 2012 07:12

After a recent report from the U.S Anti−Doping Agency all but confirmed that champion cyclist and testicular cancer survivor Lance Armstrong engaged in illegal doping during his run of seven Tour de France titles — titles that were subsequently voided — many of his former sponsors have distanced themselves from an athlete who, for over a decade, was a role model worldwide.

Now Tufts has joined the mass exodus of former Armstrong supporters. In late November, the university announced that its Honorary Degree Committee, with unanimous support from the Board of Trustees, had revoked the Doctor of Humane Letters degree Armstrong received at Tufts’ Commencement ceremony in 2006.

“The Board concluded that ... Mr. Armstrong’s actions as an athlete are inconsistent with the values of Tufts University,” wrote University President Anthony Monaco in an e−mail sent to the Tufts community on Nov. 19.

The university’s decision to strip Armstrong of his honorary degree is understandable from a public relations standpoint. And the Board of Trustees is right to say that Armstrong’s actions as an athlete conflict with Tufts’ values.

But the decision to strip Armstrong of his degree based on his actions as an athlete is inconsistent with the reason the cyclist received his honorary degree from Tufts in the first place — at least according to what then−University President Lawrence Bacow said in his speech introducing Armstrong at Commencement in 2006. According to Bacow, the reasons Tufts was giving the cyclist an honorary degree had very little to do with Armstrong’s performance on a bicycle.

“Your candor about your fight to overcome cancer elevates awareness, inspires important research, and unites a legion of band−wearing LIVESTRONG believers who share your conviction that cancer can and will be beaten,” Bacow said.

The most inspiring aspect of Armstrong’s career was his message of perseverance. And although this message of overcoming cancer to become an athletic champion has become tainted by the mounting evidence that the cyclist doped during his career, the inspiration and influence Armstrong has been a part of lives on.

Through the LIVESTRONG Foundation (formerly the Lance Armstrong Foundation), Armstrong has raised millions of dollars for cancer research, pushed through many cancer research bills and grants and served as a hero for survivors and those battling cancer. Regardless of the vacated Tour de France titles, the evidence of doping or Armstrong’s tenuous future as an influential figure, these contributions remain significant.

It is impossible to know whether Armstrong would have achieved nearly as much of a profound impact on the cancer community had he not doped during his career. But, regardless, his Tufts degree was not awarded for his accomplishments as an athlete. The honorary degree was given because of Armstrong’s legacy of inspiration, because of the research he’s catalyzed and the money he has raised for care and support — all values that are absolutely consistent with the values of Tufts University.

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