Friday Group Ride #431

Friday Group Ride #431

I’m a little embarrassed in retrospect. The Reasoned Decision had come out about two weeks prior, and I was still aflame with (possibly contrived) moral indignation. Of course, by then I knew and had known what Lance Armstrong’s racing career was about, but seeing it all there in black and white, filling in the uglier bits of detail somehow put me in a swivet.

In moments of clarity, fleeting as they may be, I don’t buy much into moral indignation. There is an element of privilege in having the temerity to judge other people, I think. It’s not that I don’t have principles, and not that I don’t defend them in my personal life, but looking out into the larger world and thinking I have some moral superiority over other people strikes me as sort of immature.

But back then I was in a swivet, as I said, and I felt that Armstrong’s sponsors, like Nike and Oakley should drop him in a demonstration that cheaters can’t win in our sport (despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary). I wanted someone with real power to do something to salve my anger. I wrote an email to Oakley (mainly because, even then, I didn’t believe Nike had a principle you could appeal to) stating that I would not be buying their products anymore as a result of their continued support for someone who had wreaked so much havoc and damage in pro cycling.

Even typing it now feels slightly embarrassing, not because the sentiment is somehow wrong, but mainly because it was naive and maybe misguided. At the time, I didn’t own a pair of Oakley sunglasses, but I do now. So there’s something to consider.

Latently, I have realized that sports are entertainment, and in my life anyway, the leading characters may as well be fictional. It’s not that they can’t inflict real world harm, but I would argue fictional characters can do that, too. I might as well have been asking Dr Seuss to drop the Grinch (keeping it seasonal).

In the same vein, many cyclists took umbrage with Trek and other companies who had associated with Armstrong and the lesser villains of his supporting cast. The urge to support and consume products after passing them through a moral filter is strong. But does it make any sense?

As we roll into this holiday period, how do you parse things like this? How do you deal with the moral complexity of cycling? In buying products? In supporting athletes? Does this factor in at all? Or do ride amorally?

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  1. Mendip5000

    Moral decisions over purchases is a very deep question. Putting the petty issues of propriety in sporting conduct aside, I feel unable to make moral decisions for lack of information. How can I know which frame manufacturers polute their local waterways and which scrupulously filter and recycle their waste emissions. Do I have a chance of knowing which clothing manufacturers have ethical employment policies and which simply subcontract to the cheapest bidder. How do the various brands invest their profits? The market doesn’t think I need to know in order to make decisions on what I do and do not purchase.

    So I’m left to make decisions on which brands I pick to spend my pounds on by reference to my thoughts and feelings about their marketing. The whole of pro racing is little more than marketing when viewed on a commercial level, so your feeling that your decision to first chastise Oakley then later but their product is a matter for consideration is right on the money. I’d suggest their marketing must have improved. 😉

    So how do I decide? I allow reviews and specs to inform my decisions, coupled with an overwhelming frugality born of a desire to retire from work as early as possible. No less a fiction than anything else, perhaps, but when I need, say, tyres to keep me riding so that I can stay healthy and extend that retirement when it comes at least it feels like I chose them based on something measurable like rolling resistance. How do others decide?

  2. Mark

    Speaking of which, does that company that owns some firearms and ammunition brands also still own some cycling product- and other outdoor sports- companies?

    I admit, I’m still refraining from supporting them. Which isn’t all bad, there are other companies that make the same things they do. I’ve found better racks and bikepacking cargo solutions, but they were the two main helmet companies I grew up on, and I still need to replace an aging helmet.

    So yes, I’m letting morals affect my purchasing decisions, not really knowing if the devil I don’t know is any better than the devil I know (duh, tautology, but I can’t phrase it any better right now).

    Was it the last Paceline podcast where Selene mentioned having privilege? I have the privilege to make a moral judgement on a company and the resources to avoid supporting that company. I can spend more to avoid a company that profits off guns, one that treats its employees poorly, one that nickle and dimes me, or one that treats me like a resource instead of a customer.

    I realize this is my privilege. I understand that others may not be able to avoid those companies or they may not care, but the fact that others can’t or won’t avoid those companies doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t avoid them either.

  3. Parker English

    Always glad to see a little embarrassment in folks I admire. Makes them seem more human. Agree that indignation’s not especially helpful when discussing issues regarded as moral with people holding opposing views. Also agree it’s nonetheless reasonable to avoid products that support people whose actions seem immoral.

    Regarding Armstrong in particular, however, am not sure it’s required. At least not for active cyclists focused mainly on relationships, work, and fitness, not necessarily in that order. Because, as you suggest, most such people view world tour cyclists primarily as figures of entertainment who can do no more real harm to us than can disheartening movie stars.

    That said, Armstrong did do real harm to other world tour cyclists and staff during his era. And they can be seen as deserving of protests that hurt products supporting Armstrong. So such protests strike me as reasonable but not necessary. I’m curious to see if other commenters view the matter differently regarding Armstrong in particular. He was such an immense presence in cycling generally.

  4. Mendip5000

    Armstrong probably brought 10,000 times as many punters to cycling as he hurt pros. To make him a special case for aprobrium is disingenuous I feel. There are simply bigger issues such as guns, workers welfare and the environment that make worrying about the guy one breath more just a further indulgence of his phoney story. Well in my opinion at least…

  5. Dave

    If we try and boycott companies that supported dopers you couldn’t cycle because you’d have practically no gear!! Oakley, Nike, Trek, Specialized, Bianchi, Merckx, Colnago, Orbea – the list of companies who knowingly supported dopers is huge.

    The easier list to compile than who supported dopers, is who didn’t.

    As for how I make equipment decisions, I usually chat up the older guys in the group who I enjoy riding with. That plus checking out reviews and research helps me make decisions.

    I also belong to several cycling forums where I’ve gotten great advice.

  6. Adam

    At the risk of missing the point, I feel compelled to return to the starting point of this discussion, the singling out of Armstrong. There are indeed many moral complexities in this world, but the prosecution of Armstrong is not one of them. The currently fashionable idea is that it was unfair to single him out. But even the slightest reflection reveals the absurdity of this argument. No one who gets a traffic ticket gets much support for arguing how unfair it is that most speeders go unpunished. Obviously the system exists for another reason, to discourage speeding. Yes, Armstrong was singled out, and in this case the choice was not random, he was the worst offender to ever come down the pike, not just engaging in it himself but organizing others (aka racketeering) as well. The fact that Armstrong was singled out and punished is an obviously unqualified good for everybody but Armstrong.

    As to the moral complexity of consumer boycotts, I recall the utterly mundane wisdom of one investment advisor who viewed buying oil stocks as essentially morally neutral, since a single investor has a negligible effect on the stock price. And yet every vote counts? These points of view are clearly incompatible. It’s not that the advisor’s argument is in any way subtle or clever, its appeal is that it gets us off the moral hook. And arguments such as “judge not…” posed above are similar in their moral cowardice.

  7. Shawn

    The urge to support and consume products after passing them through a moral filter is strong. But does it make any sense?

    Whether it makes sense, isn’t this the contemporary paradigm? Titans of industry and government are shamed out of office for their transgressions, and companies face existential boycots because of who or what they associate with, or because a lowest-line employee offends a customer for reasons social media determines are morally repugnant.

    If your reaction to sport’s greatest hypocrite is worthy of regret, then where do we go as a society from where we are now?

    1. Author

      @Shawn – That’s a tough one, right? Where do we go? We have this “power of the pocket book” that we can use to influence our world, but I am swayed also by the humanity of all the people involved, the key players and the invisible ones. I would like to live in a morally-inclined world, but is the way to achieve that better accomplished through pressure, humiliation, and ostracism, or suasion, compassion, and leadership. I think the latter, but I’m open to other ideas.

  8. Fuzz

    Silly as it may sound, my decision to abandon Trek was based on their treatment of the greatest American cyclist of my time, Greg LeMond. A simple apology after the reasoned decision, for making a bad choice, would have kept me in the fold.

    1. tj

      Silly?, not at all!. A good grudge is hard to keep, but boycotts can and do work. Like you, I avoided trek like the plague when they shit on the Lemond brand. I also avoided even an inner tube purchase from Big S after they pulled their ultimate douchbaggery over the roubaix trademark dispute ( which wasn’t even theirs) with a small Canadian bike shop. If a brand/company pisses me off, (like say Vw over the emissions rigging to go outside of cycling), I feel it its my responsibility to send a message. I like to think that a corporation will respond to outrage if said outrage is tied to the spending habits of enough customers. I might be naive to think that my individual decision to buy/not buy will have an impact, but it sure won’t hurt.

  9. Tominalbany

    I’m no longer swayed by pro cycling in that I do not try to buy the stuff that so-and-so uses. I look for stuff that works great yet is still reasonably priced, for me.

    On that other note: Armstrong was certainly revealed to be a poor example of the human race. Sadly, he has lots of company…

  10. David Arnold

    Brand loyalty in and of itself is non- moralistic, but how riders who use the brands they are paid to use treat others is. There are plenty of other brands/products in the marketplace to buy and use that don’t imply PED support, extortion or corruption. That being said we as consumers and riders can and do use our hard earned dollars or Euros to endorse fair and sportsman like products. I have in the past.

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  12. Dizzy

    How do I look at cycling? I once was a pro American-football fanatic; all the gear, season tickets, verbally abusive, drunken disorderly, etc. Then the players went on strike which resulted in a minimum salary higher than what I would make in a lifetime of work. I was done with football. I later became a cycling fanatic; all the gear, cable TV package, verbally boastful, perfect diet, etc. Then the Reasoned Decision. This time, I didn’t abandon the sport. But, as others have said above, it facilitated a change in my thinking about sports. Pro sports are just forms of entertainment. So be it.

    Regarding the “…buying of products and/or supporting athletes?”: let me postulate an alternative approach. A politician once spoke about the weighing of constituent communication: 1) signed form letters; junk mail, 2) pissy emails; delete, 3) phone calls; a minuscule fraction of voters, 4) but a letter…each letter was considered to represent 50 constituents. With that theory in mind, how many of us wrote a letter to Armstrong, Trek, Oakley, etc. asking them to consider the harm done? How many of us wrote a letter to Greg, Frankie or Betsy telling them we felt their pain and were on their side? I could give additional examples but you get my point.

    It takes thousands of consumers to impact a company in a product boycott. I’m not saying it’s not a worthwhile use of our moneys or totally ineffective. But the power of the pen is still mighty. All of us here know that because of the excellent writing we read nearly every day on RKP pages. We all should write more. D

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