Suspension of disbelief.
For a long time it was the one thing that was keeping Lance Armstrong from destruction. Suspension of disbelief of fans. Suspension of disbelief of sportswriters. Suspension of disbelief of sponsors.
Armstrong was able to create this suspension of disbelief around the world because, well, there was no way a guy that "nice" (his $500 million-dollar charity, his heroic story of recovery from cancer, his inspirational books, the film cameos, the seven yellow jerseys and everything else that came with being Lance Armstrong) was in fact what All Those Other People were saying he was all along: a cheat, a liar, a bully and a fraud.
Even when the evidence became too compelling to deny, the instinct of his staunchest supporters was not to concede they might have been wrong but to simply dig in even more, their attitude being: Hey, we're not stupid. Even if he did cheat, and you have no real proof yet, Armstrong was just better at it than anyone else. That's okay with us.
And hey, he saves lives. Don't speak ill of a hero.
On the occasion last August of Armstrong giving up the fight against the doping charges brought against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Buzz Bissinger was a typical voice of this mass suspension of disbelief.
Bissinger, the author of Friday Night Lights, used a cover story in Newsweek to tell the world that the American was "a hero, one of the few we have left in a country virtually bereft of them... if Armstrong used banned substances, he was levelling the playing field."
Bissinger even went so far as to attack people on Twitter who dared question his judgment and accused him of falling for Armstrong's elaborate Ripley-like fiction: "I wasn't played by anyone. He cheated. So f***ing what?"
This week Bizzinger wrote a mea culpa for the same media company, and did a complete reversal: "I was played by Armstrong... whatever he says, subtract by a thousand, divide by two, then three, then multiply the whole sum of bulls*** by zero."
Sorry, bud, too late. You're convincing no one. You and the rest of Armstrong's cheer squad have to wear your complicity in stoking the man's myth.
So where to from here?
As for Armstrong, who cares? He's forfeited our consideration and can look forward to many long nights looking in the bathroom mirror and not liking what he sees.
Professional cycling is arguably at its lowest ever point but will recover. Nobody's going to stop loving bikes and the men who ride them because of one preposterous cheat. Armstrong's charity, Livestrong, believes it is big and important enough to go on despite its founder's complete and utter disgrace. It's probably right. The fight against cancer must go on. Livestrong's cause is a noble one.
But, best of all, the suspension of disbelief has lifted. It's about bloody time. The innocence is gone for good. We have been betrayed. We are entitled to be suspicious and cynical. From this point forward we will never see our heroes - sporting, political or celebrity - the same way. We won't get fooled again.
And for that, ironically, we have cause to celebrate.