deep space

Lance Armstrong’s Opinions About Trans Athletes Have Made Him a Reality-TV Villain

The Stars on Mars contestant threatened to abort the mission after a disagreement with Modern Family’s Ariel Winter, who says they didn’t “see eye to eye on a human rights issue.”
Lance Armstrongs Opinions About Trans Athletes Have Made Him a RealityTV Villain
Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong is one of several celebrities vying for the title of “brightest star in the galaxy” on Fox’s reality-competition series Stars on Mars—but on at least one matter, the disgraced pro cyclist may be on a planet all his own.

During their time on the show, Armstrong and his fellow “celebronauts” live in a simulation of the red planet, where they must complete missions and eliminate one another back to Earth until only one star remains in the galaxy. Tensions ran high for Armstrong on Monday’s episode, which aired a week after he voiced controversial opinions about trans athletes and sparred with his fellow contestants about them. When his fellow cadets voted for Modern Family star Ariel Winter to be their newest base commander, NFL player Marshawn Lynch argued that there was too much animosity between Winter and Armstrong for her to lead the mission. “Ariel, let me make this really simple: I don’t need the drama,” Armstrong proclaimed. “I busted my ass for nine days, I’m gonna bust my ass on the 10th day, and I’m going to auto-select myself to leave.”

Issues between Winter and Armstrong first arose last week, when the athlete spoke to fellow contestant Ronda Rousey about his podcast, The Forward, a daily series with 100-plus episodes, several centering on conversations about trans athletes. Armstrong believes these athletes should not compete against cis athletes. “Listen, this is real simple: You want to transition, let’s do it. You have your own category. We’re gonna have a whole new division. We’ll celebrate you just like we celebrate everybody else. Let’s go,” Armstrong said to Rousey. “What’s unfair about that?”

His stance was criticized by multiple contestants, including singer Tinashe. “It’s not good for their mental health” to exclude trans people, she said, “from the same spaces and places that everyone else” occupies. Armstrong retorted, “Actually, no, we’re not excluding anybody. And, by the way, I sound like a right-wing lunatic. I’m not. I’m the most liberal person, but from a sporting perspective…”

That’s when Winter jumped in. “You’re ostracizing the people who don’t fit in the categories,” she said. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon agreed, calling Armstrong’s words “so disheartening” and saying that the conversation around trans athletes is “way more nuanced” than Armstrong makes it seem. In a separate confessional, Rippon admitted that Armstrong’s remarks “have completely shifted the energy and have completely shifted the focus, and I will not ever forget them.”

That was all the more reason for Armstrong to flee the space station, the cyclist insisted in the show’s latest episode. “I’m not living in this hab another day with certain people,” he said, eyeing Winter. “We don’t see eye to eye on a human rights issue, that’s it,” Winter replied, assuring him that their disagreement wouldn’t impact her leadership skills.

After sleeping on it, though, Armstrong opted not to abort the mission. “Ariel and I just have very different styles,” he said in a confessional. “I did want to leave, but, you know, maybe I’m not giving people enough credit. I mean, everybody’s different. Some people hold grudges, but I’ll stick it out.”

The irony of Armstrong’s stance against trans athletes competing with cis athletes has been recognized outside of the show’s orbit. In 2012, following charges that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles and issued a lifetime ban from competing professionally in cycling; in 2013, he was stripped of a bronze medal as well. He admitted to cheating in an emotional 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey. Rippon himself noted this hypocrisy in a recent interview with the Daily Beast, declaring, “I don’t need to hear what the greatest cheater in American history has to say about what he thinks is an unfair advantage.”