I’m not a sports fan. I’m more of an information fan. I like to know things, even if it is nothing more than superficial bullet-points on a topic. I just like to be able to converse. I don’t follow any specific teams, but I listen to those around me and I read the news and I ask questions. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching sports once and awhile, there have been times where I was more “into” a sport and a team. Overall though, sports aren’t my thing. But just by being alive and able to read the last two decades means that I know who Lance Armstrong is, and I know the basics of his story.
I believed him. I have no ties to cycling or his cancer foundation; I’m just a peruser of the news and formed my own opinions of what I read or saw in the media. How could I not be intrigued and inspired by a story of a man who beat a vicious form of cancer and than went on to win the most prestigious race in cycling seven times in a row? I love those kind of stories. I just couldn’t or didn’t want to believe that someone who had faced death like he had, would be able to (morally or ethically) go on and cheat his way to the top.
I have read many articles and editorials about Lance and the investigations into his doping recently, and yes, I have watched the Oprah interview for myself, and I now have a better understanding of the history of this entire saga. I don’t know everything that is out there, but enough to feel solid in my current feelings about this story. I think that there will be many who will never be satisfied and will always hold Lance Armstrong in contempt; and there will be many who won’t ever care at all about him. For the rest, it will be up to Mr. Armstrong and what kind of person he becomes from all of this whether or not he is treated with forgiveness.
I made note of the fact that I am not a sports person because for me, the Lance Armstrong saga is about his character, and the character of the sports world and society as a whole. It is amazing to me how we venerate and vilify those with superior athletic abilities. One of the many reasons I don’t enjoy sports. I guess it’s more of the environment and not the sport itself that I have a problem with. And it’s the environment of fame and not just sports that pisses me off.
We (society) find these people with some sort of extra “something”, whether it’s a talent, a gift, or hell, just their personality and physical appearance is enough for us to put them on some higher-than-heaven pedestal and revere them as almost god-like. We then celebrate their long fall back down to earth and if they are pretty enough, or entertaining enough, we forgive them and lavish them with accolades and our hard-earned money from our fan support. We watch their movies, buy their jerseys, and read the gossip rags, because underneath it all, the public will forgive just about anything if we are entertained enough.
This strange paradox of forgiveness and grudge-holding is interesting because Lance Armstrong will be portrayed by some as making face-saving gestures solely to gain back his standing in the cycling world; that his motives are selfish and insincere. Yet public forgiveness appears to ride on the back of his entertainment value and the dollar signs he can generate. Who really has the selfish and insincere motives? Based on the results of other recent scandals, his true character and the truth of his sincerity and remorse will rank lower on the list of requirements for public forgiveness. Ray Lewis, Michael Vick, and Tiger Woods were all the stars of amoral or criminal scandals that had nothing to do with their sports careers and everything to do with their personal characters, what kind of men they are at their core. Oprah asked Lance if he was sorry for his actions or sorry that he got caught and now how had to go through all that he was going through. He said it was the former and at this time I believe him. I believe Lewis, Vick, and Woods all were sorry for getting caught and having to go through all that they had to go through.
Those three men generate money and entertainment. They all have been forgiven and given a second chance. And I partially agree with Lance when he points out that other riders who were caught and had to admit to doping were all given another chance while he has not, and he questions the “difference” in the treatment and outcome. However, he needs to also factor in his actions and statements throughout his career. He agrees and admits that he didn’t just deny the charges and allegations; he actively went after those that dared speak out. He defrauded people and won settlements against those that tried to expose him. He bullied people, and he probably did coerce others into doping. He may not be able to admit to that yet; facing, recognizing, and acknowledging ones own flaws is a painful process and a person can only do so much of it at once. Like Lance noted, this public admission and apology is just the first step on a very long journey of atonement. For now I personally am willing to give him the time to take that journey. I think recognizing and admitting that he bullied people, and that he has a ruthless and win-at-all-costs side to him is a step towards acknowledging and admitting he coerced his teammates.
So I was ready to hear him admit to doping, but to actually hear it and in such a blunt,matter-of-fact way was still shocking to see. Nobody does this. EVER. More often than not it is a statement of excuses, trips to some private therapy spa, cries of career stress, or blames of the trappings of fame that meet public queries when someone famous is caught in a scandal. But Lance was direct; I have read where he has been described as “unemotional, but that actually seems more honest to me than had he been tearful or gushing remorse. I imagine anyone sitting in that seat, facing public scrutiny of their worst actions, would want to still be able to retain their sense of dignity and hold their head up, and would probably appear stoic and unemotional.
There are always going to be people who will forever believe he is a jerk and got what he deserved. And there will understandably be those who were so deeply betrayed that forgiveness will never come from them. I believe the most fair assessment is that this was a necessary and appropriate first step for Lance Armstrong to move forward. Oprah discussed the opinion that he was doing this so that he could compete again; I feel his response was sincere and will probably be taken incorrectly by more than a few people. He is a naturally competitive person and it makes sense to me that he would hope to be able to satisfy that personality trait at some point in the future. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is publicly admitting his guilt solely or primarily for that reason. His competitive personality isn’t his flaw.
I believe another fair assessment of Lance’s admission is that regardless of his sincerity, he only did this because he had no choice and it’s too late. The opinion that he would probably continue to deny the truth if he was still able to get away with it might very well be true. I also don’t think he is alone in feeling that way. I’m sure there are more people than would like to admit that have done something really awful and really wrong in their past who try to atone for their actions without ever admitting what they have done. He has brought this need for a public admission of guilt on himself and I believed him when he acknowledged that fact and took full responsibility for all of this fallout.
He hurt and betrayed a lot of people. He destroyed friendships, relationships, and reputations; and he is right that he may very well never be able to atone for all that he has caused. If he is being true and sincere then that won’t matter. True atonement hopes for but does expect forgiveness. Even with forgiveness, trust and respect will be a lot harder to earn back, if ever. Hopefully those closest to him, family and friends, will be able to trust and respect him again. Not just for him, but for themselves. Holding onto betrayal and anger can darken even the lightest of spirits.