I have never been a fan of Lance Armstrong, neither before he was diagnosed with cancer or afterwards. He always seemed a bit arrogant and egotistical to me. I lumped him in the same boat with all of the other athletes we laud and worship because they have incredible physical abilities. Hero-worship of athletes is integral to American culture. Every time one fails miserably, we swear we aren’t going to put them on a pedestal anymore – until the next time.
So I wasn’t surprised when Armstrong confessed to Oprah and, in all honesty, I had an “I told you so” moment or two. Even though I wasn’t a fan, I was incredibly disheartened. What is jaw-dropping to me, are the extremes to which he went to protect the world he had created; especially the bullying tactics he employed to destroy other people who knew the truth about his drug use and doping. There seemed to be no limit to what he would he was capable of engaging in to besmirch and smear their character. One has to wonder if he would have ever come clean (pun intended) if the evidence against him had not been irrefutable.
There are many things to consider and ponder in such a visible fall from grace. For example, what do you now do with someone who did horrible things, but has acknowledged those actions and indicated that he is hoping to turn things around? (One may question the sincerity or the depth of his confession, as I admittedly do with LA, but still the acknowledgement is there at some level). Do we excoriate him and leave him no opportunity for redemption? Do we accept his apology and forget about the things he has done – let bygones be bygones? Does the good one has done, outweigh the bad (e.g. cancer research in LA’s case)? Do we hold public figures to a higher standard because they do have the public’s trust? I don’t think there is an easy or simple answer. Every human being is a full of inconsistency and paradox. No person is strictly bad and incapable of doing good things; nor is a person wholly good and incapable of doing bad. One of my favorite sayings is, “even a broken clock is right twice a day.” Bad people can/will do good things and good people can/will do bad things. It’s up to society and public discourse to laud the good and hold our heroes and heroines accountable for the bad.
In the two nights of interviews (I watched every minute), there were two particularly heart-wrenching moments. The first was, when he talked about the impact of his deceit on his five children, especially his thirteen year-old son; who was forced to defend his father to his peers. The second was when he implied that getting cancer had turned him into a bully. I’ve known way too many people diagnosed with cancer and I don’t recall one of them becoming a bully because of it. Colleen Shaddox has written a thoughtful opinion piece in the Hartford Courant about Armstrong’s comment. It’s worth a read. http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-shaddox-lance-armstrong-rode-cancer-myth-to–20130118,0,7721305.story