1.19.2013

Drugs & Second Chances in the Public Eye

The truth is out. He's admitted it. The rumors and allegations have been confirmed. Lance Armstrong doped up. In his own words, it was "one big lie." He was using performance enhancing drugs during each of his seven consecutive Tour de France victories. In his opinion, those wins would not have been possible without the drugs.

Now what?

Let the scorn begin. Oh how we love to crucify our heroes.

Yahoo Sports called him "arrogant and unaware." CNN has panned his contrition as unconvincing. They said, "there was no flicker of soul-searching. Maybe he doesn't have a soul to search."

I expect some level of derision from major news outlets. It's their job. They're out for blood or whatever attracts more viewers and/or readers. A fallen celebrity is chum trailing behind a fishing boat out to catch  sharks. However, the public humiliation doesn't end with the mainstream media. As Armstrong was able to find a warm corner in the hearts of the average American, he is now being evicted from those places of high esteem with vitriol and revulsion.

If you read through local news, you might find comments like "One of the lowest forms of life" and "Just a con man." Or you might see others say, "the epitome of a bad parent" and "spoiled brat."

Do I have room to criticize Lance Armstrong? What makes me any better than him? Sure, I've never done drugs, but I've never competed on an international stage with the pressures of the whole world watching. Granted, that stress and scrutiny over Armstrong's career isn't a valid excuse, but neither is the lack of a spotlight pardon my poor decisions. I might not have sued people for making accusations against me, but I have hurt people in other ways. The real difference between Lance Armstrong and Nicholas Casey is that everyone can see his mistakes, while very few people saw mine.

Armstrong is suffering the negative affects of something I've talked about before: when we place our heroes up on pedestals, there is only one direction they can go. Down. We ignore their humanity. We place inhuman expectations on them. We're unforgiving of their flaws. And we are ruthless when the inevitable happens.

Is there room for forgiveness and second chances in Lance's life? From my perspective, there has to be. I don't know him personally. The lies he told have zero effect on my life. I am not one the people he betrayed. The closest our two paths ever came to crossing was when he visited Coeur d'Alene to watch the Ironman Triathlon a few years ago. I'm pretty sure I was at church that day.

Forgiveness isn't mine to give as he's done nothing to personally wrong me. When I ponder whether or not he deserves a second chance, I must consider a few things.

1. He is all ready facing the natural consequences of his actions. He's been stripped of his Tour de France titles. The IOC has requested he return his Olympic medal. He has been banned from his chosen profession for the rest of his life.

2. He is being sued for repayment of money he won in libel lawsuits. Some organizations are asking he return money he was paid to compete in various events. He will no longer be able to earn income from cycling. He has lost many of the sponsorships that helped finance his career. He has resigned from his own non-profit foundation. There will be severe financial punishments.

3. His relationships are all ready strained. He's burned several bridges through his doping and the lies he told to cover it up. Many of those he hurt were friends and teammates. Some of those relationships might be beyond repair. But those closest to him may have been hurt the worst - his family. That includes the son who defended Armstrong as accusations were first leveled against him.

If I were to criticize Armstrong,  there's nothing I could do to make his situation any worse. My ridicule would be nothing more than empty words adding to the abundance of other voices insulting him. All that I would accomplish would be to show my own emptiness as I'd be hurling venom against against a man I don't know and who is just as frail and fallible as me. I'd be doing nothing more than pointing out the speck of sawdust in his eye while ignoring the plank that's blinding my own vision. He is as worthy of a second chance as I am.

Despite his errors, he is still a cancer survivor. When all is said and done, his survival is will still be a great accomplishment. Even if all of his records and awards are erased from the history of cycling, he still managed to make it a more interesting sport - he introduced many American viewers to a competition that they previously thought of as boring. That renewed interest helped spurn more people to pursue an active and healthier lifestyle. For that, he deserves some recognition.

It is not my job to judge him or criticize him. It's mine to recognize that he made mistakes, to applaud his bravery in admitting his history, and to hope he is able to move forward.

He may not. He might not ever repair the broken relationships in his life. He might not right the wrongs he committed. He might serve as an object lesson in failure for years to come. But he deserves the chance to try. And if he succeeds, I'll be in line to congratulate him for rising from the ashes.

After all, when you hit rock bottom, there's only one direction you can go.

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