With apologies to Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Tonya Harding, Maradona, and Pete Rose, Lance Armstrong may be the biggest sports cheater of all time. He did what most would call impossible: he got me to watch a cycling event! But he also won seven Tour de Frances, beat cancer, helped political figures campaign for office, won dozens of awards for sports accomplishments and charity, and started the LiveStrong Foundation which has inspired many and raised millions of dollars toward cancer research.
And tomorrow night, he will go where other broken-down celebrities have gone before: he’ll sit down with Oprah Winfrey to bare his soul.
Talking heads have been debating this one for weeks. Some think Armstrong should fade into the darkness and leave his tarnished legend alone. Others think he should really, really, really bare his soul, admitting to everything he’s ever done (like the fat kid in The Goonies). But we’ll find out tomorrow night what Armstrong’s really aiming for, why he would come out to address these questions after years of denial, lawsuits, countersuits, and angry statements against the ethical standards of others.
WHY? That’s the question that defines so many of the deeper thoughts of our lives. Why do bad things happen? Why do we want things we shouldn’t have? Why do we cross moral boundaries to achieve things that will ultimately fade away? Why would Armstrong apologize or confess, now?
Here’s hoping that Armstrong is confessing for these reasons, and these selfless reasons alone: to protect the ongoing efforts of his foundation, to ensure that what he did wrong won’t undo what he did right, to establish that he was wrong for cheating so that those who looked to him as a role model will see someone who is willing to take responsibility for his own actions. Armstrong will be like King David of the Old Testament, but which David? The one who took what he wanted through deceit, manipulation, and murder? Or the one who recognized his sin and chose to seek forgiveness, and make things right?
History will remember Armstrong as a cheater in a sport dominated by cheaters. But we’ll see if Armstrong can come clean about the people he hurt, and finally prove to be a “stand-up guy.” If he can do that, the world will remember Armstrong as more than a cheater: he’ll be remembered as a hero who fell from grace, but chose to rise up with grace and ask for forgiveness.