Should Lance Armstrong be forgiven?
After his dramatic confession, will anyone forgive sport's most famous liar?
I am a huge sports fan who has ministered to many athletes. I've appreciated the achievements of Lance Armstrong, once proclaimed as the greatest ever cyclist with 7 victories in the famed Tour de France. He has been a hero to many. No more was this so than when he came back to win after surviving cancer. He has raised millions of dollars through Livestrong, to help those also suffering from this terrible disease. But it seems there had always been the whispers and allegations of cheating surrounding his cycling.
The details of Armstrong's humiliation have been well reported in recent days during two television interviews with Oprah Winfrey. Chief among his sins are cheating through the use of prohibited drugs and concealing the truth for years, not to mention many other grievances.
"I am a flawed character I know.... this is too late probably for most people"
How has the world reacted?
These admissions have been met with some strong criticism. Is he for real? Does he deserve forgiveness? It seems those closest to the action, those in cycling or personally affected by Lance are less convinced. They seem to be the ones, along with Lance, who really matter when we talk about his forgiveness. For them, it's personal.
Referring to Armstrong's lack of emotion, Howard Kurtz, the media critic for cable news TV station CNN:
"Armstrong said he was sorry for all the years of lying, but he sounded like he was reading a shopping list ... I don't forgive Lance Armstrong, who lied to me in two (previous) interviews. And I suspect most of America won't, either".
Many in the cycling world seem to feel the same way.
"Lance deceived everyone on the planet" (Australian cyclist Stuart O'Grady)
"It wasn't a deep and sincere apology." (Cycling commentator Phil Leggott)
"It's just not the way to be successful. So I think he should suffer for his lies all his years." (World Number 1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic)
It seems that Lance Armstrong has few friends at the moment and forgiveness is far from their thinking.
Does he deserve a second chance?
Referring to his life ban, Armstrong said to Oprah:
"I deserve to be punished, I don't think I deserve a death penalty."
So does Lance deserve forgiveness? He thinks so:
"Frankly, this may not be the most popular answer, but I think I deserve it."
He certainly needs it if he is to race again and get on with his life but is there more to it than that?
The cost to Lance Armstrong is massive:
- He currently has a life ban from all sports which comply with the standards established by the World Anti-Doping Authority.
- He has been stripped of his 7 Tour de France victories.
- He potentially faces millions of dollars in law suits and the potential of serving time in prison for lying under oath at previous enquiries and defrauding the general population.
- He's lost his good reputation.
- He also needs has to look in the eyes of his 13 year old son who had loyally defended his dad in the school playground without knowing the truth.
But the cost to others is even bigger:
- The sport of cycling may be excluded from the Olympic Games.
- The reputation and finances of those who challenged Lance have been destroyed as have those of honest cyclists.
- The belief in the purity of athletic competition has been tarnished.
Why should we forgive?
Before going any further, let's be honest and say not one of us would like a public exposure of our own frailties. If it was us, we would be looking for somewhere to hide, desperate to move ahead even if we don't do it exactly as everyone expects.
The good news for Lance (and ourselves) is that forgiveness and a fresh start is available for everyone despite our various sins. This is the heart of the Christian message. We are all sinners, but Jesus takes the punishment for us so we can be forgiven. In response, Christians are to forgive others as well.
So, forgiveness is always available, but is Lance looking for it? He has certainly started his confessions:
"It was one big lie, over and over again … I am flawed, deeply flawed … They were my decisions and my mistakes and I'm here to acknowledge that and to say sorry."
However, he acknowledges that forgiveness might not be coming his way:
"there are people who will hear this and never forgive me. I understand that."
The power of forgiveness
Anyone who has been forgiven realises the power that forgiveness brings to transform lives and relationships. It is with those whom Armstrong had the closest relationships and the greatest responsibilities where he needs to seek forgiveness. This includes his fellow competitors, those he bullied, those he falsely sued, anti-doping authorities and interviewers he lied to, employees at Livestrong, the kids who worshipped him, his sponsors, his mother, his ex-wife, and his 5 children.
Instant forgiveness is unlikely and will take time and renewed trust. He shouldn't be surprised, either, if his ban is never lifted.
If those people who have been offended can forgive, they are more likely to experience healing and move forward, potentially restoring their relationship with Lance where it has been damaged. Yes, it may well take the rest of his life and a strength and endurance no natural ability or drugs could deliver.
If you are a cyclist, or a huge Armstrong fan who has been deeply hurt and this is growing into bitterness, then yes, you should forgive him so you are set free from sinning by your own attitude.
We should forgive all the people in our own lives who have done wrong by us. Even more so, we should seek forgiveness from those we have damaged with our words and actions. This cannot always be possible in a personal and direct manner but the intention and desire to do so is the issue of the heart. In any case, this sad saga encourages me again to repent and seek God's forgiveness for my sin and to ask for his grace to forgive others.
Forgiveness for Lance Armstrong ... and us
I don't know if Lance believes in God, but what he faces are many of the themes which Christianity deals with. Sin, humiliation, confession, repentance, relationships, hope and redemption and forgiveness. They are issues we all deal with, so we shouldn't join the crowd and point the finger at Lance's failures without acknowledging our own.
When people are at their lowest point, as Lance is, that is the time when they often turn to God. He needs to fix things with those he has wronged, but even more so, he needs to get right with God. As he needs to say sorry to people, he needs more so to say it to God.
Lance might not ever receive the forgiveness he seeks from those he has wronged, but he will receive it from God if he sincerely turns and follows Jesus - and so will we.