After reading Tyler Hamilton’s gripping memoir about professional cycling and life with Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France, I wrote a post last week that included my favorite quote from the book. While talking about the power of a secret, its ability to bond people, then destroy those bonds, Tyler Hamilton wrote:
“…secrets are poison. They suck the life out of you, they steal your ability to live in the present, they build walls between you and the people you love. Now that I’d told the truth, I was tuning into life again. I could talk to someone without have to worry or backtrack or figure out their motives, and it felt fantastic… One afternoon, I was doing some business research on the Internet, looking at training websites. As happened sometimes, an ad with a photo of Lance popped up. Usually, seeing his face made me wince, and I’d click the window closed. But this time, for some reason, I found myself staring at his face, noticing that Lance had a big smile, a nice smile. It made me remember how he used to be, how good he was at making people laugh… I found myself feeling sorry for Lance… I was sorry in the largest sense, sorry for him as a person, because he was trapped, imprisoned by all the secrets and lies. I thought: Lance would sooner die than admit it, but being forced to tell the truth might be the best thing that ever happened to him.”
USA Today is reporting that Armstrong is set to come clean and admit to using performance enhancing drugs and blood doping in an interview with Oprah this coming Thursday. To this point Armstrong has never admitted using anything illegal or against the rules. After other riders began getting busted and talking about doping, Armstrong has consistently employed the same tactic: deny, deny, deny. Armstrong also paid, pressured, and threatened other riders to keep the code of silence that protected him. He spent millions defending himself and covering his tracks, all the while all he other riders involved (those who didn’t have his enormous wealth and ability to finance a rebuttal), were going down. Once the federal prosecutor got involved, his teammates sang like songbirds and nearly every one of them has since come clean and confirmed Tyler Hamilton’s initial testimony and admission that they all were cheating.
Faced with this wall of unanimity, Armstrong gave up his fight – tacit admission that he was guilty.
Now that it looks as though he’s coming clean, what should his once adoring fans do? Should we forgive him?
Hamilton’s rendition of the story says that Armstrong had a bit of a petty streak and wasn’t afraid to use his power to enhance his success at the cost of others. In a word, Armstrong has been ruthless. He has willfully and intentionally lied, made millions off the lies, spent millions to cover up the lies, and made some pretty low-down, mean, and nasty moves that hurt a lot of other riders, all so that he could continue to profit from the big lie. Why should he be forgiven?
Because the lie is eating him up. Because everyone was cheating – the entire peleton was doping. Because the International Cycling Union (UCI) knew all along that riders were doping and looked the other way because their sport’s popularity was exploding. Because all of us have lied. Because all of us will lie again. Because all of us live in glass houses and shouldn’t throw rocks. Because forgiveness is always the better idea. Because we are all complicit in the creation of a culture of fame which dangles celebrity, fame, and fortune like a carrot, enticing athletes to cheat in order to win. Because, in Hamilton’s words, being forced to tell the truth might be the best thing that ever happened to him.
We should all put down our stones, take a step back, and forgive Armstrong if he comes clean. Then we should immediately stop idolizing sports heroes and placing them on these pedestals from which they nearly always fall.