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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lance Armstrong: a “mistake” or 15 years of lies, bullying and manipulation?

Lance Armstrong has become one of those polarizing sports figures in modern America.  He has been seen for years—and in many ways, correctly so—as a courageous cancer-fighter, a world champion, a kind of sports “warrior”.

But now, we also come to find out what many have suspected (or actually knew) for a long time: that is, that Armstrong’s “victories” were in fact fuelled by performance-enhancing drugs.  For many amateur and professional athletes over the past thirty years or more, success fueled (at least in part) by drugs has not been infrequent, unfortunately.

But more than cheating, which is not uncommon, we have also seen Armstrong’s bold and repeated denials about drug use. And we have witnessed his finger-pointing (at his accusers) along the way, as investigators and the media began to uncover a behind-the-scenes (and often public) form of incessant bullying, as he and his “team” evidently tried—ultimately in vain—to silence those who knew too much about his activities.

That he is now “telling his story” (Oprah) and reportedly admitting to his persistent lies will lead many to immediately forgive him.  But the question remains:  is there not a difference between a major but still isolated, one-time “mistake” that any of us might make and should own up to, versus a repeated litany of lies and a massive cover-up?

When you are seen as a modern-day hero, and you not only accept the attendant fame and unreserved adulation but also take advantage of it to make millions—and not just for “charity” but for yourself—is that the kind of thing that those who believed in this individual should just accept, now that an admission of sorts has (finally) been forthcoming?

Clearly, we can only surmise that, had Armstrong never been ‘found out’, he would have continued to accept the baubles of fame and, when necessary, also continued to maintain his supposed innocence forever.  We might also assume that he would have continued to successfully bully and try to silence those who wanted to speak the truth.

Is that ever, really, forgivable?

It’s a question many who admired and supported Armstrong—and the “values” he claimed to live by and promote—must be asking themselves.

Maybe more importantly, what do young, aspiring athletes learn from this fiasco? Is there much to be gained from lying?  Is it enough to finally offer up an apology this late in the “game” after years of deception?  Are performance-enhancing drugs worth it?

Hopefully, young athletes, coaches and parents can stand back and see that the web that was weaved by Armstrong and his “protectors” was flawed, that while he was a tremendous athlete, a fine competitor, he was, in the end, not a positive role model.  Hopefully they will see the good that he did, but also recognize that he hid behind deception—and bullied his way to a hallowed and in many ways undeserved image.