As you very likely know by now, in an interview aired last Friday disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he had used illegal performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) during his legendary run of Tour de France victories. The confession came just months after the International Cycling Union, cycling’s governing body, stripped Armstrong of his seven titles following a United States Anti-Doping Association report alleging he had participated in the “most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” While this admission comes as a surprise to approximately no one, it poses to an interesting question: should he be forgiven?
Let’s start with the facts. Armstrong fought back from testicular cancer in 1996 to win the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times from 1999-2005. Once considered one of the greatest athletes of all time, his story inspired millions and brought cycling’s popularity to new heights. In 1997 he founded the LIVESTRONG Foundation, which has raised over $470 million to support those afflicted by cancer.
However, not everything has been so rosy. In the decade before his confession, Armstrong’s career was dogged by doping allegations. Newspapers, drug testing agencies, and former teammates accused him of using illegal PEDs and blood doping techniques. Many testified that they had seen him inject drugs. Armstrong vehemently denied these allegations, denouncing his accusers as liars and suing many of them for libel. He won millions in legal battles, pushing people into settlements they could hardly afford. According to whistleblower and former teammate Tyler Hamilton, Armstrong threatened, “I’m going to make your life a living hell both in the courtroom and out of the courtroom.”
During the interview with Oprah, Armstrong attributed his aggressive personality to his battle with cancer. “[After my diagnosis] I said I will do anything I need to do to survive,” he explained. “Then I brought that ruthless, win-at-all-costs attitude into cycling.” This, he admitted, made him a “bully,” lashing out at anybody who questioned his legitimacy. “I will spend the rest of my life … trying to earn back trust and apologize to people,” he said.
Now back to the question: is Lance Armstrong a forgivable hero or just an arrogant bastard? The answer may be a little of both. Regardless of his fall from grace, Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG Foundation has made a difference in countless lives. He has used his story and influence to help people struggling with cancer. Though his fame was ill-gotten, he has wielded it as an instrument of benevolence.
Even so, his dishonesty has wreaked devastation. He perpetrated possibly the largest-ever doping system in sports, the effects of which continue to ripple through cycling. Perhaps more important, however, are the lengths to which he was willing to go to preserve his image. Armstrong terrorized people. He attacked anyone who poked holes in his story, sued those who dared to speak the truth. The man who dedicated so much to rebuilding lives never hesitated to ruin his detractors.
Do his two personalities cancel out? Not necessarily. Lance Armstrong may be ruthless, narcissistic, and magnanimous at the same time. He is two-faced—one side an arrogant bastard, the other a forgivable hero. His true nature depends on which side you look at.
So what do you think about Lance Armstrong? Does he deserve redemption? Am I an idiot for writing this? Share your thoughts in the comments section below! As always, please like, share, or reblog this post if you enjoy it. Be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday!
Comment question of the week
Arrogant bastard or redeemable hero?