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Forgiving Lance Armstrong

By Ron Powell

For years there have been suspicions surrounding Lance Armstrong’s use of banned substances during his seven Tour de France victories. There have also been other substantiated claims that he threatened former members of the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team who chose to confess their own participation in a doping program that they claim was orchestrated by Armstrong himself. The details of his drug use, the cover-up, and his actions against those who chose to testify against him has been thoroughly reported. As egregious as these charges are, a question for contemplation is, should Lance Armstrong be forgiven now that he has confessed?

As imperfect humans we are all vulnerable to making the wrong decision, especially when under extreme pressure, when the stakes are high, or when a set of circumstances come together that expose a deficiency that compromises the part of our conscience that moves us to do what is right. Everyone has fallen victim to what might be described as “a moment of weakness”. Fortunately, forgiveness by others provides us with a means by which we can ease our consciences, and may allow us to move forward with our lives without carrying the burden of our error.

While there may be some who say that Lance Armstrong’s action will never deserve forgiveness, there are those that leave open the possibility to forgive. These individuals recognize their own vulnerabilities and hope that they could be forgiven should they find themselves in a similar situation.

Lance Armstrong, as any other person, should be forgiven if he demonstrates that such forgiveness is deserving.

The Basis For Forgiveness

According to one respectable reference source, the following steps must be taken by the one seeking forgiveness:

Acknowledging that the action or behavior is wrong
Confessing the wrongdoing unequivocally
Having a deep heartfelt sadness for the deed done
Being determined to turn away from the behavior in question
Do what can be done to right the wrong, or make amends with those hurt

In the case of Lance Armstrong, who should determine if these steps have been taken?

That would include the general public at large, the governing bodies of the sport, and those that he personally and unjustly attacked.

Acknowledging that the action or behavior is wrong

After a decade of adamantly denying doping Armstrong finally came clean during his interview with Oprah Winfrey. He clearly answered “yes” to her questions about his use of illegal substances during each of his Tour De France victories. He also admitted to lying, and to the coverup which included personal attacks on others who were deemed disloyal, or those who threaten to expose him. Even though it appears that there are other facts that he has yet to admit, there were the constraints of the interviewing process, limited time, along with other factors that could account for his omission to confess “everything”. The possibility, and the reasonableness that those confessions could come later should not be held against him at this point. As such, the case can be made that for step (1) acknowledging that the action or behavior was wrong, he can be given credit for that accomplishment.

Confessing the wrongdoing unequivocally

Armstrong’s inability to “unequivocally” acknowledge the wrong was evident at various points during the interview. One being his reference to the dictionary’s definition of the word “cheater”. He explained that his “gaining an unfair advantage” (which was part of a definition he found in a dictionary) did not occur. The implication was that since other riders were also using banned substances, they were all competing on an “equal playing field”. Therefore, according to Armstrong, there was no unfair advantage, and thus he was technically not “cheating”.

This was an obvious attempt by him to distance himself from the “other real cheaters”, whomever they might be. Whatever his motive, it was clearly a way to absolve himself of some responsibility for his actions. Even as Armstrong continually admitted to various wrongs throughout the interview, there were moments when he would attempt to soften, to minimize, and in some ways justify his actions. Apparently his motive was to get the public to put him in the “same boat” as the other cyclist who also doped.

Not withstanding, and in the spirit of Lance Armstrong’s use of the dictionary to make a point, the definition of the word unequivocal according to Merriams-Webster Dictionary is:

1 : leaving no doubt : clear, unambiguous.

Armstrong’s efforts to justify his behavior, interjects doubt as to whether he cheated or not. Therefore, a clear and unambiguous position regarding his cheating cannot met. As a result, he fails on step (2) which is to; confess the wrong doing unequivocally.

Having a deep heartfelt sadness for the deed done

The ability for one human to accurately read the heart of another human is impossible, and in the court of law such ambiguity cannot be considered when passing judgment. However, the judgment that will be made by the general public, the governing bodies of cycling, and Armstrong’s personal victims, do not have to meet a legal standard before they pass judgment.

The General Public

As humans we have life experience to help us determine if someone is genuine, honest, humble, contrite, or truly sorrow for their actions. There are characteristics such as body language (visual stimuli), voice inflection (audio stimuli), and other qualitative physiological and emotional signals, like intuition, that are used to draw conclusions about the feelings and intentions of others. In other words, on an individual level, humans make decisions about what’s in the heart of others all the time while knowing full well they might be wrong. In many cases, this becomes their personal truth unless convinced otherwise. As such, with respect to public opinion, each person makes their own judgment and collectively the public polls say that the general public does not believe that Lance Armstrong has a deep heartfelt sadness for the deeds done. Therefore, he has not completed the third step needed for forgiveness.

The Governing Bodies

Organizations, such as the UCI (Union Cyclist Internationale) will also make their decision about Lance Armstrong’s attitude and it will influence the actions they take in the future. Such decisions are typically made by the organizations’ most experienced leaders as a unit and are concluded with a determination by majority vote. These decisions, when closely following some pre-defined process, tend to have more information, and can thus provide a more accurate assessment of a situation. The wisdom, based on the commutative experience of the group, also tends to provide a better analysis of the quantitative and qualitative aspects of a case.

To date the WADA (World Anti-Doping Association), the USADA ( U.S. Anti-Doping Agency), and the UCI have all stated in various ways that despite his confessions, there are other facts that are still needed. Their position is that Mr. Armstrong still needs to provide all the details about the doping program implemented by the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. That would include the names of those involved, significant dates, and a full description of the unsanctioned doping practices they employed. Since a total confession has not yet taken place their position on forgiveness cannot yet be determined.

Individual Victims

As to each person who has been personally hurt by Armstrong, their forgiveness must take place on an individual level. During his interview with Oprah he implied that it will take him a very long time to apologize to all of this victims, while understanding that some may never be willing to forgive.

Being able to turn away from the behavior in question

Since Armstrong has been banned for life to participate in all competitive event sponsored by WADA, the USADA, and the UCI, he has no choice about turning away from the behavior. Some have concluded that had it not been for the fact that he had no choice regarding his confession, that he would still be racing and doping.

Do what can be done to right the wrong, or make amends with those hurt

In addition to making heartfelt apologies to those individuals he hurt, financial compensation is the only other way to make amends in other cases. For example, there is the strong likelihood that Armstrong will have to return prize monies and compensation earned from sponsors now that he’s admitted to cheating and was thus in violation of the terms of his contracts. There are also the financial settlements that will need to be made in response to the expected lawsuits that will be filed on behalf of his victims. At any rate, only time will tell whether or not he will make amends with those he hurt.

Should Lance Armstrong be forgiven? If we use the Basis For Forgiveness as defined above, the answer is; Not Yet.

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