Lance Armstrong, Oprah, Jesus and Us Viewers

You bet I’m going to be among the countless who talk about Lance Armstrong today.

I was among the many who stood in awe of how he was able to be keep winning. Admittedly, I was among those in the beginning who didn’t take seriously the doping allegations. I became a sports fan in the late 80’s and early 90’s and had bought into the belief that a dominant athlete could simply be “heads and shoulders” above everyone like Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Rickey Henderson and Bo Jackson. They may not have always won the championship (though each did except for Bo) but they were the dominant athletes in their generation.

Cycling being more or less an individual sport, seemed to allow for the possibility that one dominant athlete could simply be consistently better than the competition. I’ll admit around the 4th Tour De France victory, I scratched my head … but I wanted to believe. He wins after he beats cancer – cancer! He won five years in a row then retires and comes back and wins two more – this stuff is just legendary. Who wouldn’t be inspired!

Then there was the LIVESTRONG bracelet. Initially, I thought it was a sequel to the WWJD bracelet – no, I didn’t wear one. For one, I hated the font and two, I was still inspired by Franky Schaeffer’s Addicted to Mediocrity that I was proud to own zero “Jesus junk” stuff. If you remember, early on you couldn’t get that yellow Nike bracelet, which set off a huge demand so getting one was pretty cool. it was not only a status symbol of hope and surivial – it was also a status symbol of exclusiveness. I cannot think of another campaign that started off so well and has had this type of staying power.

Armstrong had become a cultural icon. No wonder he had a Messiah complex. Jesus defeats death and offers life to those who believe. Armstrong survives brain surgery, beats cancer, and becomes the best cyclist in the world. He may not have overtly said, “I’m the way, the truth, and the life” but clearly he was among this generation’s greatest inspirations. Clearly he thought he was untouchable.

Jesus ascends to heaven before the disciples could get funding and the necessary licensing to produce the WWJD bracelets. There were a number of legalities and of course everything stopped with their martyrdom. Armstrong does not ascend to heaven, he moves to Texas, makes more millions and after divorcing his wife that went through cancer with him, breaks up with the rock star Sheryl Crow, and then the allegations and public scrutiny start brewing. The lawyers and the media people and the spinners and the deceit hunters are doing their thing.

To fast forward a bit, he goes through cycles of lawsuits, federal hearings, disappearances, comebacks, more allegations, more lawsuits, and then finally the USADA strips him of all his achievements, he doesn’t appeal and next thing we know, he’s left with no options and confessing to Jesus, I mean Oprah.

Which brings Oprah. How does she find herself in this role? A career garnering unparalleled media success, incredible power and a super-woman spiritual status that millions of Americans have bestowed upon her. Oprah beware, may you avoid the same trappings that have destroyed your confessor. It would be a serious problem should Oprah fall from grace, who would she confess to? She’s a very wise woman, may she remember this. May we all remember this.

As onlookers, angry fans and disappointed citizens of humanity, we cannot crucify him. We cannot hate him. We cannot make him the scapegoat. It’s tempting – just about every week someone is handed over to us and in so many words we are told, “Hate this person, let them feel your scorn – they deserve it.” Avoid the temptation. Not because one day it could be you, but because on some level, the same vanity, deceit, pride and selfishness exists in each of our hearts as well. Perhaps our sins will never be seen on such a scale but is it because we were any more righteous or because we lacked the imagination and opportunity to place them there?

This is not to say that we let Armstrong off the hook. He should be punished, he may have to prison, he may be lose his wealth, further achievements, and so forth but it is to remind us that even we are barely better, that we cannot hate – we may punish appropriately but we must forgive and restore. We must find a way to do this with all people as that it is what God offers each of us. I can feel the impracticality of these words as I type. It’s easy to object and say what about all the evil-doers of the world, the traffickers, the rapists, the swindlers, the murderers??

It’s extremely tempting to try and do God’s work for him, if only we tried to doing the redemptive part of His work as opposed to the judgmental part. Let us remember that among His jobs is to judge. And while we may discipline appropriately, among our jobs is to pray, seek to restore, and let God do His job.


  1. That was very well written, Tim. Lance could have just as easily went to the Committee and confessed but that would have been…hostile. Oprah on the other hand…is female, all forgiving and is like Mommy when you are 5 years old. She is firm but loving. You cry, you know you did wrong but she still loves you. Lance going to Oprah was sheer calculated marketing genius bec/ Lance can say he confessed and did it in such a manner as to get absolution in the public eye. He saved face. He could have said the same thing to the Committee….but…well….you get it.

    I am not a cycling fan but admired his accomplishments also when he did them. Pure inspiration. I am not surprised that he lied, I am more surprised that he told the truth. Not bec/ he is a bad person who lies…but bec/ he so vehemently fought the allegations and then just did an about face.

    On a side note, someone is making LIE STRONG bracelets now. I kid thee not.

  2. Thanks Brian. Yeah, I’m still surprised that he went on Oprah. I watched Part 1 in its entirety and only saw a little from Part 2. I know we say that he went on Oprah to try to save face, I just don’t see it. I think in some ways this was even worse for him because he confesses in front of everyone in a real anti-climatic way.
    Still, I don’t want to see him hated, I don’t want to see him crucified or publicly humiliated.
    He should be punished/disciplined appropriately but I think a good society finds a way to restore him in some capacity. Does not mean we have to hail him a hero again but we cannot completely objectify him as merely a cautionary tale either. Would be great if the Church could lead in this way.

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