“I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat and the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”
The words of Lance Armstrong when interviewed by television host Oprah Winfrey last week.
Armstrong confessed that he had taken performance enhancing drugs in each of his Tour wins from 1999 to 2005 and believed doping was “part of the process required to win the Tour”.
He told the millions watching he was sorry. “I view this situation as one big lie I repeated a lot of times. I made those decisions, they were my mistake and I’m here to say sorry.”
But did he go far enough? Is he truly repentant?
The question was put to him that “when something like this happens, what you hope is that it causes a change within you. Has it happened to you yet?”
Armstrong replied: “I’d be lying if I said it has.”
Though remorse was spoken of, perhaps we are left questioning whether Armstrong is truly repentant – mainly because of the unequivocal way he questioned his ‘sentence’ – a life ban from sport. “I deserve to be punished. Not sure I deserve a death penalty.”
And perhaps we snarl at the way he feels his past can be just washed away, and he can return as a competitor again. “If you’re asking me if I want to compete again, the answer is hell yes, I’m a competitor. It’s what I’ve done all my life. I love to train. I love to race, I love to toe the line.”
Probably most of us are thinking how his “sorry” doesn’t cut it if he feels he can just return to racing like that. Has he really faced up to the significance of his actions, and perhaps more pertinently, how his actions impacted others?
A parent will often ask their child to apologise for something and say sorry – but often this is being done to teach the child a lesson about what is right and what is wrong.
Only we ourselves, after all, can choose to be repentant about something or not.
But as we continue to question whether Lance really was sorry, maybe we should try to learn a wider lesson from it. Granted, Armstrong’s actions affected many, not least those whom he prevented from winning races because his cheating allowed him to win.
He also dug deeper inroads for himself by suing those who spoke out against him – taking nearly a million pounds in damages and costs from The Sunday Times.
For us though, what about the last time we failed to acknowledge we had hurt someone? An unkind word, a hateful glance, a decision to do something we knew would only infuriate someone else who cares for us? Or a decision to proclaim our Christ-led life on a Sunday but then ignore God’s commands on a Monday?
And when we were taken to task over our actions, by those who love and care and look out for us, did we so easily admit our wrong, or did we simply defend what we had done?
Only Armstrong himself knows whether he is sorry or whether the interview was a PR exercise to gear up for a somewhat hopeful return to professional sporting competition of some sort – whether a realistic aim or not.
Let’s hope he is sorry. But more than that, let’s use his public vilification as an opportunity to focus on the issue of repentance in our own lives. As well as the offer of boundless grace, a crucial part of being a Christian is realising our need to be forgiven and to say sorry for our actions. As we justifiably feel angry at Armstrong’s years of deceit, let’s remember our own journey, and our own ‘cover-ups’.