In 1988 the televangelist Reverend Jimmy Lee Swaggert begged for forgiveness after being caught with prostitutes. (He was defrocked and became a national laughingstock.) Lately I’ve been thinking about Swaggert and those other old sinning televangelists like Jim Baker and Ted Haggard and all the heads of cults built on lies–because Lance Armstrong is pretty much one of them, an athletic televangelist.
Or maybe even a sort of latter day Jesus figure but in this iteration, Jesus turns out to be a fraud.
Lance’s story was, for a while, Christlike: Lance rose miraculously from the edge of the grave to sit on the throne of cycling and American sport, and inspire and heal millions. There was a cult of Lance in this country, those yellow wristbands were ubiquitous for years, symbolic of humanity’s battle against cancer and Lance’s lofty place as a savior. Christ had a cross and Lance had a wristband marking him as a sports god who’d beaten the big C which made him a living god to many people with cancer and their families. But he was inspiring people based on stolen power. He was wearing a crown of lies.
Now word conveniently leaks that he may be considering admitting that he did take drugs. This could allow him to negotiate a reduced punishment from anti-doping agencies and let him get back to triathlons and it could help his foundation. But there’s a slew of libel and perjury lawsuits that could make it all too complicated. But this leak that he’s considering an admission is, in the court of public opinion, a guilty plea and it ends all reasonable doubt about his guilt. I still hear people say, “Well, they never caught him.”
That sounds silly now.
Some say everyone in cycling did it, but it’s still cheating and really: was Lance like everyone? No, he was a hero. But the reason he was a hero was because of lies and deception. Without drugs, without cheating, he probably doesn’t become a legend able to raise half a billion and inspire cancer sufferers.
Does it matter that he did something good with his stolen influence, that there are kids with cancer who got a visit from him or just knew he was out there and were given hope? Sure. But imagine the moment those kids who’d suffered so much found out that their cycling savior was a liar and a cheat who was being defrocked. Imagine how hurt and crestfallen those kids would be.
Lance should come clean and admit what he did just as Jimmy Swaggert did, but I don’t expect he will. It would be out of character.