There’s one person who holds the keys to my redemption and that’s me.
By now anyone who cares has heard the Lance Armstrong story. After being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and receiving a lifetime ban from sanctioned sports, Armstrong admitted to a nearly two decade binge of doping. He confessed to being a bully and of ruthlessly attacking anyone who threatened the Armstrong “brand.” He claimed to have sued so many people that he’d lost count. His manipulation of the Livestrong Foundation for his personal enrichment and complex business dealings that linked him to the head of the International Cycling Union have been made public. In his interview with Oprah Winfrey, he made it clear that he’s a win at all cost competitor. He also made it clear that he thinks he’s been treated too harshly and hopes this “process” will open the door for him to return to competitive sports. To Armstrong, the process is about redemption.
There are a couple of other things he made clear during the interview. The first was that he’s a man who has to be in control as the interview itself showed. He selected the venue. He hand-picked the interviewer. He chose the date, time and place. He set the parameters that he would speak only of himself and not of others. He had a legal strategy and in the end “confessed” to things that were already publicly documented. Before the interview Armstrong had lost control of his narrative. After the interview he had a new narrative but one which he was scripting. Armstrong was in control and he held the keys—but was it to redemption?
Equally plain was the fact that Armstrong doesn’t get it. While he was being treated for cancer, Betsy Andreu overheard him admit to doping. This ultimately resulted in years of litigation and public attacks by Armstrong. During the interview, Armstrong explained that he had recently apologized to Betsy but explained that while he had publicly called her crazy and a bitch, he had never said she was fat. A frustrated and visibly anguished Andreu later said the comments infuriated her. He also told of a call received from his stepfather saying his mother was an emotional wreck over the allegations. Armstrong was dismissive and only later, during a Skype call between his mother and his children, did Armstrong see that she really was suffering. He went on to tell Oprah that his lowest point in this ordeal had come when the Livestrong Foundation, which he described as his sixth child, severed ties with him. Evidently, coming clean to his thirteen year old first child was less consequential. Despite her best efforts, Oprah couldn’t get Lance more than a little misty eyed over this father and son moment. Was any of this redemptive?
What Armstrong doesn’t understand, is that redemption for any of us isn’t about our brand, it’s about people. It’s about family and friends. It’s about the people you meet and whose lives touch yours. When you break faith with others you can redeem yourself. You do it by healing the wrong you’ve done. You do it by putting your self-interest aside and earning back trust. You find a way to give others what they need even if it means that you give them disproportionately more. Thankfully most of us will never break faith on the scale of Lance Armstrong, but all of us will need redemption at one time or another. When that time comes, remember that it’s not about you. You’ll be redeemed not by what you control, but by what you give. —Ebert