Lance Armstrong, Ray Lewis And The Path to Redemption

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At first glance, these two amazing athletes may not have much in common.  And both are in the news for different reasons.

Lance Armstrong, arguably the greatest cyclist, for his admission of steroid use and abusive behavior that included suing and “ruining” the lives of those who said he cheated.  Ray Lewis, arguably the best NFL inside linebacker of all-time is retiring after this season, and he has heroically come back from injury to help lead the Baltimore Ravens to this year’s Super Bowl.

The swell of support and superlatives thrown Lewis’ way has brought back to the surface the charge of murder Lewis was indicted for (but later dropped) thirteen years ago, the plea deal he struck for obstruction of justice in the case, the $250,000 fine he received from the NFL, and the payoffs he made in the civil cases brought on by the families of the murder victims.  Further agitating Lewis’ detractors is his faith in God and his belief that God is on his/ the Ravens side.

The blogosphere notwithstanding, where you are bound to get a divergent set of opinions, we have  many of the talking heads at ESPN, and mainstream sports media in general, lining up to deify Ray Lewis and in large part not give much attention to Lewis’ past.   At the same time, they are hammering the cross in the ground with which to crucify Lance Armstrong.  For the record I am against crucifying either or anyone for that matter.  But let’s take a look at both cases…

The majority of venom being directed toward Armstrong seems to be more connected to his lies, covering up and legal/financial attacks on those who were telling the truth.  Many of the voices going after him have defended or  mitigated other steroid users to some degree so it makes sense for them to set that part of it aside.  Further, cycling is or was so rampant with banned substance use during Armstrong’s time that it makes it harder to make a vitriolic case against him for that.

No, the far more powerful case against Armstrong, in which I firmly agree, is the way he went after people who were telling the truth.  People who weren’t “ratting” him out or looking to cash in, but were compelled to do so or face prosecution themselves.  I find that disgusting and reprehensible.  Score one for the Armstrong haters.

Armstrong, was arrogant, and drunk with power.  I wasn’t a fan of cycling but I was a fan of his.  However, I am glad he has been exposed.  Fraud and lies of this magnitude always should be.  Whatever reparations need to be made to those he wrongly went after, I hope they get made.

But then there was his admission in his interview with Oprah Winfrey.  (In which Oprah did a great job) It seemed to bring out a lot of armchair psychologists referring to Armstrong as a sociopath because he didn’t convey the emotions they wanted or in the manner they wanted.

Others, such as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, went so far as to say (paraphrase) that the charity work Armstrong has done for cancer was a front designed to give him cover for his cheating and lying.  Smith wants bad things to happen to him.

This all puts me in the awkward position of defending Armstrong.  In reality what I am going to defend is the path of redemption.  It can be a long journey.  But like all journey’s it begins with a first step — a first step Armstrong took in that interview.  He referred to this moment as one of two low points in his life, the first being when he was diagnosed with cancer.

Three months after his cancer diagnosis he apparently started his crusade to start the Livestrong foundation and to raise money and awareness for cancer.  If Stephen A. Smith is correct, then that means while Lance was in a fight for his life and not knowing if he would live, let alone competitively race again, he came up with an evil plan to dope, win seven Tour De France races and build Livestrong so that he could use it to cover his cheating.  I think that is a wee bit of a stretch to say the least.

Steven A. went on to dismiss the 500 hundred million… That’s FIVE HUNDRED MILLION, that Armstrong helped raise for cancer, saying that people who believe in the cause would have donated the money to some other cancer cause if not Livestrong.  That’s ridiculous Stephen A., you’re smarter than that.

A lot of people care about a lot of causes but if you could have Michael Jordan work tirelessly to promote, appear, and speak on behalf of that charity… do you think it might raise a few more dollars?  Of course it would.  Maybe there is some validity to Smith’s point, but marketing 101 suggests that Armstrong’s efforts, fame, and personal cancer story, directly led to increased awareness and millions of dollars that would not have been donated otherwise.

This doesn’t lessen the severity of the bad… it doesn’t suggest that at Armstrong’s height of arrogance he didn’t also use Livestrong as a cover.  However, to suggest that he used it in totality, and that all of the good was malevolent from the outset, is a gross overstatement that is currently not supported.  You want to hate him for his lies and how he responded to those who were telling the truth?  That is your prerogative.  But know that all of the bad doesn’t erase the good he did do and the lives he has personally effected for the better.

Ray Lewis.

To listen to Ray Lewis supporters, he is changed man.  Not only one of the greatest linebackers of all time, but one of the greatest on the field leaders.  He is a mentor and has done great charity work.  The “black mark” on his record occurred thirteen years ago when he was a young man and he has changed this then.  We should let it go.

On the basis of his play and leadership he would make my all-time team.  I do not follow Lewis off the field but for the sake of argument I will except that he has become all that is good and everything that is positively said about him.  This would then be a man who has taken many steps on the path to redemption.  Many, but perhaps not the last and most important.

In Lewis’ case… All the good doesn’t erase the bad.

Stephen A. Smith’s partner in crime on First and Ten, Skip Bayless, recently asked, “how could anybody not root for Ray Lewis?”  Well Skip, I can see where someone who has a problem with a person who he thinks didn’t tell the whole truth about a murder, that he ultimately pleaded obstruction of justice about, wouldn’t want to root for Lewis.   For more details on Lewis’ case click here:

I would ask supporters of Lewis this question.  If you were standing on the precipice of heaven and the guardian of the gate said in order to get in you have to answer one question correctly and that question was did Ray Lewis tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the night in question on January 31st, 2000?  What would your answer be?

If the truth is no, then Lewis needs to come clean.  There can be no final redemption without doing so.  He is a religious man.  Confession is good for the soul and the truth will set him free… Since we honored Martin Luther King this week, here is a quote from the great doctor:  “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” ~MLK, Jr.

Isn’t telling the whole truth the right thing here?   What is he afraid of?  Who is Lewis protecting?  Himself?  His friends?  Not “ratting” on your friends may be good for “street cred.” But is it good for the soul?  Is it what the Lord he believes in teaches?

The victims are no less dead today then they were 13 years ago.  The family’s burden and pain lingers.  The “victims” of Lance Armstrong were said to have their day of vindication with his admission and were able to do a victory lap.  Soon, many will be financially compensated.  The victims in the Ray Lewis case will not rise from the dead; there will be no vindication for their families.  The deification of Ray Lewis during the run up to the Super Bowl, and his likely hall of fame induction in the future, will only serve to rub salt in their wounds.

Lance Armstrong has a lot of work to do to repair the damage he has done and to prove there is authenticity to his desire to change.   Oprah believes he can still be a hero: Click here

Ray Lewis can be a hero by doing what he doesn’t have to do.  He can take the last and perhaps most difficult step to redemption.  The law can’t compel him to say anything.  He has enough fans and support to shield him from those who criticize him.  But what about his God and religious beliefs?  Wouldn’t that compel him to be forthright?  Wouldn’t he be forgiven once he did?

To have the courage, far more courage then to hit a running back, or dance before a football game, to speak the full truth (he is immune from legal jeopardy) about what happened to his white suit the night of the murders 13 years ago, the blood in his limo and the rest of the details, would be a great example of accountability and responsibility.  It might not be vindication for the victim’s family, but it might give them a little peace.

Until that happens, supporters of Ray Lewis must understand that every time they glorify Lewis to the public there will be someone to remind us of the unanswered questions of January 31st, 2000, and that there is no statue of limitations on the need to do the right thing.

Just like thirteen years from now, if Armstrong won another seven Tours De Frances, (cleanly) raised another 500 million, lectured and mentored many, unless he spoke the truth about those he lied about and made restitution, his journey would not be complete.

It is not that I don’t like the redemptive Ray Lewis story his supporters tell,   it’s just incomplete.

It is not that I assume Lance Armstrong will complete a journey of redemption, that can’t be known at this time.  I just don’t see his deeds being beyond redemption, and for a man who just hit bottom, lets give it time to see how he responds.

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