It was recently announced that Lance Armstrong has given up his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in its claims that Mr. Armstrong used illegal performance enhancing methods to win a record seven Tour de France titles.Mr. Armstrong has argued that he has never failed a drug test and that the USADA is engaging in a “witch-hunt” against him. While the USADA has argued that it has both enough evidence and eye-witness testimony to be able to convincingly prove that Mr. Armstrong cheated. Some commentators have even argued that Mr. Armstrong gave up his fight so that the evidence will not come to light. The end result is that he will be stripped of, among other things, his seven titles.
Now one can argue the effectiveness or even meaningfulness of retroactive punishments. But I see some interesting connections with this story and the month of Elul.
The majority of the American public either doesn’t seem to really care that Mr. Armstrong cheated or they argue that he did not cheat at all. And most stand beside him because they like him for the good he has done especially with the ‘Live Strong’ anti-cancer campaign that has brought in millions and awareness to this ongoing fight.And yet two major league baseball players were recently banned for 50 games each, and they are being damned by the majority of the American public, except maybe by those local fans who root for their teams. It would seem to be that athletes like tennis players, golfers, and cyclists we give more of a pass to as a whole because we can all root for them. Heck if it wasn’t for Mr. Armstrong, the majority of Americans would most likely still not have any idea that there is a preeminent race in cycling and that the race takes place in France. But in team sports, it is easier to condemn someone because they play for the opposition. Barry Bonds is still popular in San Francisco. Roger Clemens is still popular in my home city of Houston.
We are more likely to forgive those we like. It is part of our human nature. This is why we are willing to forgive Mr. Armstrong while many more are unwilling to forgive someone like Mr. Bonds or Mr. Clemens.
But according to Rabbi Jonah of Gerona, we must ask of oneself, “’What have I done? ‘ (Jer. 8:6) What have I become?”Simply acknowledging that one has done wrong, which neither Mr. Armstrong nor Mr. Bonds have done, does not remove the misdeeds. But it is a step forward. Yes Mr. Armstrong has done a lot of great things for a lot of people.
But as we know all too well, each of us is imperfect. Each of us have done things we wish we had not done. Be it for personal glory, success, or for a myriad of other reasons. So to admit fault is the first step in what can be and should be an amazing journey of transformation.
It does not erase the misdeeds of the past, but what it can do is help us begin to overcome the inclination that led us to engage in those misdeeds in the first place. Without acknowledgment, there can be no healing.