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True Confessions: Did Lance Armstrong pass the I'm sorry test?

He made his apologies on Oprah, but the one-time Tour de France champ failed the three tests of a real mea culpa.
A sorry Lance Armstrong

A sorry Lance Armstrong LiveStrong

Maybe it’s his name: Lance Armstrong.

It’s so perfect, like some romance novel lover or a comic book super hero. Maybe that’s where it all began for young Lance. He thought he was invincible.

He looked anything but during his prime-time confession to media’s Mother Superior, Oprah Winfrey. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) wasn’t buying it; a week later USADA CEO Travis Tygart told 60 Minutes that Lance didn’t really come clean with Oprah.

Veracity aside, Armstrong’s very public – and choreographed - mea culpa affords an opportunity to think about the act and genre of confession.

 


What makes for a “good” one? And not by the standards of People or True Confessions magazines, but in the view of the people who wrote the book on the subject: the Roman Catholic Church. (One could, of course, argue that the organization that wrote the rules on confession hasn’t done all that well in following them, but that’s another matter.)

The Jesuit priest and author James Martin offered some interesting thoughts on the business of true and worthy confessions in the Jesuit periodical America. According to Martin, a good confession needs three things:

First, you must make a clean breast of the bad business. A full confession. Hints, allusions, and partial disclosures don’t do it. It’s got to be the whole sorry story, the whole nine yards, “the whole truth.” Bill Clinton’s parsing of “is” (as in, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”) stands as an illustration of how not to confess.

Second, you have to really mean it. You have to be truly contrite, remorseful, sorry. No hedging or non-apology apologies. “If I have offended anyone, I apologize” is a line quite a few fallen angels have fallen back on, among them Bill O’Reilly and Kelly Clarkson. Just “I am sorry.” Period.

Third, the confession has to entail a true and real intent to make amends. You don’t air out Saturday night’s tawdry behavior just to do it all again next weekend. You don’t acknowledge that you screwed the competition, then go back to your dirty tricks for the next race. You have to change your ways. Like Chuck Colson, former special counsel to President Richard Nixon, who served time in federal prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. The man who declared “I’d drive over my own grandmother for the President” went on to found and run a nonprofit prison ministry.

What the three must-haves for a good confession add up to is this: you have to surrender all attempts to justify yourself. Instead, you must throw yourself completely on the mercy of the court, or God, or your family or the professional association that runs your sport or business – or, for Lance, all of the above. You don’t make excuses: “You made me do this,” or “everyone was doing it,” or “I only did it a little bit.” You say, “I did it. Here’s the whole sorry story. My heart is broken. I won’t do it again.”

This is pretty hard for us humans to do, since we are artists of self-justification. And according to James Martin, the sincere and heartfelt confession doesn’t end there. There’s follow-up and follow-through. The technical and theological term is “penance.” You do actual, concrete, visible stuff to, insofar as is possible, make it right with the people you’ve injured.

If you’re Lance Armstrong, the penance list is long. It might include apologizing to people you’ve threatened or defamed, which he apparently has done quite a lot of via Twitter. (Does that count?)

Since he can’t possibly apologize in person to everyone he’s let down, Lance’s penance might also mean performing some unglamorous acts of service, like cleaning the local elementary school at night for the next decade or packing sacks of food for the hungry once a week for the rest of his life. Something like that.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jan 30, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Give the guy a break. Lance is truly, sincerely and unconditionally sorry that he got caught.

woofer

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 3:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Good and Evil

L. Patrick CarrolI had these thoughts about Lance and other issuesl

“The way to combat bad people with guns is by good people with guns!”

Wow! That line, with its facile separation of people into good and bad befuddles me, conflicting with everything I know about myself and other human beings.

In the weeks since this assertion surfaced, in an NRA response to the Newton tragedy, I have noticed our ubiquitous desire to separate people into good and bad.

A world class cyclist who consistently cheated to achieve his ends, while simultaneously raising billions of dollars to help find cures for cancer, was good, but now he’s bad!

We want to know if a twenty-one year old football star, whose dead girlfriend never lived, is a good guy who loved less than wisely or a bad dude who was either too easily duped himself, or maliciously duped us?

We ponder how a disgraced South Carolina governor can be good enough to run for Congress?

I ponder. Can we trust a good people with a guns to stay good? Might they not lose their temper and shoot a spouse, get drunk and go on an unpredictable rampage, have an unplanned for breakdown and use their weapons in ways neither they nor the most strict government restrictions ever imagined?

I find myself unable to trust any notion of people being simply good or bad when I, and everyone I know, appear a unique mixture of both. The apparently bad have all performed at least some heroic deeds like getting up and going to work when sick because she needed a paycheck to buy her children’s food; like, being willing to go on three battle tours and endure severe wounds only to go again, even if eventually to slaughter innocent women and children on a drunken binge; or like taking a pill every day, knowing it will keep them and others safe, if only half-alive and on the public dole.

The good, even the very good, have done things for which they are ashamed, little or big, public or private or both.

At his second inauguration, Lincoln hoped we would find and use the better angels of our nature after four painful years of experiencing the most demonic opposite across our land.

Human beings, individually and together are wondrous amalgams of prophetic and pathetic, saints and sinners, magnificently saved and damnably petty.

I do not know what happens when we die, nor do I trust someone who claims to, but I have had for many years an image of what, in a traditional theological framework, a final judgment might look like.
All of us are assembled before the divine throne when God appears; She’s smiling! Instantly everything is clear. We look at one another with god-like insight; we know everything about everyone around us, and ourselves. We can see, can see through! We see the context, the back-story, the complexity, the profundity, the stupidity of ourselves and one-another.

And we all break out laughing!

“You did that too?” “You felt that too?” We look around us at those we loved, those we perhaps despised, those we never understood and those we thought we understood too well, as all the universe breaks out in one harmonious, never-again-judgmental laughter that rolls on forever. That would be some kind of heaven.

We could start it now!

lpatrick

Posted Sun, Feb 3, 8:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Ha. ha. ha.

Lance is the sports equivalent of the financial institutions that sold us on the idea that derivitives and packaged investments were the real McCoy.

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