Lance Armstrong finally admitted that he doped, but I’m sure that no one was surprised. By this point, we all knew the truth, but for some reason we needed to hear him say it. His reputation and career were in shambles. His sponsors had dropped him, his charity had dropped him, and the anti-doping agency had given him a lifetime ban from all forms of competition. The only thing that he could do was to confess and hope for the best.
As I thought about Armstrong’s confession, I couldn’t help but think of it as a shadow of religious ritual. Even in our secular world, we still find ourselves yearning for confession and repentance before we can proceed to reconciliation. Though he confessed, this secular rite left much to be desired from a religious standpoint.
1. His motivation for confessing wasn’t compelling. Armstrong has been vociferously denying the charges against him for years. He bullied and threatened and sued anyone who suggested that he had doped. He didn’t seek reconciliation because he had grown tired of living a lie. He only reluctantly admitted his wrongdoing after his career had been taken away from him. His petulance detracts from his confession.
2. His mediator lacks the power to reconcile. To whom did Armstrong finally confess? Oprah, the great high priestess of secular America. For years Oprah has pretended to heal the hurts and right the wrongs, and once again we see her acting as the mediator who offers restitution. She attempts to set herself in the seat of Christ himself, hearing the confession and offering absolution, but ultimately no interview with Oprah can atone for the sins of man.
3. His confession lacked repentance. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Armstrong’s confession is that it was more of a self-justification. Yes, he admits that he did wrong, but he blames it on a culture that he didn’t invent. He claims that he was just leveling the playing field. Maybe so, but Armstrong’s answers make it sound like he isn’t ready to take responsibility for his actions.
This confession wasn’t about acknowledging the sin, but it was more about trying to avoid the consequences. And he might succeed to a certain extent. This secular ritual may improve public opinion and mitigate some of Armstrong’s temporal consequences. At the heart level, however, Armstrong’s sins will remain. Oprah can’t renew a fallen man.