If the reports are to be believed, Lance Armstrong has admitted to Oprah Winfrey, our national confessor 'n chief, he engaged in an elaborate scheme to illegally enhance his performance during his years as a professional cyclist. If true, he would have a boatload of company, as professional cycling appears to have had the same problem as baseball...everyone was doing it. So what happens to Lance now?
The condemnations will follow at light speed. Armstrong's name will be mud in athletic circles. He couldn't' endorse mom, apple pie or Chevrolet if his life depended on it, nor would anyone want him as a spokesperson. He is going to have to pay out millions in civil suits and possible face a criminal probe. (although its my belief the confession is part of an orchestrated deal to avoid a criminal trial for fraud or trials over perjured statements denying he ever doped.) At the end of the day, the best he can hope for is after a few years, the public is willing to give him a second chance. He is hoping there is such a thing as redemption.
Armstrong has valid reasons to think redemption is possible. He looks to the case of Philadelphia Eagle's quarterback Michael Vick as a hopeful sign. Vick ran a dog fighting business. Dogs fought, sometimes to the death, and any which were weak or not aggressive enough were murdered. Vick personally killed dogs. He too denied, denied, denied until he get a deal with the Feds. He went to federal prison, came out, was hired by the Eagles and eventually signed to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. Vick recently even purchased a dog for his family with little negative reaction from the public. He has been redeemed.
Vick has company. Elliott Spitzer, former governor of New York, was buying sex from high priced hookers. He too denied it until confronted with proof. He resigned in disgrace and went into exile. Yet, a few years later he had a show on CNN and on Current TV. He is redeemed. Marc Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, who " hiked the Appalachian trail", had an adulterous affair with a woman in South America. He lied about where he was...lied about a fact finding trip...lied and used taxpayer money for his travel...lied when he got back. His wife left him and he became the butt of every late night comedian on the planet. This week he is re-entering politics in South Carolina. He has been redeemed.
Bill Clinton treated women like tissue paper and his vows as if they were written in invisible ink. It was so well known he cheated that in 1984, at the Democratic convention in San Francisco, Dwayne Garrett told me Clinton asked him and other democratic heavy weights about his chances for running for president. Dwayne told him it couldn't happen if he didn't keep his fly shut. Yet, he was elected president and then lied to the American people, lies under oath, lies to his wife and family and is impeached. Today, he is credited with playing a huge role in the re-election of President Obama, is a multi-millionaire and an international figure of repute. He is redeemed.
I'm sure you could come up with other examples. I'm sure Armstrong knows the list by heart. He is hoping people will forget. He is hoping Americans love a comeback story and second acts. He is hoping American's short attention span will enable him to keep his head low, hunker down and ride out the storm, only to emerge with a book deal, (Living Strong with Disaster?), rise again, rehabilitate his image and maybe get a job on ESPN as a color commentator for the Tour de France. You and I know this scenario is very possible.
I don't begrudge anyone redemption. I believe we live in a redeemed world. Good for Michael Vick, Elliott Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Marc Sanford and many others. No one should be crushed by a mistake or a bad judgment or because of an overheated libido or because they wanted to win and if everyone else was cheating, they would too. (I think Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will end up in the hall of fame...both redeemed)
However, there is an hypocrisy or double standard here which makes me wonder why we are so willing to forgive animal cruelty...serial philandering...lying...perjury...national damage...prostitution and other disreputable, illegal choices, these men made, but on a daily basis, Americans are released from prisons chastened, punished and committed to living good productive lives, and they face a series of hurdles and obstacles designed to make redemption almost impossible? Why have we built a system which almost guarantees people who have shown similar poor judgment, made similar mistakes, and wish to do nothing more than live their lives, support their families and re-emerge back in society, are treated as pariahs, unworthy of either forgiveness or redemption.
Lance Armstrong is hoping he will get a second chance. Vick, Spitzer, Clinton, Sanford et.al. have already gotten theirs. Yet, in America, people do their time only to be released into a world where jobs are almost impossible to find. What they may know best, or the skills they have developed over years of work, they are prohibited from accessing. (commit a financial crime and you are banned from the industry...medical fraud and you can never be a doctor again...nor can a lawyer ever practice again.) Many employers will categorically refuse to hire someone who has been in prison...landlords refuse to rent to them...probation officers deliberately engage in behavior to which causes them to lose jobs. The only reason Lance Armstrong is confessing in public is because he believes redemption is an attainable goal, yet it's not a goal for most of those who have spent time in prison who believe it is neither possible or probable.
It is easy to say criminals deserve what they get, but the double standard, which exists for famous offenders who are rich or athletic, is clear. Arnold Schwarzenegger (affectionately known as the "boobengrabber" to me) lied to the people of California, cheated on his wife, fathered a child with his maid and denied his existence, abused women on numerous movie sets and used his star status to get away with it all. He is now writing books and has a new movie coming out this month. He didn't even have to hang his head in shame and refused to answer questions about past abuses. Yes he is redeemed.
Over 1,000,000 people occupy the nation's prisons. How have we allowed a system to be built in which all the economic incentives are wrong and which seems more geared to encouraging re-offending and returning to prison? (the recidivism rate in federal prisons is 69% after 5 years.) Shouldn't redemption be available to all? Shouldn't second chances be offered to anyone willing to try again avoiding the mistakes and poor choices of past behavior?
For those of you seething and chomping at the bit to accuse me of being self-serving, save your breath. I will be fine. I have an amazing family and I am loved. I've asked everyone of importance to me for forgiveness and apologized. I have wonderful friends and acquaintances who stand by me. I can return to my former profession, and expect to do so, and I will never make a stupid choice like this ever again. I am very lucky. The vast majority of those going home face a system you, and your representatives, have constructed and it's one long minefield designed to explode in their faces. The irony is, it hurts you and society as much as it does them. It eats up billions of tax dollars...forces you to spend more on prisons than on the entire U.C. system...is a perpetual money machine, which will continue to drain resources forever with no long-term benefit to you, whatsoever.
I promise you this. If you ever screw up or make a mistake or a bad choice or poor judgment, I will offer you any help I am capable of and will be happy to let you use any talents, any skills, any professional training to reenter the job market and society and stabilize your family and yourself so you too can be redeemed. Am I alone?