Lance Armstrong: Monster or Hero?

The courtroom is America.  The defendant is Lance Armstrong.  The question: Is

Lance Armstrong a monster or a hero?  Let the discussion begin.


Sitting on one side of the courtroom, we have the “monster” Armstrong apologists. This sizable group unloads reams of evidence with passion.


* He defamed people, calling them—or framing them as—liars, greedy, jealous, and hateful when in fact he was describing himself rather than them.

* He cost people jobs.

* He created fear.

* He cost some people substantial amounts of money(millions).

* He destroyed friendships.

* He created mistrust and division.

* He undermined people’s ability to trust others.

* He leveraged his enormous popularity as a cancer survivor to manipulate people and fulfill his selfish desires.


The smaller but equally zealous group sitting across the courtroom aisle makes their case for Armstrong, the hero.

* He encouraged cancer patients, framing them as heroes, resilient, and victors.

* He created jobs for cancer researchers.

* He helped people overcome fear.

* He raised substantial amounts of money (millions of dollars) for cancer research.

* He created new friendships.

* He united people in the fight against cancer.

* He helped people believe in themselves.

* He leveraged his enormous popularity as a cancer survivor to inspire cancer patients and help them fulfill their dreams.


Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, one of Armstrong’s cancer doctors, sits with the “hero” handful, impossibly torn.  Quoted in a piece, he describes the view from the cancer ward: “Virtually 100% of my cancer patients all feel that he has done far more good than any damage he’s done.”


Dr. Einhorn wrestles with the dilemma that Lance’s cheating created a platform for good: “If he didn’t do doping, he would not have been competitive in his sport. There would have been no foundation. There would have been no cancer survivorship talk, if he had not entered the Tour de France, or finished 17th or 18th. It doesn’t mean that the ends justify the means.”


He weighs in on whether Lance is a hero: “There are many different ways that people are heroic. Lance cheated in the sport, but because he cheated in the sport, he became a hero to countless thousands if not tens of thousands of people, and made such a big difference in their lives and also in their quantity of survival as well as their quality of survival. That will be his legacy.”

Source of the above quotes:


As you have read the words above, you have probably found yourself sitting on one side of the courtroom, questioning the logic or sanity of the group on the other side.  Me?  I find myself standing in the aisle between the two groups. Uncomfortable.


It reminds me of the unsettled moment I experienced, having just finished watching “Crash,” the Oscar-winning movie from 2004 which followed the intertwined stories of people living in the tense racial climate of Los Angeles.


Sitting on the couch watching the finishing credits roll, a simple sentence formed itself in my mind.  I can’t tell you where it came from, only that it was not a quote from the movie itself.


“Nobody is entirely a monster, and nobody is entirely a hero.”


I’ll tell you why I have come to believe that statement captures the human reality.  For one, it fits the grand story of the Bible, whose wisdom I trust deeply.  The earliest pages of the Bible record this startling statement: God created men and women “in his image.”


There is a beauty and goodness and grandeur—however veiled—in every person you encounter.  At the same time, there is a tainting and brokenness and a darkness—however hidden—in those same people.  The Bible is pointed: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, NIV)


All of us possess something of the glory of God, and all of us fall short of the glory of God.  Nobody is entirely a monster, and nobody is entirely a hero.  The story of human experience bears out this disturbing tension.


The Armstrong courtroom is right.  He is a hero AND he is a monster.  He ruined lives and he saved lives.  His words created terrible pain and his word inspired healing hope.


I expect you struggle with that reality as much as I do.  To acknowledge any good or heroic in the man, for some, seems to downplay his evil choices.  For others, the focus on his cheating and lying invalidates the good he did for them.  The pull is to create one simple defining character category, but it is as difficult as it is dangerous.


Hero and Monster dichotomy invariably leads us to one of two deadly deceptions:

1)  Heroes have no need for God; and 2) God has no room for monsters.


Every person—however good and heroic—has a tainted heart and broken choices that require the grace and forgiveness of God.  Hero labels blind us to our vulnerability and deep dependence on God. Nobody is entirely a hero, who then has no need for God.


At the same time, nobody is entirely a monster, devoid of value to God or impossible to be redeemed.  I have talked to many people who—having put themselves into a “total loser” category–assume that God wants nothing to do with them, that they have no hope for change.  It’s the lie of the monster/hero dichotomy.


I have learned to live in the monster/hero tension—not in Lance’s story, but in my own.  People could tell you stories of my good in support of a hero label.  I could relate stories that would have you reaching for the monster label, angry and disappointed.  I am both hero and monster.  That is the truth.


More deeply true, however, is God’s grace.  My heroic choices are guided and empowered by the grace of God in me, and my monstrous choices are covered and forgiven by the grace of God over me.  Grace is the great hope of monstrous heroes and heroic monsters.





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