Lance Armstrong’s story made him a national hero; the truth made him a pariah. The cyclist suffered one of the most infamous falls from grace in sports history. After the intensity of the scandal passed, he faced a problem that most onlookers don’t consider as they “cancel” a celebrity: How do you explain to your children that you cheated the public for fame and money?
Lance Armstrong was once a national hero
Armstrong reached heights no professional cyclist ever has before. At times, it seemed too good to be true, which makes sense. He was lying to the world the entire time.
Armstrong cultivated a narrative straight out of Hollywood. The story of a man who nearly lost his life to advanced testicular cancer. He bounced back to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times, becoming one of the most beloved athletes.
Armstrong served as a symbol for the sick and the meek to believe in themselves. He seemed to understand his worth to fans and used his platform for good. Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation became a leader in cancer research funding. The nonprofit raised hundreds of millions of dollars, largely thanks to the bright yellow wristbands ubiquitous in the early 2000s.
His public image came crashing down after a doping investigation confirmed that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs to get ahead of the competition. Hindsight is always 20/20. But it shouldn’t have been as shocking as it was. In a sport constantly embroiled in cheating scandals, the guy who kept winning was using illegal substances.
Still, the discovery that Armstrong conned his way to the top was a revelation. He was stripped of his titles, endorsements, and status in the blink of an eye. We’ve seen people like Armstrong get humiliated in public. What happens after the shame, however, is more of an unknown.
How did the scandal affect Armstrong’s family and kids?
How do you tell your children that their father is the biggest villain in his profession? That’s a question no one ever expects to need an answer to, but Armstrong’s actions led him to this situation. In an interview with Outside Online in 2017, Armstrong detailed his journey from a disgraced jerk to a family man with a better perspective.
He currently has five children; three, Isabelle (17), Grace (17), and Luke (19), with his first wife, Kristin, and two, Max (8) and Olivia (8), with his partner, Anna Hansen. All evidence suggests the family is closer than ever, but it wasn’t always that way. Armstrong laughed off the idea of therapy in 2014. But he changed his tune soon after. Now, the Armstrongs see a counselor both separately and as a group.
Those sessions have helped Armstrong explain his sudden reversal of fortune to his children. Although he still hasn’t discussed his past with his youngest, Max and Olivia. His reasoning: “You can’t just say to a seven-year-old, ‘It was a really bad time, and everybody did it.'”
Keeping an open dialogue with people not yet mature enough to really understand what happened can lead to complicated consequences. In the article, Hansen tells a story of how then-7-year-old Max responded to the assertion that his dad is one of the greatest cyclists ever by saying “Yeah, but he cheated.” His oldest son, Luke, used to get into fights defending his father against critical classmates.
Armstrong’s past has a long shadow and affects everyone who remains in his orbit. The fact that he’s seemingly improved his behavior toward the people closest to him — although there are still questions about his conduct in the outside world — is a sign pointing in the right direction. He’ll never be the star he once was, but he can still be a caring father.
Can Lance Armstrong ever redeem himself?
If Armstrong does ever want to be redeemed to some extent – and the Outside Online article suggests that he still feels misunderstood – then there’s no better way to do so than with a well-produced documentary. ESPN will soon air LANCE, a two-part, four-hour film telling the story of Armstrong’s rise and fall. The documentary will feature interviews from Armstrong, teammates, friends, and journalists in order to capture Armstrong’s legacy a few years removed from the heat of the scandal.
This documentary will give Armstrong a second chance to explain himself failing to do so when his cheating was first revealed. He’ll have even more attention now considering that the coronavirus has brought every major American sports league to a halt. He won’t get a better opportunity to explain that he truly has changed.