The (un)welcome return of Lance Armstrong

I wrote this about 20 months ago, when the Armstrong/Oprah interview had just aired. I thought I’d post it here as it appears Mr Armstrong is on the long road to redemption…

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Like many cycling fans, I have found the whole Lance Armstrong affair very disappointing. I do not wish to blog about my own feelings on the issue, however. Those who need a bit of background on the story may wish to read this article.

This story is a great example of how we can use current news stories as a learning resource in RE/Philosophy. The affair raises a whole host of ethical questions that could prove to be source of excellent learning in the RE classroom.

Many of these issues have been brought back into the public eye in the light of the interview of Armstrong by Oprah Winfrey that was aired around the world over the last 2 days. I have seen (and been involved in) many discussions on twitter on these issues, and they have been raised by many writers and contributors to newspapers, radio and television.

The main issues I think we can explore in the RE classroom are:

Does apologising change anything?

Many people have suggested the apology was not sincere or that the ‘apology’ was carefully choreographed so as not to be valid. The issue of apologising could be investigated by students, though. Do they think that Armstrong’s apology makes up for what he did? Does the fact he has now admitted to what he has done wrong mean he should be treated more leniently? This issue links to the next 2 questions:

Does Lance Armstrong deserve to be forgiven?

‘Forgive us our trespasses’…does this apply to Lance Armstrong? Can he be forgiven for deceiving so many people over such a long period of time? Forgiveness is a difficult issue to teach in my experience and I think that by offering a situation such as this could allow for discussion that are not open to the extremes of emotion of some issues that might be discussed in terms of forgiveness.

Is a life ban fair?

Mr Armstrong has called his punishment the ‘death penalty.’ Compared to other sports men and women who have been caught doping (inside and outside cycling) it could be deemed harsh as many have returned to competition. This discussion could then be linked to other discussions of punishment – something that is certainly covered within the Edexcel Religion and Society GCSE course.

This is perhaps the most difficult issue to unpick with students. I gave this some thought yesterday after seeing these 2 messages from Darren Huckerby, the former Norwich City footballer, on Twitter.

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On the face of it, it could be judged an ad hominem attack ‘his charity work is invalid as he has been proven to be a cheat’. The 2 may not necessarily be linked, but Armstrong felt the need to resign from his position as chairman of the LiveStrong foundation. So  – has the charity work been undermined?

Why is it wrong to cheat?

This is something that could clearly be applied to lots of issues. I think it would be worth discussing the Armstrong case with students, but the scope of the question is much wider. Students may wish to discuss other examples from within sport (diving in football might be a popular one), but it could also be linked to something closer to the students – school work and exams.

There are obviously other issues, but these are the ones that I feel are most pressing and that I hope to make use of in the classroom. Any thoughts are more than welcome!

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