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Forgiveness Is Ours to Give, Even to Lance Armstrong
CNS/Mike Hutchings
CHEAT—Lance Armstrong, left, has finally admitted to doping to win all seven Tour de France victories. His public act of contrition last week is one of several sports-related topics in which the issue of forgiveness has been raised.


Sports fans have taken a lot of abuse of late from our seemingly insatiably greedy and often ethically challenged heroes. Three events bring this to mind: the just-concluded NHL lockout, the recent shutout from Cooperstown of suspected steroid-abusing ballplayers and, of course, Lance Armstrong’s long overdue admission to Oprah last week that he’d juiced for years, lied about it and in the course of his subterfuge resorted to even more odious tactics. So, is forgiveness in order?

There has been some speculation since the NHL lockout ended about what kind of reception the players would receive when they step back onto the ice for that first night of hockey Jan. 19. It is a complicated issue, of course. For one thing, it was a lockout, not a strike, and the owners, I would argue, have been the more guilty party. But the players are the face of the game and in any case it wasn’t likely that any owner, much less the commissioner, would make himself available for public flagellation on opening night. So, we had the players upon which to vent our pent-up frustration. On blogs and other electronic hockey forums two suggestions predominated. Neither was forgiving.

One: Don’t be a chump. Don’t go to the game, or any other game, this season. That’ll show ’em. OK, call me a chump, but that’s a non-starter. Hockey fans are loyal, some might say to a fault. Our slavish return to the rinks after such careless abuse from the owners and players was entirely predictable. The owners counted on it.

Option two: return to the rink but boo lustily when the players step on the ice. Now I know New York Rangers fans are not a forgiving lot. We continue to hurl unremitting invective at former Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin 25 years after he retired and most of the time he’s not even in the building, nor is his former team! But booing the players alone and letting the owners off the hook just didn’t seem fair.

I know as a Catholic I should be big on forgiveness. But I must admit sometimes I fall short. So I turned to my pastor, Father Gil Martinez, C.S.P., at St. Paul the Apostle parish in Manhattan, for some advice. He’s a Paulist, and they are big on forgiveness.

“It’s extremely critical because Jesus talked about it in all the Gospels,” he reminded me. “There’s that wonderful line with Jesus and Peter. ‘How many times must I forgive, Lord?’ ‘Seventy times seven.’ So, it’s a command, right? Jesus commands us to do that. At a deeper level I think the command is also an invitation to participate in God’s life. God forgives us, that’s why we should forgive.”

OK, but isn’t a little venting allowed? Aren’t we entitled?

“Not with forgiveness,” he explained. “It’s always the same. Forgiveness, even on a grand scale, excludes wanting to get even. It excludes vengeance automatically. Because forgiveness does pardon and does call for our own better selves to show in kindness and mercy, even in Madison Square Garden believe it or not.”

OK, what about the alleged steroid cheats who were just shut out of the Baseball Hall of Fame? Should we forgive them too? And if so, is keeping them out of the Hall fair?

“Absolutely,” he said. “Because the other part of this is it’s a matter of justice. You can certainly forgive them and not have them in the Hall of Fame.”

What about Lance Armstrong? Surely, he’s beyond forgiving.

Father Gil looked a little pained. “Justice belongs to God ultimately, but I think in our own broken way we have to do the best we can,” he countered. “We’re certainly required by our faith to forgive him even if his contrition is for the press or public opinion, bless his heart. Given his behavior it’s difficult to see contrition. But we have to trust what he says. If he really believes that, that’s fine.”

So be a chump?

“Christians are often chumps,” he said with a laugh. “It goes with the territory.”

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