January 21, 2013

LiveWrong: Lessons from Lance Armstrong’s Clay Feet

by Clint Archer

It’s about time Nike develops a shoe which takes into account that all sports heroes’ feet are made of clay. Maybe the marketing catchphrase could be “Just blew it.”

Lance Armstrong lyingFor anyone who has been on a media fast the past fortnight, Lance Armstrong—the indomitable seven time winner of the epic Tour de France cycling challenge—confessed to Oprah Winfrey and her audience of a zillion ladies and four men that he had indeed been using banned substances his entire career.

Armstrong’s unbelievably impressive accomplishments had been so inspiring because they were attained while conquering cancer, a veritable tour de force of human determination and grit. His untiring warfare with the disease rode in tandem with his successes in elite cycling. Armstrong became an icon of superhuman physical endurance and seemingly supernatural determination.

Armstrong’s fight to not only live but live strong became a slogan of hope for cancer suffers and their families the world over. As it turns out superhuman endurance was actually inhuman, and supernatural was merely unnatural. This true-life hero was apparently too good to be true, and has made a tour de farce out of his historic legacy.

But so what?


There is something more sinister at play here than a sports titan toppling off his pedaling pedestal at high speed and struggling to get back on (what with lifetime bans and $30 lawsuits entangling him). We’ve taken this tour before, haven’t we? Whether it’s cheating on the track, or on their wives, our sporting demagogues’ moral failures are predictably cyclical.


Time would fail to tour the hall of shame remembering Tiger Woods’ adulterous affair, Hansie Cronje’s cricket match fixing debacle, or the shuttlecock scandal when badminton duos were DQ’d from the London Olympics for “not trying hard enough.” Disgrace is inevitable when you live wrong. But who doesn’t? Romans 3:10 reminds us that there is “none righteous, no not one.”

When we elevate humans to inspire us we are teeing them up for disgrace, and ourselves for disappointment. That is why Paul told the Corinthians to stop wearing his jersey and remember that it’s all about Christ (1 Cor 1:12-13).

What we can do is pray for Christian athletes, especially young ones. Satan loves to fill his trophy cabinet with tattered WWJD bracelets.

Heb 12: 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

When we cheer Alyson Felix or Tim Tebow, we need to remember that our admiration of them is in itself an unwitting teammate of Satan, which he can deftly use to set them up for his sinister spike. It is not against flesh and blood that we wrestle (Eph 6:12). Prayer is therefore an essential shield against the enemy’s darts that target the exposed Achilles’ heel our heroes all possess; and not only them, you have it too, right above your feet of clay.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • So, just to recap: it’s ok for Christians to follow professional sports (regardless of how violent and crippling the sport might be) for countless hours out of every week, disregarding family in order to sit inert on a couch, and to fill our heads memorizing player stats, information, and team scores, and this is all fine as long as we don’t make idols of these people, right?

    • busdriver4jesus

      Cmon, Rational… I don’t understand the sports fascination (yes, I am a man, as incompatible as that may be!), but Clint certainly didn’t endorse neglecting Christian priorities and duties to indulge in an addiction to sports. Yes, there is a fine line between “following” and “idolizing”, but Luther would say the Christian is the most free sort of person on the planet, free to enjoy every gift and grace from God “as unto the Lord”.

      • Thanks busdriver, you took the words out of my mouth.

    • Hey Rational, this is the most irrational comment you’ve posted on TCG. That’s ok, everyone has those days where the’re too busy to actually read the article, but still want to comment.

    • Here is an essay that captures the union of sports and faith. I think you might like it: http://doughnutholes.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/my-audio-essay-on-faith-and-sports/

  • John_D_11

    Hey Clint –

    So I was one of the four men who watched the two night confession on Oprah. I am a huge cycling fan, and had been eagerly awaiting this interview. There’s a number of comments I’d like to make, but I’ll just state this one. I was very impressed by the depth and heart-probing quality of Oprah’s questions. She grilled him for two and a half hours straight! She wanted everything out on the table. I read articles that she spent dozens of hours preparing for this interview. She read numerous books on cycling to familiarize herself with the sport’s culture. She scrutinized the entire 160 page USADA statement. She played back several of Lance’s worst lies, and allowed us all to watch him squirm and agonize. Her closing comment, almost an exhortation, was “the truth will set you free.” Whether or not she realized that was John 8:32, I’m not sure.

    My point is this. My hat’s off to Oprah for this interview. I’ve never watched Oprah before, and I realize our world views greatly differ, but she took this situation very seriously. I wish the church – our church – was better at drawing out confession and getting to the bottom of heart issues like this. I co-teach some biblical counseling courses at our church, and I’m tempted to use this interview for illustration purposes and case study discussions.

    Certainly for Lance, I wish there could have been an intermission, then have Oprah tag team with Jay Adams to finish the discussion, and show Lance there is hope for clean conscience and personal change in the power of the gospel, through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ.