I've swallowed everything about the Lance Armstrong/Livestrong controversy whole. I am a nonprofit consultant that helps organizations find their way out of big messes. I find that messes are always symptomatic of larger illnesses (please forgive the pun) and that they are often opportunities to rethink and figure out what is right and true.
Here's what I believe is right and true.
Lance Armstrong is a hero to millions afflicted with cancer. I don't believe that it is about how many medals he has (or doesn't have). It's about the fact that he made a decision to touch peoples' lives as a cancer survivor. The statistics speak for themselves. Livestrong has raised millions to fight for a cure. Lance has talked to and sat with thousands of cancer survivors over these years and no one will strip the medals of hope he placed around the neck of each of them.
It absolutely stinks when our heroes fail us. But what is it about him that cast him as a failure? He cheated to win. More than once. OK, I get it. That is bad. But let me be provocative for a moment. If you had cancer -- if you had it bad -- would you cheat to beat it if you could? I am thinking long and hard about this.
So Lance Armstrong is a tough cancer survivor who did what it took to be a champion. In one arena he crossed the line. But maybe where it really counts, he became a true champion -- for all cancer survivors everywhere.
And that's a role he cannot be not be stripped of. He should't be.
So here's my recommendation. The last thing we should do is hide Lance under the staircase like evil Muggle stepparents.
Lance Armstrong needs to get back on the road. In a car this time. Not as a celebrity, not with an entourage, not even with his agent. Maybe just a few friends. I'm picturing a smart car. He does, after all, have a lot to learn.
Once a month or once a quarter, Lance should hit the road. He should map out a route that enables him to visit the most numbers of hospitals large and small. He should visit the cancer wards. No fanfare. He should sit by bedsides and listen. He should hang a figurative medal of hope around the neck of each person he meets. Maybe he'll talk about the choices he has made and what they feel like. I bet those cancer patients will hear his story a bit differently from others.
No press while Lance is there. Livestrong Communications staff should keep them away until Lance is back in his car and back on the tour route. Then the local press might just want to talk to the folks he coached. Not to hear Lance's stories but to hear theirs. These stories will fuel Livestrong's work.
I am not a cancer survivor so I don't know for sure. But I'm betting that a guy who helped to build a $30-50 million organization to fight cancer and has beaten it himself would still be a hero to me.