Manti Te’o and Lance Armstrong: Secrets

Secrets came back to harm Lance Armstrong.

In the 21st century, it sure seems difficult to keep a secret. Just this week alone, cycling icon Lance Armstrong finally ended a decade long saga of deception when he admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, on Oprah of all places. Perhaps just as scandalous (and certainly more bizarre) is the story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who was either the victim of a tremendous hoax or the perpetrator of the cruelest public relations effort in history.

In both cases, the story wouldn’t have been anywhere near as spectacular had it not been for the cover-up. Armstrong illegally won seven Tour de France championships, all the while hiding what appears to be a well-oiled doping machine. Had he been uncovered after championship number one, it’s likely we’d never have heard his name again. Armstrong’s skill at hiding his sins without a doubt boosted his entire career.

Depending on his exact role in the story, the same may end up being true of Manti Te’o. Some reports indicate he knew his imaginary dead girlfriend was a ruse as early as December 6, but still referred to her in interviews after that. Te’o’s Heisman Trophy campaign certainly benefitted from what the media believed to a story of heartbreak and triumph, and it’s almost certain he’d never have garnered as much attention had we not believed his fake girlfriend story.

Biblically, secrecy and sin almost always go hand in hand, and as we know, sin is not limited to all-star linebackers or legendary cyclists. A friend of mine wisely pointed out that each and every one of us has secrets that might break us if they came to light, and the unfortunate reality is that they inevitably will.

Ecclesiastes 12:14 tells us “God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Jesus echoes those sentiments in Mark 4:22, saying “whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” Clearly, secrets aren’t something God holds near and dear to his heart.

Oddly enough, the man described as being after God’s own heart is one of the Bible’s most notorious secret keepers. King David’s story of adultery and the subsequent cover-up are well known, and the consequences of David’s sin (like getting a married woman pregnant, murdering her husband, then having the child die as punishment) wreaked havoc throughout the rest of his reign. Even the most righteous among us aren’t immune to the effects of secret sin.

And though David is an example of the consequences of hiding one’s sin, he’s also the Bible’s best example of how to repent. In Psalm 32:3-5, David shows exactly how sin can be overcome:

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity. I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

Secrets can only control us when they remain hidden. Though Lance Armstrong obviously benefitted in the short term while hiding his doping habits, the public backlash since the details have come to light has erased any good will he might have possessed. Had he owned up to his mistakes years ago, perhaps things might have been different.

Manti Te’o has a chance to avoid Armstrong’s pitfalls. The media has already carried the story a pretty significant distance since it first broke, it’s still early enough in the process to mitigate any damage. If he’s truly behind some sort of bizarre prank, Te’o would do well to own it now, rather than let someone else break the story later.

After all, it will come to light some day, whether he likes it or not.

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