Did President Obama give Tiger a mulligan?

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But the story gets more complicated. Drugs or no drugs (and it was drugs), Armstrong fought his way back to the winner’s circle after treatment for stage 3 testicular cancer when he was a young man. He used his fame and money to launch LiveStrong, a charity that raises money to fund programs for cancer survivors. So he did good while doing bad. Was the good enough to wipe out his lying and cheating? If his fundraising saved lives, is that enough to confer redemption for his sins?

“We still have patients who, when starting chemotherapy for testicular cancer, come in carrying that book,” Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, the physician who treated Armstrong, said in a recent news story, referring to Armstrong’s autobiography. He added, “Virtually 100 percent of my cancer patients all feel that he has done far more good than any damage he’s done.”

If he hadn’t doped, the doctor pointed out, he would not have won cycling races. There would have been no foundation. He wouldn’t have been in a position to inspire others with cancer to face treatment with grace and courage.

But what about the cyclists who came in second and third in all those races that Armstrong won by cheating? Perhaps their lives were ruined, their one shot at fame and fortune robbed by someone who took drugs to come in first.

If only people would fall into the neat categories we define for them: hero, artist, athlete, prodigy, virtuoso, priest, professor. It gets so messy when the athlete turns out to be a batterer or the artist is a pedophile or the hero is a racist.

If it’s difficult to separate the athlete from the athletic achievements, it’s impossible to separate the artist from his work. Famously, Picasso and Hemingway and Lewis Carroll were morally flawed, but does that diminish the greatness of their work? Should we — can we — separate the two? I love the novels of Philip Roth. His words are rich with empathy and humor. He can describe the delicate dance of people coming together in love. Yet his deep understanding of human nature seems not to have been translated into his own relationships. It stays on the page. It remains art.
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