Is philanthropy heroic?

Yeah, so Lance Armstrong is a jerk. He won seven Tour de France races, but has just not-admitted that he won them all with the help of performance enhancing drugs. He used those wins to fuel a shockingly successful endorsement career, and used that money to fuel a shockingly widespread philanthropic effort.

Oh, and he beat cancer, too. (Before he won all the Tours de France, mind you.)

The Livestrong Fondation’s donations to cancer research are estimated at $470 million by Forbes. Charity Navigator rates the organization very highly, higher than any other cancer charity in the country. It’s a good organization, and it would not exist if Lance Armstrong had not won all those races.

So he’s a cycling hero, who has crashed off that bike. He was a sports hero, and now, he is not.

But, does his philanthropic work make up for that? Is he Robin the Hood, not the storybook character, but the real outlaw, killing and stealing for some Other Good? Did he bilk his sponsors out of millions, cheating his way into their coffers, in order to use that money and fame to build the Lance Armstrong Foundation?

And is that so bad?

Honestly, I don’t know. Cheating is bad. Giving is good. Cheating corporations is, well, not as bad. Lying to kids, however, is pretty bad. Giving hope to millions of cancer patients (some of them kids, some of them cycling fans)? Undoubtedly good.

Personally, I’m not so broken up about his cheating in the bike races, but I am not a huge cycling fan. My mother is in remission from cancer, and I appreciate anything the Livestrong Foundation’s $470 million might have indirectly had to do with her treatment.

So yeah, regardless of what I think of Lance Armstrong, I think philanthropy is heroic. And I think Lance Armstrong may have come to the same conclusion.