Lance Armstrong was a hero to me and millions of people from all walks of life. This week, Armstrong announced he would no longer contest doping charges brought against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. The USADA will strip Lance of his seven Tour de France titles and ban him for life. In his first public appearance since conceding defeat, Lance asked his fans “not to cry for him.” But, how can you not feel really badly for him?
Do you think that Lance Armstrong cheated? If so, was it justifiable if in the world of cycling — where all of your top competition seems to be using performance enhancing drugs — that if you want to ‘beat them’ that you have to join them in not playing by the rules? Although Lance has given up his fight against the charges, he maintains his innocence and says that he was subjected to an ‘unconstitutional witch hunt.’ But this may only be the beginning of his saga and legal woes. The International Cycling Union is demanding that the USADA hand over evidence and many civil suits are expected to follow.
Shame is a toxic emotion. It seems impossible that Lance Armstrong won't be consumed with shame on a conscious or subconscious level for the rest of his life. Shame eats you up inside and prevents you from being able to truly connect with other people. The shame associated with cheating is the price cheaters pay, and why cheaters never win — even if they're never caught. The next time you think about cheating, ask yourself—would you rather have won seven Tour de France titles and had all the glory in your prime, if you then had to pay the price that Lance will pay for the rest of his life?
This morning I went in search of some Lance Armstrong quotations about ‘sports and competition’ that might show a part of his psyche when it came to a ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality. There are many amazing and inspiring quotes from Lance Armstrong but one that jumped out at me as showing a more Machiavellian side to his competitiveness was when he was quoted as saying, “Two things scare me. The first is getting hurt. But that’s not nearly as scary as the second, which is losing. Athletes…they’re too busy cultivating the aura of invincibility to admit to being fearful, weak, defenseless, vulnerable, or fallible, and for that reason neither are they especially kind, considerate, merciful, or benign, lenient, or forgiving. To themselves or anyone around them." The sentiment of this quotation is the antithesis of everything that The Athlete’s Way stands for. The priority of sports and athletic competition in our society should be about fostering character, resilience and camaraderie—not about winning at all costs.
Athletic competition—especially in games like pick-up basketball or tennis with friends—are a great opportunity for players to self-referee and prove the integrity of character and trustworthiness by making fair calls against our opponents. This morning I was talking about this blog topic over breakfast with my friend Paul Tasha. He was sharing stories of his experiences playing basketball with people he does business with and how he realized a long time ago that people who will cheat you on the basketball court will cheat you in commerce, too. He pointed out that being known in your community as someone who has integrity and is trustworthy will ultimately make you more likely to succeed. People who play by the rules ultimately prevail.
We live in such a competitive world. From a very young age our children are taught that if they want to ‘succeed’ in life that they have to finish in the top percentile in just about every challenge they face. The world does not automatically reward people who are viewed as being ‘mediocre’ in a meritocracy. But not everyone can be a champion. There is always a bell-curve. So, how does someone who is not at the top of the heap maintain optimism, enthusiasm and a sense of self-worth? I think it’s important for people who have made it and become successful to mentor young people and share their stories of success and failure and to show the wide range of happiness that we can achieve by readjusting how we describe success.
I believe that it is the time we spend with family, friends and feeling healthy, alive and connected that is our biggest source of joy. Again, it is easy when you have 'made it' to proselytize about the virtues of not caring if you ‘win or lose.’ The reality can be much different, especially if you're struggling economically. Because winning does matter. This is a paradox we all have to navigate in sport and in life. Yes, you want to be your absolute best and to try your hardest to win and to be thrilled if you are victorious....But you cannot cheat to win on an ethical and karmic level. I believe that the bad karma and ill-will of being a cheater has the power to eat you up from the inside out and ultimately destroy you.
But what do you do if all of the people you're competing against are taking performance enhancing drugs, especially if they're legal? Adderal and other “brain enhancing” prescription drugs that people take to get better grades or seem like a rock star at work create an uneven playing field. But again, if all of your peers are doing it and you want to remain competitive what are you supposed to do? I am a zealot about the power of physical activity to take the place of many prescription drugs. Physical activity will boost brain power, creativity, focus, reduce stress and give you grace under pressure when you face a big challenge. All without any negative side effects of a pill.
Regular physical activity at a tonic level is a magical elixir with very little pecuniary costs or detrimental side effects. One thing that I find so depressing about the drug abuse in cycling is that for the short-term glory of standing on a podium or wearing a yellow jersey that competitors in the Tour de France will toss away their long-term wellness. The bottom line is that when it comes to taking any performance enhancing drug — there is a very real payback on your long-term mental and physical health for the short-term gain of winning.
Ultimately, sportsmanlike behavior and The Athlete’s Way is about building mindset, character, resilience and close-knit human bonds. It is not about how many trophies or gold medals you ‘win’. It really is about how you play the game and what you learn through the process. If you cheat in sport or life you are ultimately sabotaging yourself and making yourself less of a viable competitor. Karma is a boomerang and the long-term shame and anxiety of cheating will ultimately negate the short-term gains of victory. So, be a good sport and play fair! It will end up rewarding you in the long run and make you a happier person.
© Christopher Bergland 2012. All rights reserved.
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