If an electric current pulses through a device in your home or pocket, you have been inundated with the confessions of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong this week.
With a given name like “Lance,” it’s impossible for me to escape the iconic figure who once stood for so much more than a sport.
The similarities are myriad:
We’re both Texans. We’re both in our 40s. We both spent a portion of our careers at nonprofits that do good in the world. We’re both named “Lance.” We’re both world-class athletes. OK, maybe that’s an overstatement, but we both have run marathons.
The contrasts are profound:
He won seven Tours de France from 1999 to 2005. He beat testicular cancer. He pumped performance enhancing drugs into his body. He lied about it. He destroyed people’s lives who tried to expose him. He went on the Oprah Winfrey Network to make a calculated confession.
I’ve run four marathons from 1998 to 2010. I’ve never had cancer. I did take two Ibuprofen during the Running for the Bay Marathon in 2010 which enhanced my performance so that I could cope with a raging case of plantar fasciitis and finish the race. I haven’t lied about it. I try to be kind and honest with the people around me and help them in their careers. I met Oprah Winfrey in 1991 but didn’t confess anything to her… that I can remember.
With a name like “Lance,” I’ve had a lot of nicknames: Sir Lancelot, Lancer, the Lance Man, the Lancenator, Lancey-poo (it took a lot to type that), and even Lance Armstrong.
I have no delusions about my athletic prowess… OK, maybe a few delusions, but I never thought of myself as being in the same league as Lance Armstrong. He won arguably the most grueling sporting event in the world seven times after beating cancer. To be called “Lance Armstrong” used to be something that was appealing.
I won’t waste the time or virtual space to castigate Armstrong any further. The consequences of his actions are obvious and significant. I will say what I think I have learned from Lance Armstrong.
First, we can all succumb to temptation. My mentor and former boss used to say “Your morals are only as strong as the last time they were tested.” There are many disciplines in which I engage to prevent moral lapses, but I am not a man of steel. I am human. I must always keep that in mind.
Second, pursuit of a goal is noble, but when it turns into an obsession and is fed by a drive so strong that it removes our ability to distinguish right from wrong, it is destructive. I like structure. I have goals. There are certain achievements in life I strive for. But I cannot allow those goals to rule me.
Finally, ego is an insidious and catastrophic element of our makeup. My diagnosis of Lance Armstrong’s chief malady is that Southern idiom, “He got too big for his britches.” It’s really not hard to be “too big for your britches” when you wear those skin-tight, spandex cycling shorts, but that’s a whole different topic for another day. The bottom line is that when we get too full of ourselves, there is no room for anyone or anything else.
Lance Armstrong’s story is sad. He no doubt had drive and talent. Just completing the Tour de France, with or without doping, requires a tremendous amount of strength, endurance and determination. The seeds of heroism were present in his character. However, the line between heroism and villainy is often thin. What separates the two are choices.
Lance Armstrong could have won fewer Tours and still been admired and continue to inspire those battling cancer. He didn’t need to win to be a winner.
Too timid to call into sports talk radio shows? Leave your comment below, pro or con, and share your unvoiced perspective on the latest scandal of betrayal to rock our society.