- - Sunday, October 14, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Culture challenge of the week: Win at all costs

Livestrong. For nearly a decade, Americans have worn plastic yellow bracelets emblazoned with the motto that symbolized champion cyclist Lance Armstrong’s triumph over cancer.

Perhaps a better motto would have been “Liveclean.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Armstrong, who dominated the Tour de France cycling competition for years, quietly accepted the judgment of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banning him from competition and stripping him of his world titles.

His offense? Cheating, in a big way.

As reported in The New York Times, the agency found “overwhelming” evidence that Mr. Armstrong had used banned performance-enhancing drugs (testosterone shots and other drugs) and “blood-doping” techniques to boost endurance. His unscrupulous behavior was magnified by his coercive tactics toward other members of his cycling team, as he drew them into his cheating circle. Compromised, these cyclists were loath to expose Mr. Armstrong.

When the agency handed down its decision, Mr. Armstrong denied he had engaged in blood-doping, but accepted the decision, apparently to avoid further negative publicity.

Last week, however, the Anti-Doping Agency released evidence behind its judgment. The truth reveals Mr. Armstrong’s shameful pattern of ambition, arrogance, cheating and deceit.

According to The New York Times, the agency’s report found:

“The [Armstrong] … doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices. … A program organized by individuals who thought they were above the rules.”

Mr. Armstrong — the icon of strength, endurance and character — turns out to be a ruthless cheater, willing to harm himself and others just to win. He “bullied” teammates, drawing them into a cycle of complicity and conspiracy of silence. He practiced the art of deceit so masterfully (paying doctors more than $1 million dollars for the illegal doping and to mask the drug use, according to The New York Times) and employed it so routinely, that one wonders if he could ever play fair again.

How to save your family: Do what’s right — nothing but the truth

How did a dozen top athletes find themselves collaborating with Mr. Armstrong’s elaborate cheating schemes? One cyclist, Tom Danielson, who caved in to Mr. Armstrong’s pressure and ended up taking performance-enhancing drugs, explained:

“I never set out thinking I would cross a line, I set out simply wanting to compete, to race my bike and do what I love. And that is exactly what I did, clean. Then, after years of doing things the right way, I was presented with a choice that to me, did not feel like a choice at all. In the environment that I was in, it felt like something I had to do in order to continue following my dream. I crossed the line, and that is something I will always be sorry for,” he said.

It’s too easy to ignore the pricks of conscience, especially when other wrongdoers tell us not to worry about it. As one cyclist confessed, “He said not to worry if I felt bad at first, that I would feel good at the end.”

The pursuit of glory — and money — shuts down many good consciences.

The takeaway for our children is this: Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that you “have to” do something wrong. Stay wary of your own weaknesses — and have the courage to walk away before the temptation gets too strong. You will find lasting rewards when you maintain integrity.

All of us make mistakes. Some of our mistakes are more public than others. Another important lesson to teach our children is to own up to our sins and failings. The cover-up sometimes does more damage than the original offense, at least in terms of the damage done to the offender’s character. The deceit never ends, as the lies pile up on each other. The passage of time makes it even more difficult to come clean.

It’s better to do the right thing, to take responsibility for wrongdoing, no matter how late in the game. One cyclist, David Zabriskie, lost his past titles and place on the Olympic team when he came clean, but in so doing, he found freedom.

“Ironically, the sport I had turned to for escaping drugs [his father’s substance abuse] turned out to be rampant with doping. … I questioned, I resisted, but in the end, I felt cornered and succumbed to the pressure. … It was a violation — a violation not only of the code I was subject to, but my personal and moral compass that I had set out to follow. I accept full responsibility and was happy to come forward. … I want to do my share to help bring this entire issue to the fore and ensure a safe, healthy and clean future for cycling,” Mr. Zabriskie said.

The difference between Lance Armstrong and David Zabriskie? Mr. Zabriskie accepts responsibility for his wrongs. He’s making amends and trying to do good.

Mr. Armstrong? He’s silent. Oh, and he’s begun another career, this time as a triathlete. Some triathlon sponsors apparently will do anything to have a high-profile athlete participate. Others want nothing to do with him, no matter how much good his foundation has done to fight cancer. As one triathlon competitor put it, “I think it’s great he’s raised money for cancer. … But if he’s cheating, he’s cheating. It’s disgraceful.”

C’mon Lance. It’s time to undo the damage.

It’s time to Liveclean.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.