My Problem with Lance: The End Doesn’t Justify Being Mean

Pop Quiz: Who said the following:

a) “It became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them.”

b) “I respect them and think they have integrity.  They’re proud of their achievements in college, and sometimes the only way you could’ve gotten there is to kind of botch your ethics for a couple things.”

c) “I realized from an early stage that the financial & investment market is a whole rigged job.  There’s no chance that investors have in this market.”

You’d be correct if you said a) George Hincapie, 15-time Tour de France cyclist who recently admitted to doping and b) a former student of Stuyvesant high school in New York commenting in a New York Times article about 71 students caught cheating on a physics regents exam. (I’ll tell you the answer to C at the end).

It's not cheating if everyone else is doing it.  Actually it is cheating Lance

It’s not cheating if everyone else is doing it. Actually it is cheating Lance

And here, folks, is my main issue with Lance Armstrong.  One could have many issues: he lied, cheated, stole (yes, stole from his sponsors and other riders), he defrauded and disrespected all of us.  But, the biggest issue I have is that he’s shown us, especially the young people of the world who were just kids when he won his first Tour de France, that cheating and lying is ok as long as it’s for a good cause.  If you make millions cheating and lying while riding a bike, it’s ok as long as you start a cancer foundation that inspires millions of people.

Yes, the same person can lie for a decade to everyone and at the same time be an inspiration to millions.  I’m not arguing that’s not possible — I’m arguing that it’s not ok, they don’t balance out, the end doesn’t justify the means.  By the same token, if you cheat on your exams in high school, it’s ok as long as you get into a good college and become a doctor or the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Maybe in the short term one could rationalize this approach to life, but to me, aren’t we just telling people that if you lie and cheat, make sure you do something good to balance it out and everything will be cool?   It’s great that Mr. Armstrong helped so many cancer survivors, but now isn’t his credibility so damaged that his power to serve others is diminished too?  Will people flock to his Foundation the way they used to, will corporate sponsors move on to less tainted organizations?  By cheating, he’s denied his, and his organization’s opportunity to help so many more people.

Lance's Foundation is likely to suffer greatly from his cycling issues

Lance’s Foundation is likely to suffer greatly from his cycling issues

As a society, are we really ok with that?  Do we continue to support him after he let us down?  And, what have we really learned?  I can cheat on my taxes as long as I give to charity.  I can steal groceries if I work at a food shelter.  Would we feel different about Bernie Madoff if he was giving some of his profits to help the homeless?  Would we feel different if Jeffrey Skilling (Enron) helped fight hunger in Africa?  If your first thought was “Hey, that’s different than Lance” I only ask that you to come up with real reasons as to why you think that.  The only rationale I can think of is that cancer affects nearly everyone and that Lance has a much better PR machine.

Oh, and by the way, the answer to “C” is Bernie Madoff from a New York Magazine article.  According to Wikipedia, he donated approximately $6 million to lymphoma research after his son was diagnosed with the disease.


Photo courtesy of Flickr/poweriPics
Photo courtesy of Flickr/ezu


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