Falls From Grace.
It’s been nearly impossible over the past week to turn on the television or go on the Internet without hearing about Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o’s falls from grace. While their situations are quite different, there are many similarities as well. And perhaps the biggest similarity is the idea of what got them into the situations they are both in.
Lance Armstrong is certainly not the first professional athlete to be accused, and found guilty, of using performance enhancing drugs. Nor is he the first to lie about it. The length to which he apparently went to cover up his doping may be one of the most extreme examples we’ve seen. In his interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong admitted to bullying those who tried to expose him. He responded to accusations with lying and lawsuits. And while viewing taped interviews where he outright lied about his cheating, he responded to Oprah by saying that at the time, he felt invincible.
Manti Te’o is the Notre Dame football player who was recently caught in a bizarre relationship hoax that some allege he used to gain sympathy to help his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy (he didn’t win). It’s unclear at this point if he was in on the hoax from the beginning, or if he only lied about it months later (which he admits) to protect himself after he discovered the woman he loved was a fabrication. His interview on the Katie Couric show was almost as bizarre as the web of lies he was involved in. It was hard to tell if he is just a very naive 21-year-old, or if he really was playing the story to gain sympathy to bolster his athletic career.
Are these examples of a “whatever it takes” attitude?
The sports world is one of the most competitive arenas in the world. The focus is 100% on winning and being the best. Does this drive elite athletes to adopt a “do whatever it takes” attitude? Does it become about “winning at all costs”? Armstrong admitted that was his attitude.
Armstrong also said that when he was doping, pretty much everyone in cycling was. It was as much a part of preparing for a race as putting air in his bike tires. He argues that because everyone was doing it, it somehow made it OK in his mind. He didn’t view it as being wrong, illegal, or unethical at the time—even though it was all three. He is now paying the price for his prolonged abuse and lying, having been stripped of all seven of his Tour de France wins, his Olympic medal, $75 million in sponsorships, and his position at the helm of the Livestrong Foundation. Truly a man who has lost it all.
His explanation? Things got crazy. He lost himself. He got too caught up.
Perhaps that’s what happened to Te’o as well.
While I don’t condone the behavior or either Armstrong or Te’o, I understand how it could happen.
At least the getting caught up part—there is no excuse for lying about it once they got caught. Additionally, in Armstrong’s case, he broke the law and the rules of his sport. That’s inexcusable.
But what I’d like to speak to is what drove Armstrong, and perhaps Te’o, into their respective situations.
As someone who knows what it’s like to get caught up and lose herself, on some level I can relate. When you are in an industry where everyone is doing something, it’s easy to believe that’s what you have to do, too, to succeed. And when success and winning are the goal—as they are in sports and in the success industry that I was a part of—it’s easy to get so caught up in doing what everyone else is doing, that you lose yourself and do things you wouldn’t normally do.
We live in a world that celebrates success, money, and fame.
A world that celebrates competition and winning.
A world where professional athletes make more money than just about any other profession.
A world that holds up elite athletes as heroes and role models.
Is it so hard to fathom that these guys got so caught up in all the hype that they made poor choices? That they were so determined to win awards, get sponsorship deals, make big money, and bask in the glory we bestow upon such athletes that they were willing to do whatever it took? In today’s world elite athletes achieve almost superhuman status. They’re treated like celebrities. Is it any wonder they don’t believe the rules apply to them.
Sadly, it’s not hard to fathom at all.
I’m not saying it’s right. Far from it. But in many ways we created this mess.
The system is broken. And as long as the focus remains on winning at all costs… on looking good over doing good… and fame and fortune are more valued than truth, we will continue to see stories like this unfold.
I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps if we focus more on instilling the values of truth and honesty over competition and winning, someday this behavior will stop. Perhaps if we watch enough sports heroes fall, and we see the consequences of their behavior played out on a public stage, other athletes will begin to realize it’s not worth the price.
Will Lance Armstrong be able to come back from disgrace? Will Manti Te’o be able to overcome this debacle or have his chances of having a professional football career been ruined? Only time will tell.
What are your thoughts?
Why do you think so many athletes are getting caught cheating and lying? What, if anything, can turn this situation around? Is this a symptom of a bigger problem in our world? I’d love to hear your thoughts.