Lance-come-lately’s admission of doping has many talking, while others wish the tabloid gossip would go away, wondering why in the heck we should care about someone who lied and cheated in a sport that affects so few of us.
I’ve hesitated about posting my thoughts; I’m not a fan of controversy on my blog. But you’ll be happy to know that this post is NOT about my take on the Lance-Armstrong-gate. This post is about why cheating matters to me, why I’m upset about cheating, and why I believe cheating is a bigger issue than some may care to admit.
Cheating comes from a win-at-all-costs attitude. When this attitude is held by an individual few, it is regrettable, but it is not a widespread issue. But, when this sentiment takes root in our culture, there is cause for concern. That’s when cheating matters.
I am saddened and disappointed about what rampant cheating (or even just the perception of rampant cheating) does to sport. A culture that ignores or downplays cheating–which by implication permits it–weakens everyone’s enjoyment of the sport, as well as the community surrounding it. As organizations, such as WTC, begin more drug testing of the age group community, I fear that we will see a problem that extends well beyond the professional ranks of athletes.
Much has been said about how pro athletes feel the pressure to dope to be on a “level playing field.” How level is that field for athletes who accept their ethical responsibility and choose not to dope? How level is that field for someone trying to break into the sport, without doping?
Theirs is an honest and ethical playing field. That’s the level playing field, where everyone agrees to the rules and sticks to them. The dope playing field is slanted in the direction of the powerful, those with access, those with money, those with the ability to cover up doping–even if everyone else is doing it. (I don’t know about you, but I was taught that just because everyone else was doing something, it didn’t make it right.)
I really don’t care about what happens to Armstrong. But, I love running and triathlon, and I worry that this mentality–so boldly displayed in this case–will take over the sport I love and ruin it, much in the same way that pro cycling is ruined. It seems like pro wrestling to me now – completely fake, ultimately rigged. At one point in the interview, Armstrong went so far as to comment that he knew he would win, he just had to “dial it in.”
If he knew he was going to win, how level could the playing field possibly be?
For me, sport is about the amazing and extraordinary triumph of the human body, spirit and mind. What is the triumph if the process and the outcome is a sham, rigged so that the powerful always win? What exactly is so extraordinary about a win that comes from cheating?
Most importantly: what do we lose when this is the attitude that is held by the majority?
What worries me even more is that the attitude to win at all costs extends beyond sport. We can see the ways that a success-at-all-costs mentality exists is other sectors of life.
In our professional life, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” Or, “You have to do what you have to do to get ahead.” These phrases, and others like them, are used to justify a host of unethical behaviors.
In the political sphere, a success at all costs mentality has almost completely bankrupted our democratic processes, leaving the “left” and the “right” at a stalemate because they want their position to “win” more than they care about what is in the collective interest.
In our personal lives, we may know people who see friendship as a “networking opportunity,” seeking just the right circle to help them get ahead in life – whatever that means to them.
I think of how each of these transgressions erodes our trust in others, and in our economic, political and social institutions. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. I live in a glass house, just like everyone else. I’m not throwing stones, here. But, I am reflecting upon an attitude that seems to be threatening what is great about our culture.
A win-at-all-costs attitude does not sit well with the way we value honest, hard work as a path to success. A win-at-all-costs mentality does not support a belief that we should help our fellow citizens when they need it. A win-at-all-costs sentiment contradicts a faith in justice and fair play.
I may be overreacting – and I HOPE I am. I want to believe that the majority of people are good, and these cases of moral bankruptcy constitute sporadic, individual cases. But, for the first time in my life, my faith is wavering, and the evidence seems to suggest a more systemic, cultural problem.
Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon. But, maybe I am not.
From my perspective, this story is about more than Lance Armstrong. It is about all of us, who we are, and who we want to be. But, if the focus stays only on Lance Armstrong, then we will have missed a moment to interrogate our broader cultural values, attitudes and behaviors. We will have missed the moment to understand the systemic reasons why people make the choice – or feel that they have no other choice – to cheat. We will have missed the moment to look inside ourselves and examine our attitudes, our motivations, our behaviors.
That’s why cheating matters to me.