Lance Armstrong’s Collapse of Ethics (part one – NEED) – An indepth review by Chuck Gallagher ethics expert and author of the Human Side of Ethics

Illusions collapse!  The collapse under their own weight governed by the law of gravity.  If you pile too much bullsh*t on less than a solid foundation you will find yourself one day in a stinky pile of dung.  That, today, is where Lance Armstrong finds himself.  And the reality is – once you’re in it, it’s hard to dig your way out and ever get rid of the stench!

Lance ArmstrongHeralded as a true American hero, Lance Armstrong was revered as an icon – a man who beat cancer, was at the top of his athletic career and a pay-it-forward guy with his non-profit foundation Livestrong.  Today Armstrong’s past successes are dwarfed by his admission that he was a liar and bully.  But is Armstrong’s story any different that those of lesser know folks who find themselves in a Collapse of Ethics?  The patterns are the same only the names and circumstances change.

The following was reported by CNN:

Appearing tense, Armstrong told Winfrey it was a happy day for him to be there with her.

He described his years of denial as “one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.” He had races to win and a fairy tale image to keep up.

Armstrong reminisced on his storied past of being a hero who overcame cancer, winning the Tour repeatedly, having a happy marriage, children. “It’s just this mythic, perfect story, and it isn’t true,” he said.

It was impossible to live up to it, he said, and it fell apart.

What Lance stated is common – not easy – but common for those of us who build a house of cards only to watch it collapse under the weight of unethical choices that were compounded by lies and more lies.  The question is – what are the patterns that can creep into our lives that allow someone who knows better to make unethical choices?

There is a pattern – a clear pattern of behavior – that is not specific to a person, but rather specific to unethical behavior and it starts with NEED.  And, while the word – NEED – is wide open to interpretation, the emotion connected with it is rather simple.  Defined as a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism, NEED is that elusive thing driven by an internal desire connected with an emotion that drives behavior.  To be clear…I’m no psychologist, but there is no doubt that there was an internal emotional desire that went unfulfilled that contributed to the choices that Lance Armstrong took.

Below is a partial transcript of Oprah’s interview with Lance Armstrong:

Oprah Winfrey: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?

Lance Armstrong: “Yes.”

OW: Was one of those banned substances EPO?

LA: “Yes.”

OW: Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance?

LA: “Yes.”

OW: Did you ever use any other banned substances such as testosterone, cortisone or Human Growth Hormone?

LA: “Yes.”

OW: In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?

LA: “Yes.”

OW: Was it humanly possible to win the Tour de France without doping, seven times?

LA: “Not in my opinion. That generation. I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture.”

Notice…while admitting guilt a key factor emerges…Lance believed that he could not win without acting unethically in his sport of choice.  In fact, he acknowledged that while he “didn’t invest the culture” he “didn’t try to stop the culture.”   In other words, Armstrong, like many others who act out unethically, took the approach that it was alright to take illegal or unethical actions (or both) as long as it was the norm!

But back to NEED.  For Armstrong to win he believed that he NEEDED to use performance enhancing drugs!  Winning was important and winning the old fashioned way didn’t seem to be an option.

There is an illusory truth that most of us miss when we are in the midst of making life changing choices…and that is – if the actions of others are common place we assume that similar actions that we might make are alright.  Rarely do we challenge the common actions around us and ask the hard questions about ethics.  Armstrong, in his answers to Oprah’s questions, demonstrates that.  See the transcript below:

OW: You said to me earlier you don’t think it was possible to win without doping?

LA: “Not in that generation, and I’m not here to talk about others in that generation. It’s been well-documented. I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t try to stop the culture, and that’s my mistake, and that’s what I have to be sorry for, and that’s what something and the sport is now paying the price because of that. So I am sorry for that. I didn’t have access to anything else that nobody else did.”

OW: Usada issued a 164-page report. CEO Travis Tygart said you and US Postal team pulled off the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme sport has ever seen. Was it?

LA: “No. It definitely was professional, and it was definitely smart, if you can call it that, but it was very conservative, very risk-averse, very aware of what mattered. One race mattered for me. But to say that that program was bigger than the East German doping program in the ’70s and ’80s? That’s not true.”

OW: What was the culture? Can you explain the culture to us?

LA: “I don’t want to accuse anybody else. I don’t want to talk about anybody else. I made my decisions. They are my mistakes, and I am sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that. The culture was what it was.”

OW: Was everybody doing it? That’s what we’ve heard. Was everybody doing it?

LA: “I didn’t know everybody. I didn’t live and train with everybody. I didn’t race with everybody. I can’t say that. There will be people that say that. There will be people that say, ‘OK, there are 200 guys on the tour, I can tell you five guys that didn’t, and those are the five heroes’, and they’re right.”

What was Lance’s NEED?  Well he says it best in one of his comment to Oprah!

“My ruthless desire to win at all costs served me well on the bike but the level it went to, for whatever reason, is a flaw. That desire, that attitude, that arrogance.”

Lance Armstrong’s Collapse of Ethics will continue…

Meanwhile – YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

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