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On Lance Armstrong, Lying & What Kids Can Learn From His Mistakes

livewrongWe don’t even know what he said to her yet. Still, everyone’s talking about it.

Does Lance tell the whole story? Does he apologize? Will he be forgiven after this is over, thanks to appearing with the country’s de facto Rehabilitation Czar, Oprah Winfrey?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lance Armstrong, his public persona, his lies, and what all of this means to parents and kids. What can children learn from this whole ugly episode?

I never paid attention to cycling until my husband got into it. Then one unfortunate year during which I ended up bedridden for six months thanks to nerve damage, to keep myself occupied I watched the entire Tour de France. I was so impressed by the sheer strength and endurance it must take to compete in that event. It was exciting to learn about all the maneuvering and strategy involved, to root for our home team, and to watch what Lance could do to a mountain with some carbon fiber and two wheels.

He did it over and over again, and was lauded, sponsored and adored. He wrote books. Millions of people walked around wearing yellow rubber LiveStrong bracelets. He became a sought after public speaker, making 200,000 bucks a pop for topics like “Winning in Life.” He was named the US Olympic Committee’s SportsMan of the Year (4 times), the Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year (4 times), and won numerous other awards around the world. Most importantly when it comes to this article, at the 2006 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards he was named Favorite Athlete.

Lance wasn’t a reluctant hero. He encouraged the idea that he was a role model, wrapped it in a bow and sold it to us. He was a very purposeful fraud, and that’s what bugs me the most. Yes, he’s done good thanks to his cancer charity, but that’s a separate issue from holding yourself out as someone you’re not and hurting many people in the process.

“I believed I had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn’t a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough.” Lance Armstrong, It’s Not About The Bike

Ummm …

I believe in forgiveness. In fact, I’ve said before that I think forgiveness is the key to long and healthy relationships, and that’s something I teach my children. That is not, however, what I think this story is about. It’s about how you handle yourself after you’ve done something wrong. It’s about not making the first lie much worse by adding a second, and a third and a forty-fifth.

In our home, we’re using Lance as an example to reinforce what we’ve always told our children: the best approach after making a mistake is telling the truth about it as soon as possible. When you’re wrong, promptly admit it. Lance didn’t promptly admit anything and now he’s paying what I’m sure is a painful price for that. Don’t they always say it’s not the mistake but the cover up that does people in?

Lance Armstrong cheated, and then lied and sued and libeled to cover up his cheating. He wasn’t the only cheater; the fact is that many cyclists were doping, not just him and not just the American team, but a whole host of them from around the world. He alone did not ruin the sport of cycling, but he could have done something to save it.

He stood by and watched, and some say even supported and possibly led, the practice of doping. He could have stepped into his greatness by saying something. He could have said, “This is what is going on in a sport that I love, I’m sorry to say I’ve been part of it, we need to change it, and I’m going to lead the way.” Leaders step up. He didn’t. Instead, he was willing to ruin reputations to keep up his charade.

When you’re wrong, promptly admit it. There’s no better way to handle yourself, and it saves you from a whole lot of heartache. Coming clean takes heart, and guts, and leadership, and says a lot about who you are as a person. Just ask Lance:

“… losing can be valuable. How you behave in those moments can perhaps be more self-defining than winning could ever be. Sometimes losing shows you for who you really are.” Lance Armstrong, Every Second Counts

If only he had listened to himself. If only he had lived just a little bit stronger.

Photo credit: SportsGrid

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