So the news about Lance Armstrong comes as no surprise. Everyone – those who follow the sport of cycling as well as otherwise uninterested folks who knew of Armstrong’s legacy — knew the truth, even when he believed he was “smart” enough to fool the world. It’s become almost common knowledge that world-class cycling has a reputation as a “dirty sport.” What is surprising is the manner that Armstrong is going about this and the attitude that he has taken – and the apparent lack of contrition that he has shown.
We’ve seen this before from other athletes, of course. In fact, just recently the Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame turned its back on the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clements and Sammy Sosa, eligible this year for the Hall, because of their admitted or suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs. As Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said, “…everyone was guilty. Either you used PEDs, or you did nothing to stop their use. This generation got rich. Seems there was a price to pay.’‘
To get ahead in sports (as in business), you need an edge. All too often, these sports figures have turned to unethical means to get that advantage. Mike Lupica, columnist for The New York Daily News, calls it “an amazing, elaborate athletic Ponzi scheme.” “Armstrong will tell us that he did what he did,” Lupica writes, “because he was a cancer survivor trying to compete at the highest levels of a dirty sport, and then he will tell us that he had to maintain the lie, his own version of the worldwide lie — I’m clean, they’re dirty – to prop up Livestrong [Armstrong’s charitable cancer organization].”
In the world of corporate compliance programs, we see the same kind of contrition, business leaders who take unethical shortcuts for the sake of getting ahead but fail the compliance standards of their organization. Invariably, they get caught. At their own hands, they topple their lives and careers as well as the reputation of their organizations. In the process they bring scrutiny and unwarranted negative press to their industries, all because they sought an undue advantage and lacked forethought into the consequences of their actions.
We often see a similar lack of contrition in the business world. The majority of the time, these “leaders,” once snared, look to place the blame on others. Just as with Armstrong, the accountability isn’t there. And in Armstrong’s case, there was a tremendous, multi-level scheme to continue the cover-up and deception, through countless drug tests, testimony by fellow cyclists and ongoing investigations. As a friend of mine asked, “What’s more disturbing, Armstrong’s ability to lie with such conviction and lack of conscience, or his “confession” that comes only as an attempt to get himself back on the bike?”
Thankfully, we have systems in place – checks and balances – to help us manage our ethical dealings and proper alignment with rules and regulations, which stand to focus a bright light on the positive aspects of compliance, ethical behavior and integrity.
Whether you’re talking about sports or business, lie beget lie, they say. As one of Armstrong’s former competitors, Paul Willerton, says that there is much yet to be uncovered. “There are a lot of people still lying. These guys are still perpetrating the lies and deception that Lance ruled over, and Lance holds the keys. He wants his control back, and he desperately wants to be liked by the American public. And you can’t have it all.”
No, you can’t.