Those of us who were quite angry about the 2008 financial meltdown would not accept a response from any banker that said, “I had a ruthless win at all cost” mentality, or “I didn’t have access to anything that anybody else didn’t.” Those answers would have been unacceptable to us because they would serve to magnify the recklessness of the bankers, and we would see it as a lame excuse. Likewise, we should not accept those excuses from Lance Armstrong.
While the scale and magnitude of the Wall Street meltdown is very different from a single rider – even one with tremendous influence, money and power – there are some striking similarities. In both cases there are teachable moments for all of us; if we are to clean up unethical and illegal behavior in sport, business and daily lives, it is imperative that we heed these 5 lessons
- No one is above the law; while winning is okay, and should be celebrated, we should ensure that boundaries are in place to prevent irresponsible behavior. As we saw in the London whale fiasco and the Tour De France, individuals and businesses, if left unchecked will rarely properly self-regulate. Responsible, efficient oversight by external agencies is an absolute must. For us as individuals it means having friends in our circle who will tell us the truth about the mess in our lives.
- “Pride goes before a fall.” It may be biblical, but it is very applicable. Probably what is still lacking from both the Wall Street meltdown and the Lance Armstrong debacle is any real act of contrition. Most people when they are wrong, when they have abused the trust of others, when they have cheated others out of life earnings, winnings, glory, etc, will apologize and show some level of remorse and humility. The near absence in both cases is very telling.
- “Everybody is doing it” does not make it okay. One of the most telling pieces of the interview was Armstrong’s statement that his behavior did not feel like cheating because (paraphrasing him) taking drugs felt like leveling the playing field. I made this point in an earlier article and want to reiterate; even if everyone was doing it, which I do not think was the case, it does not make it okay. It was illegal under the rules of his sport, and he knew it. The same goes for Wall Street. Reckless, unethical and fraudulent behavior should not be condoned under the guise of “everyone was doing it.”
- A cheater never wins. Sure, Armstrong won on the day and for seven straight years, but in the end he lost. He lost the trust of millions; he lost his sponsorships; and he had to step down as head of his foundation to save it. He lost his medals from cycling events, including the Olympics. Probably most telling, he lost his self-respect and in the process he almost lost himself. Same for many of the Wall Street bankers; even though there were no major prosecutions or imprisonments, many are no longer respected, trusted or viewed as worthy gatekeepers of our financial system.
- Integrity and character still count for something. Even as our postmodern world gets more relativistic, we sometimes still get a massive outcry for truth. It matters in business, in sports and in all other parts of life. Integrity and character convey trust and it is the reason corporations banked on him, fans adored him, and many donated millions to a foundation with his name. Once the mask was removed, and the “deeply flawed man” revealed, no one wanted “guilt by association” or the ruining of their brand, so they started to flee.
Many of us will feel that Lance did not come “fully clean,” even as he found it necessary to clear up the “fat” comment. And for others they will trust athletes even less, and become more cynical about sport. There will also be hand wringing about the pedestals we create for athletes, who we chose for role models for our kids, and why as a nation we are so inebriated with celebrities. Armstrong has seemingly started the catharsis, healing and rebuilding that his life needs, after such a spectacular fall. In the end, like Humpty Dumpty, history will record whether “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” were able to put Armstrong back together again.