(De)Tour de Lance


(I wrote this several years ago and Lance Armstrong has since admitted he ‘cheated’ to win.)

I don’t know if he is innocent of the charges or not, nor am I passing judgment at this point, but our country’s most renowned cyclist is joining a laundry list of “Who’s Who” of athletes, politicians, and businessmen who find themselves accused of cheating in their respective fields to order to get ahead. As is common, denials abound, but in almost all cases, in time truth has a way of coming forth. What is most disturbing to me is that it has become almost acceptable, and for some people admirable , for someone to cheat the system in order to win or advance in life. I was most disappointed this past week to read these words on the front page of the sports section of the USA today. The title of the article, “Some in MLB say cheating tough to resist”. The narrative follows:

“The craving to achieve greatness and financial security in their sport is so powerful, several Major League Baseball executives said Thursday, they have difficulty faulting players for trying to gain an edge with the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs.” (Aug.17, 2012)

What? Let’s make one thing perfectly clear; when someone cheats they are also stealing. How much money did Lance Armstrong make from winning those seven Tour de France races through endorsements? If he hadn’t won someone else would have and made money by so doing. If he is a cheater, he is also a thief! When baseball players use illegal drugs to enhance their performance, they raise the bar required on the other players which has a direct affect on their salaries.  A baseball executive in the above referenced article said, “It happens on Wall street, right?” Well then, I guess that should make it alright because a bunch of cheaters are to be found on Wall Street! I have heard the old excuse of “everybody does it” since I was a child.

Some of you remember being in high school and having tests graded on a “curve”. A curve grading system was often used to take into account the difficulty of the test. Instead of a straight 90 and above being an A, 80 and above B, etc., the grade could slide down if the “average” score was lower than the preset scale. Thus, if the class didn’t do very well on the exam, an A could be awarded to someone with an 86. The “curve” was always used to lower the expectation. I recall on a number of occasions being frustrated because I would see classmates cheat on exams. They would justify their cheating by saying, “everybody does it”, but I knew I wasn’t. I’m sure there were others in the class who were also not cheating. By cheating, they would raise the “curve”, thus affecting my grade. In essence, they were possibly stealing a grade from me or another classmate. They never saw it that way because…well, they were cheaters!

I well remember the story told by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin in the talk entitled, “Life’s Lessons Learned”. He said:

“Another lesson I learned on the football field was at the bottom of a pile of 10 other players. It was the Rocky Mountain Conference championship game, and the play called for me to run the ball up the middle to score the go-ahead touchdown. I took the handoff and plunged into the line. I knew I was close to the goal line, but I didn’t know how close. Although I was pinned at the bottom of the pile, I reached my fingers forward a couple of inches and I could feel it. The goal line was two inches away. At that moment I was tempted to push the ball forward. I could have done it. And when the refs finally pulled the players off the pile, I would have been a hero. No one would have ever known.I had dreamed of this moment from the time I was a boy. And it was right there within my reach. But then I remembered the words of my mother. “Joseph,” she had often said to me, “do what is right, no matter the consequence. Do what is right and things will turn out OK.”I wanted so desperately to score that touchdown. But more than being a hero in the eyes of my friends, I wanted to be a hero in the eyes of my mother. And so I left the ball where it was—two inches from the goal line.I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a defining experience. Had I moved the ball, I could have been a champion for a moment, but the reward of temporary glory would have carried with it too steep and too lasting a price. It would have engraved upon my conscience a scar that would have stayed with me the remainder of my life. I knew I must do what is right.” (April 2007, GC.)

How inspiring! Would that our professionals would behave in such a manner! Cheating is wrong! Accepting cheating is wrong! A rationalization of cheating is wrong! Sometimes people get accused of things that they are innocent of but in this day and age it is fashionable to deny any wrong doing in hopes that on a “technicality” one will escape justice and many times that seems to be the case. But escaping justice and being innocent are two different things. One of the basic tenants of Christianity is “Thou shalt not steal”. (Exodus 20:15) and cheating really is just another name for stealing.

In this life there are myriad of opportunities and ways to cheat. There seems to be an entire industry that has developed and devotes itself in teaching people how to cheat and also how to get away with the consequences if you are caught. However, even so, bye and bye it seems that those who cheat often end up being exposed for what they are. May all of us take care in how we live our lives. Let us not rationalize away the principles of honesty and hard work lest we end up taking a “detour” like Lance.

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