Last night, cyclist Lance Armstrong confessed to talk show host Oprah Winfrey to years-long allegations of doping. While this didn't come as a surprise to many, it was a turning point in the culture of sports and competition, where winning at all costs is considered necessary for success. Jared Zimmerer has some other ideas — better ones.
Lance Armstrong, professional cyclist and seven-time Tour de France winner, recently sat down with Oprah Winfrey to discuss the allegations of the use of performance enhancing drugs and many other illegal substances during his competitive years. Lance admitted to every one of the allegations of erythropoietin (EPO), steroid use. Lance has been a hero to many so the news of his ultimate fall from grace has been a shot to the heart for his fans. His life seemed to be the dream for most any professional, or recreational, athlete. He has a wife and children who love him, he thwarted an impossibly difficult disease in his battle with testicular cancer, and he made hundreds of millions of dollars doing what he loved. Sports created a pathway for great success for Mr. Armstrong; the problems came about when he started to incorrectly define what success is.
Out of the numerous examples of professional athletes that we have seen accused and proven guilty of illegal behavior, Lance Armstrong’s is particularly interesting. He stood for more than just a great athlete. He was a humanitarian, a philanthropist, an honest poster boy for living a clean life and being blessed for his efforts and struggles. I believe what Lance fell victim to is the philosophical principle that has dominated sports since they were professionalized: the end always justifies the means. Machiavelli’s rule of success takes away any guilt or pull of our conscience. It becomes easy to justify, in our own minds, something that very well could be against the rules once our sole focus is staying on top. When winning is all that matters, the anti-doping agencies, the courts, even the glamour, take a back seat to the end result of holding that trophy and claiming your prize.
When a sport infuses virtue into the competitors, it is verifiably one of the most inspiring aspects of humanity. The capability of viewing hard work, dedication, overcoming adversity, and the use of our bodies in a glorious way create a desire in everyone to become the highest mode of who we are. Lance Armstrong set his standard of success inhumanly high, which can be an honorable modality if the standard includes holiness along with his physical and financial accomplishments. It is evident that when a sport “gets it right,” the contestant leads toward the objective of living out the cardinal virtues. Yet when a sport “gets it wrong,” the moral vices of the participant are accentuated with decadent living and competing...