Danger! Shameless Opportunists At Work!

Lance Armstrong wouldn't understand this movie at all.

Lance Armstrong wouldn’t understand this movie at all.

Less than two weeks after Ethics Alarms wrote about the ethics-free deliberations in the Lance Armstrong camp about whether or not to finally tell the truth and “apologize,” Armstrong prostrated himself in a 90 minute confession to Oprah Winfrey, who has branded herself as America’s confessor, capable of washing away sin and shame with a hug, a tear, and a stern word.

It makes me want to vomit, frankly.

I saw this coming, of course, as did you. One thing we could count on with Lance (and Bill, and Pete, whose odious club Armstrong joins with the Oprah tactic) was that he would do whatever was necessary to benefit him. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in common with a genuine confession and a real apology in Armstrong’s 180 degree reversal with Oprah, or in the necessary preparations for it he engaged in, like apologizing to the cycling community and the Livestrong staff. When Armstrong thought he could continue to fool some of the people all the time by lying, posturing, and viciously attacking—sometimes with lawsuits—those who he knew were telling the truth about his cheating, he continued to lie. Now that the jig is up and he has no other options, he’s going to come clean and weep softly with the Big O. Sociopaths are usually very good actors. Some of them have won Academy Awards. Continue reading

Lance Armstrong and the Sociopath’s Dilemma: When Honesty Is No Longer Ethical

Welcome to the club, Lance.

Welcome to the club, Lance.


In 2004, 15 years after he had been banned from baseball after a finding by the Major League Baseball’s Commissioner’s Office that he had violated the games rules against betting on Major League Games, Pete Rose publicly admitted that his denials over that time were all lies. Yes, he had bet on baseball, and he was very, very sorry. Rose’s admission did little to change the verdict in and out of baseball that he was a rogue and a liar. His confession was obviously part of a cynical and calculated strategy to get reinstated in the game, after the strategy of denial and waiting proved ineffective. In addition, Rose needed money, and the confession was part of the hook for his new autobiographical book, which was released at the same time he withdrew his protestations of innocence.

For Pete Rose, honesty was not an ethical value that he respected or returned to in penance after years of straying. It was just another means to an end.


In 1998, President Bill Clinton was in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, denying that he had ever “had sex with that woman.” He called up his old friend, advisor and pollster, Dick Morris, and asked what he should do. Together they decided that Morris ought to take a poll to see what the public’s reaction would be if Clinton retracted his denials and admitted the affair. Morris reported back, after taking such a poll, that while the public would forgive the sexual relationship, anger over the President’s untruthful denials might sink his administration. Clinton decided that honesty would not work to his advantage, and continued to lie.

To Bill Clinton and Morris, honesty was just one of several tactical options to solve a political crisis. If had nothing to do with ethics, or doing the right thing.


It is 2013, and the New York Times reports that Lance Armstrong, now stripped of all his cycling titles, banned from athletic competition worldwide and separated from his commercial sponsors and the cancer charity that bears his name,

“has told associates and antidoping officials that he is considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his cycling career, according to several people with direct knowledge of the situation. He would do this, the people said, because he wants to persuade antidoping officials to restore his eligibility so he can resume his athletic career.”

Armstrong, it is clear, is traveling in the well-worn and slimy footsteps of Rose and Clinton, fellow sociopaths to whom conscience, shame, contrition and remorse are alien concepts and for whom atonement and redemption are just games to win, with honesty being an indispensable, if unpleasant, tactic. When one is considering whether or not to be honest and admit what one has long denied based on cold calculations of personal costs and benefits, truth-telling is no longer a matter of ethics, or doing the right thing regardless of consequences. It is merely another weapon, along with lies, manipulation, deceit and posturing, in the arsenal of one of the lifetime predators whose sole goal in life is to prevail and profit over the rest of the trusting suckers who share the Earth with them, and who will do anything, even to the extent of briefly embracing ethical principles, to get what they want.

Should he decide to finally admit what everyone knows and he has long denied, even to the extent of suing those who declared his guilty, Lance Armstrong should be seen as no more ethical or noble than the criminal who pleads guilty in court on the advice of his lawyer, because the evidence is overwhelming, conviction is certain, and confession is the only route to a lighter sentence.

Individuals like Pete Rose, Bill Clinton and Lance Armstrong defile ethical values by their brief embrace of them.

Unethical Quote of the Week: W.G. Hamm

“What I know about Lance Armstrong is that he inspired thousands of cancer victims and made their lives better. What I know about Mr. Armstrong is that when my wife and my son were both suffering from cancer, his story and his book helped them cope with their diseases. What I know about Mr. Armstrong is that the good that he did far outweighs the fact that he was trapped in a culture of drug use within the cycling fraternity. What I know about Mr. Armstrong is that he has been needlessly demonized by people who do not realize the balance between his good deeds and his bad deeds.”

—-W. G. Hamm, in his Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post. Hamm was praising a fatuous, rationalization-riddled  column by Post sportswriter Sally Jenkins in which she catalogued and endorsed every excuse and justification trotted out by Armstrong’s enablers and defenders.

would have loved Vlad.

W. G. would have loved Vlad.

I don’t know W.G. Hamm. I’m sure he’s the salt of the earth, and a part of me is queasy about picking on his letter praising Jenkins’ ridiculous column rather than tackling the truly ethically offensive and brain-dead column itself. One reason is that I have written extensively, frequently and recently about the arguments, if you can call them that, made by Jenkins. Her column really is spectacularly bad; here’s one passage that send me to the bathroom, for example:

“Maybe I’m not angry at Lance because for two decades now I’ve had serious questions about the wisdom and fairness of the “anti-doping” effort, which consists of criminalizing and demonizing athletes for what boils down to using medications without a prescription.”

No, it boils down to using medications without a prescription and using them to cheat in athletic contests for money and fame, while defrauding the public, you silly, dishonest woman. Continue reading

Lance Armstrong As The Status Quo: An Unethical Essay From An Ethics Expert

Don’t worry, Lance. Braden Allenby understands you. You were just ahead of your time, that’s all.

There are many things to learn from Prof. Braden Allenby’s Washington Post essay, “Lance Armstrong’s fall: A case for allowing performance enhancement,” none of which have anything to do with Lance Armstrong. Among the lessons:

  • “Everybody does it “really is the most seductive and sinister rationalization for unethical conduct.
  • Someone really shouldn’t write about sports ethics when they know nothing about sports.
  • If you only understand an author’s bias after reading the short biographical sketch at the end of the article, then he wasn’t responsibly correcting for his bias in his article.
  • When someone uses the worst of all rationalizations, the deplorable, “It’s not the worst thing,” neither their judgment nor their argument can be trusted.
  • Some ethics experts have appalling judgment in regarding ethics.

Allenby’s essay takes the position that all sports should allow athletes to take whatever performance enhancing drugs that become available, beginning with the tragedy of Lance Armstrong’s final disgrace as a cheater and corrupter of his sport. Seldom do you see an argument clothesline itself so quickly: here is Allenby’s opening sally:

“In the past month, cyclist Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. His commercial sponsors, including Nike, have fled. He has resigned as chairman of Livestrong, the anti-cancer charity he founded. Why? Because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the International Cycling Union say he artificially enhanced his performance in ways not approved by his sport and helped others on his team do the same. This may seem like justice, but that’s an illusion. Whether Armstrong cheated is not the core consideration. Rather, his case shows that enhancement is here to stay. If everyone’s enhancing, it’s a reality that we should embrace.” Continue reading

Forget Balancing: Lance Armstrong Is a Villain

A constant conundrum faced by every culture is how it should categorize significant individuals whose positive contributions to society and civilization are marred by other acts that range from the unethical to the despicable. How much bad can a great man do and still be called “great”? How much wrong can a good woman engage in and still fairly be remembered as “good”? Can one wonderful act erase a lifetime of bad conduct? Are some bad acts so terrible that nothing can compensate for them? Every real human being is going to yield to some temptations, make some bad choices, be selfish, be cruel, lie, or worse. If we insist that all our heroes have an unblemished record in every aspect of their lives, we simply forfeit our heroes.

One reaction to this persistent dilemma is that we tend to be reluctant to look under the rock of a heroes accomplishments for fear that we will be disillusioned, or once the rock is lifted, we will attempt to rationalize into invisibility the ugly things we find there, or insist that they don’t matter. Of course they matter. It matters that Thomas Jefferson, who gave this nation its beating heart, didn’t pay his debts, cheated his friends and refused to live up to his own ideals. It matters that Clarence Darrow, who saved over a hundred men from execution, was a terrible father and husband and an unethical lawyer. It matters that Arthur Miller, whose plays dramatized the plight of the aging worker and the dangers of political persecution, rejected his mentally-challenged son, leaving him institutionalized and without contact from his father, though he knew who his father was. Charles Lindbergh, Jackie Kennedy, Diane Fossey, Thomas Edison, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Ted Kennedy, Pete Rose, Lillian Hellman, Walter Cronkite, Hillary Clinton—the list of the great, near-great, lionized and admired who behaved less than admirably or worse in significant ways can circle the globe. In assessing their character, as well as whether their lives deserve to be regarded as positive or negative influences on their society, fellow citizens and civilization, all we can do is apply a complex balancing formula, with factors in their lives weighted according to ethical principles, experience and our own priorities.

The question of how this balance should be applied has been raised in recent weeks in the wake of the final verdict on Lance Armstrong’s cycling career, which was decisively removed from the categories of “alleged misconduct,” “controversies,”and definitely “witch hunts” for all time as mountains of documentation, lab tests, and testimony moved it squarely into the categories of “outrageous cheating’, “criminal activity”, “corruption” and “fraud.” Continue reading

Buzz Bissinger’s Primer on Unethical Reasoning

Sportswriter Buzz Bissinger, already an Ethics Dunce in good standing, has contributed something immensely valuable to the world of ethics: a cover story for Newsweek that can serve as a teaching aid in college ethics classes.

Titled “I Still Believe in Lance Armstrong,” Bissinger lurches from one rationalization to another, contradicting himself repeatedly along the way. This is a professional journalist, writing in his field, for what once was a respected news commentary magazine. Why is so much of the public unable to tell right from wrong? Because they spend a lifetime reading junk like this: Bissinger’s essay could be Exhibit A.

Bissinger begins by talking about the reactions of his son, a cycling enthusiast who worshiped Armstrong, to the recent news that the tarnished athlete would no longer challenge the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s efforts to strip him of his titles:

“Caleb is not blind. He said it was hard not to read the statement and conclude that when Armstrong said, ‘There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say ‘Enough is enough’ ” and that he was finished fighting the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s fanatical attempt to strip him of his victories, what lay below the outrage was an admission that he may well have cheated with performance enhancers in order to win. That bothers my son. It is why he called the stunning announcement a ‘sad day.’ But it is also why he called it a ‘weird day’ emotionally because of the constant effort to make Armstrong into a villain.” Continue reading

The Last of Lance

The Lance Armstrong Fan Club writes to the US Anti-Doping Agency to protest its witch hunt.

Lance Armstrong has announced that he will no longer fight doping allegations, meaning that the Anti-US Doping Agency will effectively ban him from cycling and strip him of his titles. “If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and — once and for all — put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance,” Armstrong said in a statement. “But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair.”

It’s a shrewd move. Now Armstrong fans and admirers who refuse to acknowledge what is overwhelmingly likely bordering on certain—that he is a cheat, a liar and a fraud—can argue that poor Lance is a victim, and never was “proven guilty.” Of course, poor Lance has made millions of dollars and lived the life of a celebrity and hero for more than a decade, and he not going to forfeit any of that, or his freedom, no matter what rational people think of him. Like Barry Bonds, baseball’s most successful steroid cheat, he pulled it off, exploiting his sport, deceiving the public and taking advantage of a “look the other way” culture that corrupted bicycle racing even more thoroughly than steroids corrupted baseball. Continue reading

Armstrong’s Unmasking: Better Late Than Never

Don’t worry, Barry; Lance should be joining you soon.

Well, I guess I  have to hand it to Lance Armstrong, a bit like Ozzie Guillen when he praised Fidel Castro for surviving his dictatorship against all odds. The evidence, circumstantial and otherwise, that Armstrong is a  prohibited drug cheater ( like most successful cyclists) has been mounting for over a decade, and yet he has managed to hold on to much of his prestige and iconic status. Meanwhile, retired baseball slugger Barry Bonds has been reviled, condemned, prosecuted and vilified, by me among many others, for presumed illicit performing enhancing drug use in his sport that is backed by very similar kinds of evidence that  incriminate Armstrong. Yet while Bonds faces the humiliation of being rejected for election to baseball’s Hall of Fame next year when he becomes eligible, despite being the sport’s all-time career home run leader, Armstrong was preparing to race again to cheering throngs  in an upcoming iron man triathlon.

Then came the news, yesterday, that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has brought formal doping charges against him.  No one should underestimate Armstrong’s skill in wiggling off the hook, but this really should settle the issue of whether he is a hero or a manipulative charlatan. He is the latter. Whether he was a good but weak man trapped in a lie, or a sociopathic con man and cheat can be investigated by biographers and sportswriter, and psychologists. The harm that will be done when his false heroism is irrefutably exposed, however, will be the same no matter how Armstrong came about causing it.  His sport will be permanently tarnished beyond recovery. Scores of children and teens will be disillusioned, betrayed into a cynicism about role models and human nature that should only descend later in life. Worst of all,. his example will stand for some as proof that cheating pays. Armstrong, whatever happens to him, will be rich, like Barry Bonds, even if he is disgraced. He will, as my father liked to say, cry all the way to the bank. Continue reading

No Excuses and No Mercy For Lance Armstrong

Sorry, Lance…good guys don’t cheat.

Back when Barry Bonds was still playing baseball, a sportswriter mused about why it was that everyone assumed  Bonds was a performance-enhancing drug cheater despite his protestations to the contrary, while most Americans and sports journalists brushed away similar allegations regarding Lance Armstrong. Both competed in sports with acknowledged steroid abuse problems; indeed, the problem in bicycle racing was presumed to be more pervasive than in baseball. (A few years later, with the banning of multiple Tour winners, the presumption became a certainty.) Both athletes had improbable late career improvements in their performance to reach previously unimaginable dominance in their respective sports. Both had to explain or deflect multiple credible accusations of cheating and circumstantial evidence that suggested that they were doping. Both claimed they had never failed drug tests, and there were good reasons to doubt the denials.

So why was Bonds a villain by consensus and Lance an untouchable hero? The sportswriter explored many theories (Apologies: I cannot locate the article. If someone can, please send it), among them the greater popularity of baseball over cycling, Bond’s startling physical transformation into a behemoth while Armstrong remained cyclist-sinewy,  Armstrong’s inspiring story as a cancer survivor, Armstrong’s philanthropic work,and the fact that Bonds, unlike Armstrong, was black. The biggest difference, however, and to the writer the key one, was that Armstrong acted the role of a hero, while Bonds refused to. Armstrong was friendly and accommodating, while Bonds was angry, intimidating and antagonistic. Armstrong seemed like someone who played by the rules, and who lived his ethical values. Bonds seemed like a rebel, one who wouldn’t hesitate to break the rules for his own benefit. In short, the public wanted Armstrong to be the hero he seemed to be, so they ignored the evidence linking him to performance-enhancing drugs.

After last Sunday, the disparate public perception of Bonds and Armstrong, always illogical, became unsustainable. Continue reading