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.

An Ethics Lesson From the All-Star Game

It really is one of the most enduring sports deja vus—every year, sportswriters and fans engage in thousands upon thousands of words of complaint regarding baseball’s annual All-Star Game, the 2011 edition of which will occur tomorrow night in Phoenix. This year was no exception, and as is always the case, no consensus or conclusions were reached, except that everyone agrees that the game is mishandled, mismanaged, unfair and illogical in every possible way.

I have been thinking of the game’s plight as an ethics case study that proves a core truth: you can’t do the right thing if you don’t know your objectives, stakeholders, and how to prioritize them. In the All-Star Game as it has evolved, there are competing interests and stakeholders with no clear agreement regarding which takes priority over the other. It is literally impossible to do be fair: somebody always will be disadvantaged, and because there is no single objective either, utilitarian balancing doesn’t work.

It was not always this way. When the All-Star game was first conceived in 1935, it was intended to raise money for the players’ pension fund, the players then being generally paid little more than grocery clerks.  Since the game had to draw as much of a paying crowd as possible to make money, the rosters and starting line-ups were constructed to include the biggest stars and most popular players. It didn’t matter whether Babe Ruth was off to a great start or not: it wouldn’t be an All-Star Game without him in the starting line-up, so he was the right-fielder. Managers picked the team that they thought would both be the “starriest” and that would give them the best chance to win the game. Continue reading

Ethics Night on “American Idol,” As An Ethics Hero Is Born

Ethics Hero, Scotty McCreery

“American Idol’s” group portion of its winnowing process always is the most fascinating chapter of its yearly saga, as the singing competition briefly shifts into full reality show mode. I’ve never been convinced that it was a fair method to judge aspiring singers who were competing as solo acts, as it frequently results in superior vocalists being dumped because they couldn’t sing harmony, learn choreography and lyrics under pressure, or play well with others. I know you have to get that mass of ambition and ego reduced to 24 people somehow, but group day is the equivalent of throwing darts at a dartboard.

It makes for great ethics scenarios, though. The format guarantees it, as the contestants have to form groups of four or five in a cruel process reminiscent of choosing sides for pick-up baseball games, guaranteeing that some people will end up feeling like the fat kid who always gets chosen last, if at all.

Last night there were several featured ethics dramas, with the judges, as they have been all season, being less than consistent in their responses to them. Continue reading