Lance Armstrong – Hero or Terrific Con Artist?
It’s been one hell of a ride for Lance Armstrong of late (pun intended) — after relinquishing his former Tour de France race titles recently in response to the growing number of former teammates who have outed him for doping, he stepped down as Chairman at Livestrong today, and was also dropped by Nike. As I wrote about earlier this week, Armstrong remains in complete denial to the charges against him, even though his actions match much closer to what a guilty man would do rather than someone completely clean of the charges against him.
To quickly recap, Armstrong has been accused of doping by the US Anti-Doping, been outright accused of cheating by 11 of his former teammates, dropped by Nike, and he himself has stepped down from Livestrong in light of the charges against him. While Armstrong continues to maintain his innocence, none of these actions against him support his position, and relinquishing former race titles while stepping down at Livestrong don’t help his case, either.
As I have written about before, the biggest problem for sports fans when faced with a previously perceived “good guy” dealing with really bad charges against him is what we call in psychology “cognitive dissonance.” When we hold two very different and conflicting thoughts, it causes us stress and unrest (on the one hand Armstrong was a great athlete and advocate for cancer survivors, but on the other hand it appears as though his entire persona was created by cheating). Of course, even if he did cheat for all those victories, it doesn’t take away the good work he has done to raise cancer awareness — but it does call into question his credibility, which served as the catalyst to get Livestrong off the ground in the first place.
Lets use another example to make this point — if you stole millions of dollars from a bank and then went off and created a charity to help the poor, would the fact that you are helping people with the money offset how you got the money to begin with? While Armstrong didn’t “steal” in the traditional sense of a bank robbery, he may have stolen money and an iconic sports persona by winning races he wouldnt have without the help of steroids.
If you are a die-hard Lance Armstrong fan, then there’s nothing that could be said that would change your view of him – in fact, even if he held a press conference today and outright admitted to cheating, you would still find some kind of excuse or reason to justify what he did. That’s cognitive dissonance.
While it is true that Armstrong apparently passed most, if not all of his previous drug tests, it’s also widely accepted in the sports science community that beating drug tests really isn’t that tough to do if you have the means (money) to do so. Barry Bonds never failed a drug test that we know of, yet you can simply look at pictures of his head size over the years (not to mention his increase in power late into his career) to know that something wasn’t right.
Setting the drug testing aside for a moment, the rest of the picture simply doesn’t add up – countless former teammates risking their own lives if their words are proven to be slanderous, the US Anti-Doping Agency continuing to press on with their charges, Armstrong’s own relinquishment of his former titles and Chair at Livestrong, and Nike finding enough evidence for them to drop their former poster boy from their payroll. Folks, take ten steps back from the picture and it doesn’t look good for Armstrong.
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Dr. Chris Stankovich is a Professional Athletic Counselor and Sport Performance Scientist and studies the psychosocial variables impacting human performance and success. He is the author of 5 books and has had his work featured in numerous national media outlets, including USA Today and ABC World News. Dr. Stankovich is known as "The Sports Doc" for his regular television feature on Ohio News Network and NBC 4 Columbus (OH). For more information on peak performance products, speaking engagements, training seminars, and free education downloads, please visit http://www.drstankovich.com.