Q: What two things do the following athletes have in common?
A-Rod, Chris Benoit, Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Marion Jones, Ben Johnson, Mark McGuire, Rafael Palmeiro, Andy Pettite… (and I could go on).
A: Yes, they all used steroids and the second thing… they all denied it to the end.
According to teammate Tyler Hamilton, seven-time Tour de France cycling champ Lance Armstrong may soon be added to that list.
“He was using EPO in the Tour de France in the year 2000?” Scott Pelley asks Hamilton in a recent interview on the CBS news show 60 Minutes. (EPO is a banned substance that boosts the production of red blood cells to enhance endurance.)
“He used it before to prepare for the Tour,” Hamilton says.
“And what about the Tour in 2001?” Pelley asks.
“He used it to prepare for the Tour. I can’t say that he used it during the Tour,” Hamilton says.
“You saw Lance Armstrong inject EPO?” Pelley asks.
“Yeah, like we all did, like I did many, many times,” Hamilton adds.
“Hamilton’s claim,” the Associated Press reports, “regarding the Tour de Suisse was previously made by Floyd Landis, another rider who denied doping during his career before later admitting to using banned substances.”
The Washington Post writes, “Both Landis and Hamilton tested positive for drugs and lied about their drug use for years before coming clean.”
It took Olympic runner Marion Jones 7 years to finally come clean about her steroid use.
“I want to apologize to you all for all of this,” Jones said in a tearful public statement. “I am sorry for disappointing you all in so many ways.” Jones admitted that she lied to officials to protect herself and her coach.
While the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming, we need to understand that pressure is a reason not an excuse, ethicist Michael Josephson says.
“There’s something appealing about shifting responsibility for every form of human weakness from the individual to the system,” Josephson says. “Don’t blame the liar; blame the law. Don’t blame the cheater; blame the test.
“Pressures are no more than temptations in disguise. The difference is, while we expect people to overcome temptation, we expect them to succumb to pressure.”
Every time a high-profile athlete lies or cheats, it lowers the ethical bar for others, especially the millions of kids who watch and believe everything they see. Hearing any athlete describe the pressures that led to illegal drug use only reinforces the justification for the kids themselves to do it, as well.
In adults, athletes who come out after years of denial reinforce the cynical notion that says, “See, they all cheat!”
While we all make mistakes, it’s important to recognize that in the final analysis, our reputation suffers if we consistently use excuses like “Everybody does it,” or “I’m not as bad as others.”
The path to living a life of integrity is difficult. “If it were easy,” Josephson says, “everybody would be doing it.”
We need to believe, more than ever, in the necessary ethical strength and courage to work our way through what can be a moral minefield of pressure and temptation.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet,” Helen Keller wrote. “Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
All of us face pressure. It’s part of life. How we deal with it can determine whether we choose to be a person of character or justification.