Lance Armstrong made the news this week as he stepped away from his LiveStrong Foundation so that fundraising would not be hampered.
Armstrong has claimed that charges of using performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping are malicious characterizations of his reputation as a professional bicyclist. As the world of professional sports is rocked by another allegation of an athlete who put their reputation above telling the truth, we are learning some important lessons from this tale of caution in our American Literature classes.
Lance Armstrong, like so many athletes before him, became so wrapped up in preserving a reputation that the truth was set aside. This is not a new phenomenon in our country, or in our world.
History is replete with examples of people who sacrificed their character and reputation for the short-term accolades of winning.
Winning certainly isn’t confined to the world of sports and winning shows up in many forms throughout the long history of our American story.
Winning in Massachusetts during the Salem With Trials by those who were more concerned with the authority of the court than finding the truth meant allowing the hysteria of accusations to run rampant through Salem resulting in 19 innocent people being hung by their necks for the crime of “witchery.”
Winning during the Red Scare of the 1950’s was also a case of protecting the authority of the Congressional Hearings over finding out who was really involved in plots to take over America by spreading Communism from within our country.
In each case those who were in charge of finding the truth were caught up in being more concerned with their reputation. Lance Armstrong, it appears, was more concerned with his competitive reputation than living by the truth.
Excusing his behavior would be easy to do and some students felt that if so many other athletes were doing the same thing, then it was acceptable — even necessary for Armstrong to do the same thing.
This takes us to the lesson which each student must struggle with: When we break the rules or follow the crowd or take shortcuts and excuse our actions by pointing to the behavior of others, then we have come to a place where reputation trumps truth and we all pay as steep a price as Lance Armstrong.
Living with oneself, as Lance will have to for the rest of his life, might be worse than any jail sentence that any court could hand down.
So, what is more important? Our reputation or the truth?