Lance Armstrong and the 11th commandment

Lance Armstrong has been stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he won between 1999 and 2005 and banned from the sport from life following publication of the report by the US Anti-doping Agency that labeled him a “serial” cheat who led “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”. He not only doped, but “expected and required that his teammates would likewise use drugs to support his goals if not their own”.

That report was the start of the decline and fall of Armstrong, once one of the most iconic sports stars in the world. Nike, his major sponsor, cancelled his contract (reportedly worth US$7.5 million annually) and he resigned as chairman of the cancer foundation that he founded 15 years ago.

Armstrong’s story has been told so many times and is well known. A deadly disease strikes a promising athlete who recovered, despite desperately thin odds, and returned to the sport to win its top prize seven times. Armstrong excelled not only in sports, but also in philanthropy through a foundation he created to help others with their cancer struggles.

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As Armstrong’s website put it: “if scripted by Hollywood, the Armstrong story would be dismissed as trite melodrama”. But that was before the damning report. Now, nobody would ever say that his story is “trite”, whether or not scripted by Hollywood. In fact, it  has become a morality tale of such epic proportions that a Shakespeare would be required to do it justice.

What is my interest in Armstrong?

I am interested in Armstrong for two reasons. Firstly, I have met him. Some years ago, I spoke at the Milken Institute Global Conference where Armstrong was apparently a regular speaker. He was then at the height of his fame. We went up in the same elevator and exchanged a few words. Like many others, I found him to be charismatic. After that I read his book, It’s not about the Bike: My journey back to life. I thought that was an inspirational journey of a remarkable man. After that brief encounter, I vaguely followed news about him.

Secondly, Armstrong interests me because he confirms my hypothesis about the 11th commandment. This commandment states that: thou shall not get caught.

My observation is that some people – especially those at the top of the social and economic stratum – behave as if the normal rules don’t apply to them. They think they are above the laws and regulations and that these only apply to lesser mortals. We have read about and watched on TV celebrities, business leaders and politicians who behave in this manner. The only thing they fear is the 11th commandment. Once they get caught, tragedy strikes, their lives unravel and they are no longer masters of the universe.

The case of Armstrong is particularly disturbing. Here is a man of exceptional talent who chose to cheat and lie when he has the capacity to do great and good things. It is sad to watch the anti-doping video he made for Nike (see below) where he disclaimed the use of drugs. That is such a blatant lie from someone who not only doped himself, but also enforced and re-enforced a whole drugs program for his team.

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