Guelph Mercury: Your cheating heart will tell on you

Lance and Oprah

(Originally published Feb 20, 2013)

Don’t tell a lie, our parents told us. Even so, most of us tell a few every day, but they’re usually whites lies. Some are even meant to be nice: “You look great in that dress.”

The majority of people learned early not to tell whoppers because the truth is nearly always discovered and we end up in way more trouble than if we tell the truth in the first place.

Elite athletes caught using performance-enhancing drugs usually ignore this lesson. First, they choose to cheat, and then they deny it (a.k.a. lie like a rug).

The athlete-performance-enhancing drugs credo goes something like this: When you answer the phone with a reporter on the end, deny; when the mike is turned on at the news conference, deny; when the books come out, deny; when you take the oath in front of the congressional committee, deny.

But when the mountain of evidence crashes down and “deny” is a worthless word and you have no cards left to play and the cacophony of crisis is so loud you can’t think straight, you must step over the line into truth and, finally, say, “Yes, I did it.”

Despite decades of efforts to rid sports of cheating athletes, the parade of deniers has continued to grow with Lance Armstrong admitting like a schoolboy to principal Oprah that he lied and bullied his critics; golfer Vijay Singh recently admitted he used deer antler spray, even though it contains a banned substance; and Yankees third-baseman Alex Rodriguez is again in the eye of the drugs hurricane.

When pressed why, the cheaters usually cry “everyone else is doing it.” And who wants to be left behind, especially when taking the forbidden cookie makes you rich, famous and a celebrity athlete who graces the cover of Sports Illustrated and the couch on David Letterman. The dream lived large.

In his come-to-Jesus moment with Oprah, Armstrong laid it out: “This story was so perfect for so long. … You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times. You have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean, it’s just this mythic perfect story, and it wasn’t true.”

The spoils of victory and allusions to being a cancer-survivor role model — all of that aside — Armstrong and his guilty compatriots were faced at one point with a choice: Cheat or not? Yes or no.

Retired pitching ace Jack Morris recently said this about athletes and performance-enhancing drugs to The Globe and Mail: “You have a choice and some guys convinced themselves they needed it.”

Due to mental illness, trauma or other troubling circumstances, it can be difficult for people to make choices with clarity and perspective. But for most of us, making choices is fairly unclouded if we dig down to our core.

Instinctually, I know the right answer to most every choice I face. Without thinking, I can feel it. But then I start to think, rationalize and build a case until I convince myself it’s OK to go against my instinct. It’s OK to drive fast because I’m late, it’s OK to pay cash so I don’t have to pay tax.

We can rationalize our way through anything. I was telling a friend that I felt like a junkie the first time that I downloaded music from iTunes; that I spent about $85 in one sitting and I still wanted more.

He said that he downloads from a free sharing site. “I go to their concerts. They get lots of money from me. It works out.”

Perhaps Taylor Swift, for example, won’t miss the money, especially when tickets for her June concert at the Air Canada Centre range from $49 to $1,255, but taking someone’s creation without paying is stealing. At least to me.

And, ultimately, there really isn’t much difference between someone ripping off a music star, or an elite athlete who takes performance-enhancing drugs to rip off his competition.

Sure, the scale is not proportionate, but if we make decisions that go against what we fundamentally know and feel is right, then we are out of integrity with ourselves and, ultimately, with everyone around us.

Tim O’Connor is a writer and communications professional who lives in Rockwood. He can be reached

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!