It wasn’t just that he cheated. Or even that he lied. It was the way he lied: the moral indignation, the self-righteousness, the emphatic sincerity. He held himself out as a hero, THE hero.
Sure, we were skeptical: his competitors, his teammates, his trainers, even his own doctors were going down in doping scandals. And he wins the big race, clean? SEVEN TIMES? But we didn’t want to go there, we didn’t want to cave to cynicism. The word “awe” connotes both admiration and fear; this his just how millions of us gazed at Armstrong. We thought, “This guy appears to be a medical miracle and the patron saint of sport. I hope he’s all that. But if he’s not, he’s one of the most pathological liars the public has ever seen.”
And readers of this blog have heard the same tone, engaged in the same inner debate, elsewhere. We’ve sat through the anti-bribery seminars and heard the corporate spokespersons gush about their company’s compliance. Many seem sincere, realistic, and yet encouraging. And I’ll still believe that most of those folks are honest. But then there are the others. They speak in such soaring language. So self-consciously inspirational, so heroic. And we wonder. “This guy is trying so hard. Whom does he want to persuade? Us? The shareholders? The regulators? Himself?”
So I’d like to make a proposal. Let’s encourage, but let’s keep it real. The world is complicated, the pressures are many. If you’ve learned some helpful lessons, we’d love to hear about it. But let’s spare each other the over-the-top moralism, the “we’ve figured it out even when you haven’t” tone. Because we, too, grew up admiring Lance Armstrong. And we just don’t believe the Lance Armstrongs anymore.
Andy Spalding is senior editor of the FCPA Blog.