Tag Archives: cycling

Lance Armstrong, Jim Tressel and The Ethics Curve

So it is that time of year…spring has sprung, the sun is shinning, summer is just around the corner, and the Tour of California is rolling along. Oh, and keeping with the traditions of May, another of Lance Armstrong’s former teammates has come out with public accusations of doping. Ah yes, the joys of spring!

It is not a new story – doping in cycling. Certainly the Lance Armstrong story is not new – cancer survivor, 7 time Tour de France Champion, the LiveStrong Foundation, quite literally a source of inspiration to millions who battle cancer daily around the world.  It is the stuff of best-selling books and millions in cancer fund-raising and awareness. At this point it would seem almost everyone has an opinion…he did, he did not, he probably did, it does not matter if he did, or somewhere else on the spectrum.

However, while reading the latest Lance Armstrong allegations this morning, I could not help but think of the ongoing stream of articles and stories concerning Coach Jim Tressel and Ohio State Football.  Jim Tressel, the author of The Winners Manual:  For The Game Of Life – a widely praised book on leadership, faith and ethics – is himself in the eye of a storm of controversy and questions.  Lance is front page news globally;  he is the face of his sport.  Tressel and Ohio State might not be the face of College Football, but they are certainly one of the marquee programs.  While the story of systemic “issues” with Coach Tressel and the Ohio State football program are reported, they are hardly the stuff of mainstream news.

It seems rather ironic as I think about it – the actions of an adult professional athlete are scrutinized and judged in the public court of opinion, not to mention the foundation of multi-million dollar federal, criminal and global investigations.  Yet a coach and supposed teacher of young men, someone who has held himself up as a pillar of faith and ethical purity, is found to be at a minimum operating on the fringes of the rules, certainly suppressing and hiding incriminating information, and generally ducking accountability.  And what possibly could happen to the two individuals if the worst is proven to be true – Armstrong faces millions in fines and prison, and Tressel might be suspended from coaching and hit with a few hundred thousand in fines.

One has to wonder if there is a bit of an ethics curve in play?  The adult individual is more “wrong” for his actions than the teacher and coach of student athletes?  Never knew there was an ethics curve, but it seems in the real world of big money, big business, and big government there is.  I cannot think of a worse thing for a leader to do than put those they are leading into a compromising situation.  Doing that to adult, professional teammates is one thing.  Doing it to young, impressionable and to some degree naive kids – seems to be a whole other level of issue.

Interesting how it all plays out when you follow the money – College Football is worth a lot more in this country than cycling.  Sorry Lance – just the way it is on the ethics curve of our society it seems.

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But Everybody Else Is Doing It

Ah, the ultimate in deflection and justification. The stuff of childhood and apparently an accepted part of adulthood in some circles.  Granted there is an ethical piece to going with that excuse, but to many it seems the question is more “will the excuse hold water”?  Will it buy the shadow of a doubt, the sympathy or the forgiveness one seeks?  Or better yet, does it justify the behavior in question, does it make the wrong decision a bit less wrong?  An ethical roll of the dice maybe?  Like any roll of the dice, the unknown is in the outcome.

I could not help but think of that wonderful excuse of childhood when I read the below quote from Floyd Landis:

“But there was no scenario in my mind where I was ever going to get the chance to race the Tour de France and win clean. There was no good scenario. It was either cheat or get cheated. And I’d rather not be the guy getting cheated.”

Granted the Floyd Landis journey has been “interesting”, but I have to admit, his quote in the recent Paul Kimmage interview is telling on a host of levels.  Truth be told, as much as I have never been a fan of the “everybody else is doing it” line of reasoning, I did feel for the guy when I reflected on the above.  On some very real level he has a point.  However, it is the life lesson in that quote that it would be wise of us all to remember.

How much of what is going on around us is really a case of “cheat or get cheated” thinking? Clearly Floyd Landis gave us the example of cycling, but might there be a bit of that in the “financial crisis”? Bankers, lenders, borrowers, brokers…maybe a touch of “but everybody else is doing it” floating around there in the roaring market just a few years back.  And take a moment Sunday when everyone is gathered around that classic American event, the Super Bowl. Might there be one or two guys on that field who have faced that debate of “cheat or get cheated” when it comes to steroids…maybe.

The challenge we all face, as leaders, as parents, and as people, is to ensure we are never creating situations of “cheat or get cheated”. It is not easy. It is sometimes not easy to recognize when we have created such an environment, and it is certainly not easy to acknowledge it when we have. Especially in those cases where everything seems to be moving along nicely. Let’s face it, when revenues are up, times are good, the kids are getting good grades, the money is flowing, who really wants to ask the hard “why”.

As much as any of us hate that classic excuse of a child, the Super Bowl will be one of the most watched events of the year. Are we sanctioning the behaviour and justification of “well everyone else is doing it” by our watching the game? Who knows, but to some degree I will be watching. Unless of course the weather is decent, in which case I will be out on the bike.

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The Behavior and Feedback Loop

The first week of October is quickly becoming “the week of dope” – and not in a Randy Jackson American Idol sort of way.  First we hear that Alberto Contador, the recent Tour de France winner has tested positive not just for trace amounts of a PED, but also for a plastic residue found in blood bags.  Then, we hear ever so quietly that Steve Gregory of the San Diego Chargers popped positive.  To hear a cyclist popping, even the face of the sport, is not too terribly unexpected – they are tested constantly.  To hear of an NFL player – that was surprising.   Not surprising in that I am naive enough to think there are no PEDs in football.  Rather surprising in that for someone to pop in such a lightly tested sport is almost a miracle.

Again, a huge thank you to the world of sport for providing a reflection of life. This time they help us see ever so clearly how behaviors are reinforced and perpetuated based upon feedback. Call it risk versus reward; positive or negative reinforcement.  There is no question behaviors are encouraged or discouraged based upon the feedback the behavior elicits. And we all know, we cannot mention the world of sport without mentioning Performance Enhancing Drugs.

So what does any of this have to do with behavior?  Consider this – Contador is looking at a 2 year suspension.  Gregory – 4 games.  Seriously, 2 years versus 4 weeks.  Bash the Olympic sports all you wish, but there is no question they are serious about trying to eliminate doping in their sports.  Clearly the NFL does not really care.  The players know it and will act accordingly.  The rewards far outweighs the risk in professional sports – at least in the United States and certainly in the NFL.

It is the ultimate question for leaders, coaches, educators and even parents – how does one influence behavior?  How can you get someone to do, or not do, something?  There are countless answers to that question, but one of them is clearly based on feedback.  What feedback are you providing for certain behaviors?  Are your actions, or inaction, encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors.  Think about sports and the culture of doping – what message do the individual sports send to their players and their fans?  Telling on a host of levels.

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Yes, It Can Hurt Worse

Just ask Roger Clemens – indicted for lying to Congress.  Ouch, now that is some pain.  A few months back we pointed to the world of sports and performance enhancing drugs as an example of why admitting mistakes is a far better course of action than unfounded denial.  Thank you again Floyd Landis for the lesson.  And in the event anyone needed additional reinforcement, Mr. Clemens bubbles up in the news today.

Own It…Even When It Hurts seems to be almost naive at this point; folksy in a way.  It is bad enough when your reputation is in tatters and your legacy is tainted.  However couple that with a federal indictment and you have real pain.  As if anyone needed to have the lesson driven home; there is no way around the truth – admit, apologize and move on.  Alex Rodriquez came clean (relatively) once he was caught.  He is fine and his career continues – all is forgiven.  Roger Clemens painted himself into a corner and kept up the charade – he is in a real mess.  Liars pay in the end.  The form of payment might change, but the pain is always real.

Truth be told I fear for what might be coming in the world of sports and high-profile athletes.  There are some very damming accusations and innuendo being bantered about.  I just hope that if there is a truth to be told, the lesson of Roger Clemens is heeded.  It is obvious the Federal Government has taken an interest.  Unfortunately, it should not take the threat of jail to get to the truth, but that is the world in which we live.  Maybe these high-profile “falls from grace” will help bring back that folksy idea of owning it even when it hurts…maybe.

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Own It…Even When It Hurts

Once again, hats off to the world of sports for providing yet additional support to an age-old adage. Ownership of your decisions and a bit of contrition will go much farther, much faster, than denial. Denial in the face of facts is never a winning strategy – never. It simply delays the inevitable.

The latest example involves Floyd Landis and the world of cycling.  Shocking as it might be to learn of doping in sports, Floyd now acknowledges he was doping…after 4 years of denials.  Of course he denied the test results (both of them) and fought his 2 year ban from the sport and accused everyone and every institution remotely tied to the process as being tainted and aligned against him.   4 years, a book, a legal defense fund, countless interviews pleading his innocence and several million dollars later he admits it.  He looks like a complete fool.  His reputation and legacy totally trashed.

To reinforce the lesson, consider a few quick case studies of other epic sports dopers:

Barry Bonds – Denies It – Publicly hated – the face of the steroid era.

Alex Rodriquez – Owns it – Totally forgotten in a matter of weeks.

Roger Clemens – Denies It – The sordid details keep on seeping out – his reputation and legacy in tatters.

Marion Jones – Denies It – Convicted of Perjury and spent 6 months in prison.

The NFL – Ignore it – Maybe you will be lucky and no one will call you on it…maybe.

Mark McGuire – Ignore it then own it – The stain lingers, but will never disappear.

So what is the lesson?  Simple really, just own it.  Good or bad, easy or hard, clean or dirty, just own what you do, the decisions you make and the path you choose.  No one is expected to be perfect.  If there is anything that sports has shown us it is that people will forgive and forget if you just own the mistake.  Admit it, show contrition, learn from it and move forward.  The human capacity for empathy is almost without limit.  Honesty is a powerful thing – everyone gets it.

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An Even, Steady Strain

The excitement of the crowd – the very large and animated crowd – was infectious.  There were bands, people in costume, casual fans and zealots.  There was even the classic “devil” running along the course, complete with cape and pitch fork.  The riders were quite literally caked in mud, riding over hills, running up stairs, leaping over barricades, jumping over curbs, slipping, sliding and wrecking along a wet, icy and technical course.  They were generally putting themselves and their machines through every sort of physical stress possible with reckless abandon and unbridled passion.  It was a sight to behold, and one full of lessons in leadership, business, life and relationships.  It was the Cyclocross National Championships in Bend Oregon.

It became clear as we watched multiple races throughout the weekend – chains would break and components would fail.  Make no mistake, these bikes and components are built to withstand an incredible amount of pressure and force.  They literally can go for tens of thousands of miles under the most demanding situations and never fail.  However, when the chain and components are placed under excessive AND abrupt strain, there were failures.  Dramatic, entertaining, and glorious failures with riders and bikes strewn about the course.

It is easy to spot the person with a broken chain – they are running along the course with their bike hanging over their shoulder.  Riders zipping past and one person running along looking less than happy.  It seemed to always happen at points where the course became very technical and physically demanding, but was preceded by a section where the rider had been able to relax, for the chain to go slack.  A point where maximum force was harshly applied to the drive train.  If things were not aligned properly and slack not taken out of the chain evenly, the system would quite often fail.

Abrupt, harsh, excessive strain will quite often overload the best system.  Teams, people, software, processes, relationships or the drive train on a cyclocross bike – too much demand applied too quickly is never good.  Sometimes the system can take it, but called on too often to perform in extremis, failure often results.  Steady strain on the chain is clearly a key to success in bike racing.  Those who won the races never had mechanical failures.  They raced the course in an aggressive and focused manner, always mindful of their equipment.  Always aware that a well-maintained and prepared machine can withstand a steady strain, but too harsh of a demand can result in catastrophic failures.

And so it is with teams and processes, leadership and relationships.  Ask for too much too quickly without thinking about the consequences, and even the best system can and will fail.  Allowing the system or team, relationship or process to build up too much slack is never wise.  Maintenance and nurturing, focusing and thinking ahead – it avoids putting yourself and others in extremis.  Cyclocross racing and broken chains – a lesson in the value of an even, steady strain.  Besides, who wants to run several miles with their bike, though the fans clearly appreciate the effort.  Especially the guy in the devil costume.

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Living in the Moment – How I Spent My Saturday

A perfect fall day, great people doing something they love; for the sheer joy of it. No expectations, no timeline, no phones, no emails, no talk of work, no worrying about the kid’s soccer games, the office, house hold chores, the schedule or even time.  None of the myriad of issues we allow to dictate and dominate our lives. There just are not many better ways to be reminded of the timeless lessons in life – live in the moment.  Unload the baggage just for a few hours – you will be better for it.

Joe's-Fall-Dalles-Ride-062

No one spoke of stressful issues.  Nothing about work, what anyone does for a living, politics, religion, kid’s sports, the economy (well a couple typical jokes), or even training or races.  It was all fun banter – chatting about bikes, about trips on bikes, about family and mutual friends.  It was 80 miles of time spent with others enjoying the moment, enjoying the day, enjoying the ride, and sprinting for a few signs and racing up a few climbs.  It was not about a destination, it was about a journey.  So simple really, enjoying the journey and actually appreciating where we are, who we are with, and what we are doing.

So we chose to ride bikes. It is not the bike that made the day, it was the time spent with others doing what you love – doing something you have loved since youth. And for one special fall day we were reminded yet again why youth is wasted on the young. As adults and professionals, parents and spouses, these sorts of opportunities to “live in the moment” do not come along too often – you better be ready to embrace them.

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