Tag Archives: Lance Armstrong

Super Bowl, Super Irony and Super Clarity

Super Bowl week, a week of unrelenting media bombardment and hype. Stories of what might happen, what should happen, and commercials.  Blows my mind that as a society we get wound-up over the idea of how well something is going to be pitched to us for our consumption.  Then again, the commercials are sometimes more entertaining than the game.   Super Bowl Sunday has become a part of our national fabric.  And this year is no different, except for a story that broke on Tuesday regarding Performance Enhancing Drugs. Sort of makes me feel like it is cycling season. However, this time names like Alex Rodriguez and Ray Lewis, and a bunch of other “mainstream” athletes are tied to the story.

Here we sit on Friday, and not a word of the story.  It was a story for 24 hours, then it was simply swept away or ignored…48 hours later hardly a peep.  And the response from Ray Lewis to the media in New Orleans, well it sounded a lot like other comments we have heard from other high-profile athletes over the years.  It was all a bit ironic, the face of the sport, on the sports biggest stage, with a world-wide audience, denying, minimizing the story and ultimately turning the spot-light onto the accusers, their motivations and their credibility.  Love irony, just love it.

As we reach the end of the week, irony has brought clarity – the NFL is too big to fail.  Same goes for MLB.  A-Rod and Ray Lewis are marquee players, faces of their sport, and no one cares about what they did or did not do when it comes to PEDs.  It is so clear what is valued and what is not.  Marion Jones cheated and lied; she went to prison.  Lance cheated and is literally and figuratively only beginning to paying the price.  Ray Lewis, A-Rod, Bonds, Clemens, or any of the others in the NFL or MLB…not a dime.  Nothing.  It is another moment of clarity.

Now the real irony is the fact that one of the government’s reasons for going after Lance is because of the US Postal Service sponsorship of the cycling team.  The positive press the US Postal Service received for those years was absolutely massive.  It was a marketing coup and might represent one of the best advertising investments in the history of marketing, yet the government feels they were a victim of fraud.  The US Postal Service has had two other positive moments in its entire history before the cycling team, the Pony Express and “neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow”.  Gotta love irony.

Clearly, like everyone else in the country, I will be watching the Super Bowl Sunday.  Well, after I get back from my bike ride that is…

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Lance…On Leadership…On Oprah?

“Do as I say, not as I do” or “do as I do, not as I say”.  Two of the classic, cynical expressions of leadership philosophy.  Neither are flattering of course, yet both are rooted in one of the fundamental truths of leadership…there is saying and there is doing.  And thanks to a quick 30 second exchange between Lance and Oprah (that whole “one name only” theory), we are reminded of that reality that confronts all leaders…you are always setting an example.  You are always leading.

There was a brief period during last nights interview where the topic of leadership came up, and regardless of what one thinks of the entire Lance/doping/cycling/deceit issue, his statements were a huge reminder and caution to everyone in a leadership role.

“…I was the leader of the team and the leader leads by example. There was never a direct order. That never happened. We were all grown men and made our choices. There were team-mates who didn’t dope.”

“…There was a level of expectation. We expected guys to be fit to be able to compete. I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now. If I do it I’m leading by example so that’s a problem.

“I view one as a verbal directive and that didn’t exist. I take that. The leader of the team, the guy that my team-mates looked up to, I accept that 100%.

What is not important is how believable Lance might be.  What is incredibly important is what he said about leadership.  His example set the tone.  He was very clear in what was expected – the team was 100% committed to ensuing Lance won the Tour de France.  He was also very clear in how that would be done – the team would be the most fit.  How each individual rider achieved that level of fitness – well…who knows the full truth.  And that is the leadership lesson, the message does not have to be spoken to be received.

Leadership is obviously about what you say…the vision you communicate, the positive reinforcement and encouragement, the directing and correcting, and all the other spoken, written and even tweeted parts of the verbal message.  “Just get it done”, “We have to reach our goal”, “I can always count on you to make it happen”, “I don’t want to know”, “We have never failed”.   Maybe some version has been said to you, maybe you have used some version of the phrases in a harmless attempt to motivate, inspire or convey a sense of urgency.  Regardless, there is a message there.

Leadership is also about what you do, the example you set and the environment you create.  There is the praise and reward issue…who is being singled out…for good or bad?  Are you turning a blind eye to what had to be done for the result to be achieved?  Is cutting corners okay when it is busy?  Do the ends justify the means?  Who are you adding to the team (hiring)?  Who is leaving the team, and why?  What is the vibe, the environment, the culture?

Leadership is hard.  Even when done poorly, it is not easy.  The phrase “the burden of leadership” is real.  It is real on a host of levels, but one of the very real burdens is that it is a 24/7/365 role.  What you say, what you do, how you do it, with whom you surround yourself, those you praise, the behaviours you reward; it all matters and it is all evaluated by others.  There is no perfect, all-encompassing, easy answer to how one leads.  However, there is no escaping that every aspect of a leaders behaviour and actions, and their message, spoken or implied, are all constantly being evaluated.

So, for the second night in a row, and the second time in my life, I will be purposely tuning in to watch Oprah.  Well, going to the website and streaming it.  Who would have ever imagined, leadership lessons from Lance and logging onto Oprah.com on a Friday evening.  Strange world sometimes…

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Lance, George and Being Nice

Confession – I have always carried a quiet fear of the “day”.  I knew the moment would come, but had hoped it would not be until I was well into my 50’s.  A point when the physical similarities would be long past, that memories would have faded and rancor would be forgotten.  No such luck.  Those that know me know the issue…I am a Lance Armstrong doppelganger.  It has been funny over the years, photo and autograph requests, tons of glances or stares, pointed out in crowds, approached in awkward conversation, yet from time-to-time cluelessly embracing what I thought was just a random act of kindness until my wife would point out “it is the Lance thing dummy”.  Now I carry the mantel of “hey, you look like that dude that cheated”.

Due to the combination of my doppleganger issue and my own love affair with cycling, I get asked about the whole Lance/doping/cycling thing quite often.  I have even written about it occasionally.  However, what I find most important is the reinforcement of that age-old adage of “just be nice“.

What we have seen over the last few weeks is the complete undoing of the “Lance Armstrong” brand.  It is a reasonably safe assumption to say no brand has collapsed as quickly or completely. The last 10 days: epic.  What is interesting is that he is not alone in what he did.  He is however, the literal face of the issue.  His record of denial, counter accusations, law suits, personal attacks, and just general reputation as, well to put it mildly, a real jerk, has only feed into the collapse.  Lance not only cheated, he was self-righteous about it.

And then there is George Hincapie.  Faithful Lieutenant.  Trusted teammate.  Quiet, resolute, reserved.  A strong, tireless, hard worker, and just all around nice guy.  Respected by peers and fans, teammates and managers; the man who is resoundingly held up as a guy who did it right.  Well, come to find out he, along with almost every other American cyclist who rode with Lance on the US Postal/Discovery Teams, were neck-deep in the doping culture.  Yet, as vilified, hated and pilloried as Lance is, barely a word about George.  Yes, Lance was the leader, but George was right there with him the whole way.  Yet barely a word.

One thing all of this has been is a lesson in relationships, in how one treats others.  How one conducts themselves is part of your personal and professional brand.  Lance had an incredible professional brand, but also a very well known personal brand.  George also had an incredible professional brand as well as a very well liked and respected personal brand.  Each have seen their professional brand clobbered, but the impact on their personal brand has been completely different.

In the end, George is seen as just a flat-out great guy…nice, respectful, genuine and sincere.  That fact has and will enable him to weather the storm.  He will be thought of fondly.  His clothing company will survive and more than likely thrive.  Lance…well his reputation has all but sealed his fate.  He will reside alongside that other poster child of sport shame, Pete Rose.

Just be nice.  It never hurts.

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Lance and Big Mac

What an interesting and telling day.   Nike severs ties with (read that as stops paying) Lance Armstrong; Lance steps down from LiveStrong; National League Championship Series comes to St. Louis for a three game stretch. There in lies the irony: sitting on the Cardinals bench as their hitting coach – Mark McQwire.

I so love irony. It just flat-out makes my day.  With the game on in the background, I could not help but smile again about Big Mac being with the Cardinals, not to mention back in baseball. I remember well a few years ago when he joined the team as the hitting coach (clearly he is good at hitting – look at his career and the teams production since 2010 – impressive numbers both). It was a painful press conference as he admitted to using steroids during his career.  Yet, after a few weeks the story of his return to baseball faded and is now not even noticed.

There are things I will remember well, as in “I was there when” or “you should have seen it” national or world event sort of things.  Moments that live in our collective memory.  And two of them are certainly the 1998 home run race and the 1999-2005 Tours.  Yep, what Mark McQwire and Sammy Sosa did for baseball, Lance did for cycling.  It was an absolute blast to watch it happen.  I was entertained and enjoyed every moment of those events.  It was fun and I would not trade any of it; they were moments in time that were just amazing to experience.

Both guys, by the every definition of the word, cheated.  They lied, were evasive, took advantage of banned substances, and generally did things that were against the rules.  They were also insanely gifted, focused, talented and above all students of their craft.  They practiced and trained.  They literally dedicated themselves to being the best at what they did, and it showed.  Lastly, but above all else, they were athletes and entertainers.

If one expects iron-clad perfection and ethical purity from entertainers, politicians, athletes or pitchmen, then they are living in a fantasy world.  There is no such thing as a perfect person, and certainly not when it comes to public figures.  Those guys were fun to watch do what they do.  I am grateful to them. I paid to watch, and they delivered.

There was a saying we had back in my Navy days:  “choose your rate, choose your fate”.  I often think of that as it applies to life in general, and to careers specifically: “choose your profession, choose your concession”.  Mark McQwire said “I wish I had never played in the steroid era“.  I do not know Lance, but I can see him sharing a similar thought when reflecting on his career…someday.  Maybe.

You see, they both made for themselves, their families, their sponsors, their teams, their peers, their industries and even their foundations, a ton of money.  They were literally responsible for the economic well-being of hundreds, if not thousands of others.  The culture of steroids in baseball and dope in cycling was real, known and ignored.  No one said a word, yet we expect something special from an athlete?

Speeding, office supplies, “helping” with your kids homework, chatting at the water cooler; white lies, victimless crimes, corner-cutting.  It literally happens everywhere, all the time.  There is no perfection.  Humans are naturally imperfect.  Embrace what is real, realize the faults in all, and accept that nothing is as it appears in public.  Family and friends are one thing, but realize no one every really sees behind the curtain, and frankly most never really want to anyway.  Athletes are entertainers, not role models.

Doing what everybody else is doing does not make something right, but when it is all around, especially in your professional world; in the place that generates your income, well it has to be hard to take the absolutely pure high road.  All I do know is that I am enjoying the Cardinals playing in another post season series, that I rode my bike earlier today, and that I will watch cycling again in the spring.  It is all just entertainment.

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Lance Armstrong and the American Way

Tis the season, time for summer fun, family vacations, the Tour de France, and the Olympics – and of course the always topical talk of doping in sports. Gotta love international sport. Where else can one combine lessons in geography, culture and biochemistry! It is interesting, or maybe ironic, but the only athletes to really suffer any professional sanction, criminal convictions or just plain condemnation are those who compete in international sport. Yes, there have been a few NFL and MLB players suspended, but nothing of any significance, and certainly not at the height of their careers. Marion Jones has went to jail, Ben Johnson surrendered his gold, countless cyclist and track athletes have been banned for years, if not life, and keeping with the spirit of the season, Lance is back in the news…again.

What I find ironic in the whole Lance story is that well, to use a phrase, he was just being the classic American.  No, not that every American cheats, far from it.  However, if there is something to the American Spirit, or American Way, it is to win…always.  If there is anything American’s do, it is to take things “to the next level”.  American’s push the boundaries, they strive to gain more, to overcome obstacles.  They leverage their optimism to go above and beyond the accepted norm.  They plan, they analyze, they grind, they take risks and they find a better way.

The country was founded on the idea of more is better.  The British had an interesting system of somewhat representative government and a capitalist economy.  The colonies took those ideas and ran with them.  If a little democracy and freedom was good – more is better – the Revolution was on!  The Japanese implement the Kaizen theories in business and manufacturing, America takes the ideas to the next level with Six Sigma, Lean, Just-In-Time and a host of other quality and efficiency programs.  America goes absolutely hog-wild when it comes to pushing limits; the old “taking it to the next level” thing.  It is just the American way – better, faster, more – win!

And so we comeback to sports and international competition.  Lance, for all that he might or might not have done, is a product of his environment – he is and was a reflection of the American Way – good or bad, he is what he is.  Cycling was a European sport.  Americans came to the game only recently, and when the first group of Americans broke into the sport, they did it as American Pioneers are want to do – they came in loud, rough and hard.  Those guys of Team 7-11 were a wild and tough bunch.  They won a little, and they intimidated a lot.  They were classic Yanks in a Euro show, and it did not go over well with the old guard.  Greg LeMond played by the Euro rules and won, but as a quasi Euro on a European team.  Now who knows exactly how it all went down, but doping in cycling, and sports in general, exploded in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In cycling specifically, was it because of the American threat to the “old guard” – no one will ever know, but the timing fits.  (Note:  There is an entire Cold War component to doping in sports, but why bother going down that path)

So there it is, Lance and the new American team see the field on which they are going to compete – drugs are there.  If they are going to win, which is the only way an American team knows how to complete, then they have to be smarter.  Did this mean they were also doping?  Who knows, but they certainly trained smarter, competed smarter, leveraged technology better and just flat-out raced smarter.  If they did dope, they certainly doped smarter.  Look at the test results – Lance nor any of his teammates were caught when everyone else on other teams were.  If nothing else, it is telling.

The American Way is an interesting thing…it is a winning attitude, it is a risk taking attitude.  It is a willingness to push boundaries, and a willingness to sacrifice to improve one’s situation.  It is certainly not a bad thing – look at the society it has created and the innovations it has spawned.  Yes, everyone can point to problems or short comings, but the overall track record of “The Grand Experiment” is amazing.  And Lance Armstrong is a product of that environment.  He attained amazing results and has done incredible things for himself and others.  Did he push the boundaries – absolutely.  Did he do some things that are at a minimum “on the edge” – almost certainly.  But then again, is not being on the edge just another piece of the American Way?

Not my place, nor frankly my concern, of who is “right or wrong” in this never-ending drama.  All I know is that I was entertained watching a guy race a bike. I still do find it entertaining to watch anyone race a bike frankly.  Lance made for great fun and conversation, plus lead to a story that has inspired a few folks, not to mention a foundation that has left the world a bit better than it was.  Plus yellow bracelets became a fashion trend – that is staggering when you think about it.  But above all, Lance has reminded me that there is something to the American Way – it can and does do so much good, but like all things, balance is key.

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Fall is in the Air…Hypocricy and the NFL

Ah, fall, that glorious time of year when the sun still shines, the leaves are turning and the evenings are nice and cool. Oh, and of course the return of America’s real “national past-time”, the NFL. Oh how I love the hypocrisy of pro football…nothing quite captures the current state of society as the blind eye turned in the name of good old entertainment.

So hat’s off to Roger Goodell and the juggernaut that is the NFL machine. Marketing, exposure, and sheer dollars generated – an amazing business.  However, just love the irony of the last few weeks.  Clearly player safety and integrity of the game remain paramount – they have changed the rules for kickoff’s in the name of preventing injury, agreed to start HGH testing in the new labor agreement, and have issued significant warnings about player concussions.  The high road all the way.  Yet, the Bengals Jerome Simpson has pounds of marijuana delivered to his home, which also happens to be a distribution center complete with several more pounds of pot on premises – yet he is still practicing and playing.  Oh, and of course no HGH testing yet, though it is “close to happening”.

So there you have it, the past-time of a nation, wrapped in hypocrisy and no one cares. It is going to be another fine season for the NFL – revenues will continue to grow and a nation will continue to gather around their televisions, pack the stadiums and sport their favorite jerseys.  Incredible what the public will accept.  All the while, the federal government continues to invest millions in an investigation of Lance Armstrong.  Apparently one can ship pounds of pot via the US Postal Service without repercussions, but have USPS on a cycling jersey – now that is an issue.  Who knew…

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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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