I was surprised recently when the clerk at the local Radio Shack asked me to donate a dollar to Lance Armstrong’s charity, Livestrong, at the end of my purchase.
Apparently the charity has not reached the same level of scorn as its founder. Armstrong has lost all of his millions in endorsements and confessed to having used performance-enhancing drugs in a conversation with Oprah Winfrey. For years, he has maintained that there was no blood doping or ingestion of banned substances involved in his numerous cycling achievements. Now that the statute of limitations for perjury has run out, the truth has been told.
Winning at any cost and the ends justifying the means are well-ensconced goals in our society. Untrue political ads created for electoral gain are the norm. Accountants and tax lawyers spend their professional lives trying to beat the system for clients who can afford to pay. Marketing experts spend their professional lives trying to sell us products we do not need that do not perform as advertised. Writers plagiarize or, worse yet, make up autobiographical stories to sell their material. We all know of numerous other examples.
Human nature aside, sports competition is supposed to be different. Despite all the money at stake at the top of the pyramid, our sports heroes, no matter what their personal flaws, are to compete on an equal playing field with only their God-given physical attributes. The more cynical among us would say we need this norm to support the betting industry. The more enlightened would argue it is important to maintain this sense of fair play to inspire our youth.
Somehow the Lance Armstrong mea culpa feels like a small victory for the importance of playing fair. Not letting the steroid crowd enter Cooperstown feels like another. Soccer moms across the land have been given some traction when explaining to their children that losing within the rules is more gratifying than winning with a lie.
Now if they could only get rid of that dreaded Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which no doubt has provoked family conversations of a different kind, some of the innocence of playing and following sports could return.
A victory for fair play