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Timothy R. Clark: An open letter to Lance Armstrong

Published: Sunday, Oct. 21 2012 11:36 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2012, file photo, Lance Armstrong considers a question from a reporter after his second-place finish in the Power of Four mountain bicycle race at the base of Aspen Mountain in Aspen, Colo. The United States Anti-Doping Agency is set to send a report detailing its “reasoned decision” to order the results from 14 years of Armstrong’s career erased, including his seven Tour de France titles, and ban him from cycling for life because of the doping case against him to the International Cycling Union, the sport’s governing body.

David Zalubowski, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Dear Mr. Armstrong,

I remember watching you ride the mountain stages of the Tour de France. You powered up the Pyrenees like a mountain goat. No one could touch you. It was amazing.

We used to come up with theories. The lore said your trainer had perfected advanced training techniques that no one else knew. They said you had an extraordinary capacity to oxygenate blood. We didn’t know the answer, but we were proud of you. You won the Tour de France seven times — more than anyone else — and we were always proud of you because we assumed that you were an elite athlete, blessed with unusual endowments, combined with unmatched discipline and a seldom-seen will to win.

Then you got cancer, beat it and became the great survivor and the great advocate. We were even more proud of you. You started your foundation to help others with cancer, and truly that foundation has done much good in the world. That will always be true. We are very grateful for that.

We have always admired you, but now that admiration has turned to disappointment, and in time that disappointment could turn to pity. As a role model, you are in a free fall.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has filed a massive report against you, pronouncing you guilty of doping. It includes sworn testimony from 26 witnesses, 11 of whom were your own teammates. Your Tour de France victories have been vacated. Your sponsors are now starting to flee.

Was it worth it?

It may be too early to ask you this question because you are still firmly planted in a state of denial. You are still recriminating with charges of unfair process.

Human beings tend to employ three primary patterns of deflection: 1. Denial, 2. Blame and 3. Excuse. You are using patterns one and two. You’re not making excuses because that would imply an admission of guilt. And also because there are no excuses in this case.

You are not ready to give a truthful answer to the world. I’m not sure how long you will choose to live in your imaginary world, but you will find that it will become increasingly painful to stay there.

I still like you. Many of us do. That’s what makes this so painful. I can also tell you that the journey ahead will be a hard one. When you chose a path, you also choose the consequences of that path. Sometimes you can delay the consequences, but not forever. Your consequences have finally arrived and we are all sad about it.

I want to give you a little advice so that things will start to get better sooner rather than later. There was a day in your life when you started to make the wrong decisions. It became a pattern. Your choices seared your conscious. I’m not sure what a victory in the Tour de France meant to you, but I’m confident that you justified your actions with exquisitely good reasons such as “everyone is doing it.” For the past few centuries, that has been the most popular reason to do things that are not right.

As the days pass, you are becoming a venal cartoon character. I don’t say that to hurt your feelings, but it’s true. You are playing out the denial phase of your transgressions in grand style in front of millions of people. I don’t recommend that.

You are a role model and you are modeling what not to do.

Your accomplishments as an athlete are not worthy because they were not founded on integrity. You sacrificed principle for personal gain. And you had your days and years to enjoy the transitory pleasures of those gains.

Now you barricade yourself into a cell of self-deception that you have built with your own hands. Your legacy is turning into a landfill.

It’s never worth it. There are no real shortcuts in life. You can’t break principles. You can only break yourself against them.

Put it on the table and you will have done good in the world, and you will be able to move forward.

Timothy R. Clark is the founder of TRClark LLC, a management consulting and leadership development organization. His newest book, "The Employee Engagement Mindset," has just been released from McGraw-Hill. Email: trclark@trclark.net

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