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Stryker: Athletes win at the lying game (Oct. 25)

Sam Stryker | Thursday, October 25, 2012

If there is one thing my mom emphasized to me when I was a kid, it was never to lie. She always would say she would find out I was lying, in a half-threatening, half-kidding way.

“I would rather you tell me the truth, that you did something bad,” she would say, “then to find out later you were lying.”

Well, it’s a good thing I stink at sports, because by following my mom’s advice, I would never be able to compete with the top professional athletes who also are frequently professional liars.

It seems to be that if you’re a coach or athlete nowadays, you better be able to lie your pants off. It doesn’t matter what you are not telling the truth about – you just cannot be honest. Tiger Woods and Bobby Petrino lied about their infidelity. Jim Tressel and Pete Carroll lied about recruiting violations. Pete Rose lied about betting on baseball. George O’Leary lied on his resume when he was hired by Notre Dame – and then resigned five days later.

But perhaps the most prevalent lie in all of sports is covering up doping – steroids, HGH, blood transfusions and so on. When Pinocchio lied in the classic Disney cartoon, his nose grew, and the audience knew he was telling a lie. When athletes cheat, they too change physically – yet fans seem to ignore the fact they clearly aren’t clean.

Barry Bonds? Roger Clemens? Sammy Sosa? They lied to fans. They lied to the press. They even lied under oath to the United States government. In the age of the Internet, of Twitter, of cell phone cameras and fact-checking, you would think athletes would know they will be caught and punished. It may not be punishment in the physical sense, but in terms of legacy, some things can never be recovered. Tiger Woods may be able to keep his millions and his trophies, but his status in the sports world will never be the same.

The most tragic liar is none other than (former) seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Unlike Woods, Armstrong’s trophy room took a hit when the truth came forward. The cyclist has been stripped of his titles, and on Monday, the International Cycling Union announced it would not appeal the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s verdict to bar Armstrong from life from Olympic sports for blood-doping.

The punishment didn’t end there. Armstrong was found instrumental in organizing doping for his Tour cycling squads – a team bully, if you will. Nike and other sponsors ended their affiliation with the cyclist, and Armstrong resigned from his seat as chairman at his Livestrong charity foundation.

But the damage done goes far beyond the titles and sponsorship money Armstrong lost. The cyclist was a beacon of hope, having overcome testicular cancer to become one of the most successful athletes of all time. He inspired countless fans and raised millions of dollars for cancer research. Now, however, that image is tarnished. A hero was lost.

For a while, I wanted to believe Armstrong – while cycling has a long history of doping, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. After a while, the allegations seemed to resonate more. But still, this was Lance Armstrong. The man overcame cancer to become the best cyclist ever, and besides, didn’t all cyclists cheat?

But now Lance is an outright liar. He has denied allegations of doping countless times, but at this point, the evidence is irrefutable. Lance also has taken us for fools. He hasn’t apologized. He hasn’t owned up to what he did. The closest he has come to admitting any wrongdoing is removing from his Twitter bio that he was a seven-time Tour champion. That isn’t enough.

He may have raised millions for cancer research – but he did so under the guise he was a clean champion who overcame the odds. He was selling a wholesome image, and once again, sports fans fell for it.

Part of the joy of sports is escapism. Going to the ballpark, watching a match on television or playing a game of pickup is about leaving the troubles of real life behind, even if for a few minutes. We shouldn’t have to be cynical about the sports world, but by now, that is the nature of the game. Luckily for fans, there are plenty of admirable athletes and coaches still out there – the Jeters, Messis and Federers. We just have to root that much harder for them to succeed.

And for all you athletes out there, follow my mom’s advice: Don’t lie.

Contact Sam Stryker at sstryke1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer