Level playing field (phrase) 1. a situation in which none of the competing parties has an advantage at the outset of a competitive activity --World English Dictionary
Say it ain’t so Lance.
If the rumors are true, this week cyclist, cancer survivor and American hero Lance Armstrong will publically admit for the first time that he used performance enhancing drugs in competition. He’ll confess that he cheated. He skewed the playing field to his advantage. He played his game with a stacked deck of cards. He lied about the true state of his body. He lied when he denied charges of doping even after eleven of his teammates outed him as a drug user. He lied about a public persona which helped create Live Strong, one of the most successful cancer charities ever.
So now the myth of this once truly inspiring man and role model will crack and crumble and maybe even fade away and that’s just really sad.
All Armstrong had to do was play the game on a level playing field. Play straight and true and honestly. Play with no hidden or false advantage on the course. Follow the moral and ethical admonitions all of us receive from parents, coaches, teachers and clergy as we grow up and play the game of life.
Don’t cheat. Tell the truth. Play fair. Live authentically. Try your best against an opponent. Use all your God given gifts, but then let the game and nothing else determine who wins and who loses. For then, whether defeated or victorious, you know that you competed with integrity and honor. You know that you did your best and played with sportsmanship and character.
Armstrong’s fall from grace is a tragedy because his mythical biography was and is so amazing. Here is a man who beat testicular cancer, even after that disease spread to his brain and lungs. A super athlete who seven times in a row won the most difficult sporting event in the world, the Tour de France, a 23 day, 2,200 mile bike race. He was an American prince who fell in love with and was engaged to an American pop princess, the singer Sheryl Crow. Armstrong was an American hero, founding a foundation to fight cancer, with its ubiquitous yellow wristbands and powerhouse fundraising.
Why do humans cheat, twist and ignore the rules all of us are supposed to play by? And not just on playing fields but also anywhere and everywhere a win or a loss is at stake? In corporate board rooms and halls of government; in marriages and relationships; from positions of power: clergypersons who abuse, authors who plagiarize, lawyers who lie. Right down to the kid standing in front of the broken window, bat and ball in hand, but still self-righteously proclaiming: “I didn’t do it!”
We cheat because winning becomes more important to us than doing the right thing. We cheat in the conceit that the rules don’t apply to us. We cheat because our fear of losing overpowers our fear of getting caught. We cheat because we live in a culture which lionizes and worships the winners and often dismisses or even crucifies “the losers”. We cheat thinking it will only be this once but then get so caught up in our lies that we cannot stop. We cheat because no one is looking and it seems so easy.
But of course there is another way. We can live this life and play this life on a level playing field. This is how most humans do live day to day: with honesty. So even as Armstrong tumbles and we are ready to once again become jaded and cynical about the human condition, let’s celebrate the famous and anonymous folks who do play by the rules. And then before we pick up that rock of judgment to hurl at Armstrong, let’s also remember the times, not so public or dramatic, when we have been tempted to cheat in the game of human life.
To be human is to have a bit of the angelic and the demonic within. God’s gift of free will puts us all on the field, but finally it is up to each of us to choose whether or not to compete in truth or falsehood.
Say it is so, Lance. Live strong, live true. Welcome back to the level playing field.