Lance Armstrong is one of the most polarizing figures in sports. He made cycling more popular and interesting than it had ever been before. He won the Tour de France a record setting seven consecutive times. He battled and overcame stage-three cancer that had spread to his abdomen, lungs, and brain. He also founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation, LiveStrong, which has raised almost half a billion dollars to support people with cancer and also provides great information on health and exercise. Lance became a worldwide figure of inspiration, determination, success, and an all-around “good guy,” until now. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in all of his Tour de France victories and almost his entire professional career.
One of the most disturbing parts of the interview with Oprah was when Lance admitted that, while doping, he didn’t feel wrong, or bad, and didn’t even consider it cheating. In an attempt to convince himself, he said, “I went and looked up the definition of cheat. And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field” (Fox News). The reason he viewed it this way is because using performance-enhancing drugs is an astonishingly common part of professional cycling. Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to cycling doping cases with hundreds of instances dating all the back to 1886 (Wikipedia).
For this reason, many have defended Lance’s actions. They claim his actions were acceptable since so many cyclists are doing the same thing and gaining the same advantage. They make the argument that no cyclists could win in today’s competitions without using the same drugs as everyone else. In other words, it isn’t really cheating if everyone is doing it. Are they right? Does Lance’s definition of “cheat” validate his actions?
Let’s look at the definitions of the word “cheat” and compare them to Lance Armstrong’s situation (Merriam-Webster):
- “To deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud.” Lance took seven valuable Tour de France titles, not to mention other victories, and millions of dollars in prize money through deceit and fraud.
- “To influence or lead by deceit, trick, or artifice.” Lance lead, deceived, and tricked people into believing he was drug-free when he wasn’t.
- “To practice fraud or trickery.” Not only did he use the drugs, but he also lied and misled people about it for years afterwards.
- “To violate rules dishonestly.” Using the performance-enhancing drugs Armstrong did is against cycling rules and regulations.
It is clear Lance Armstrong cheated. The fact that many other cyclists were doing the same thing does not justify his actions or make it anything other than cheating. It just means many others were cheating as well. Armstrong stated in the interview with Oprah that his intentions were “to win at all costs.” This is not the attitude of a person who is just trying to level the playing field. Thankfully, Lance has now admitted his actions were wrong, but the damage is already done.
Lance cheated, but is cheating wrong? What does Scripture say about all of this?
- God wants us to be “[people] of truth, and those who hate dishonest gain” (Exodus 18:21; 1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:7). Cheating is certainly a means of dishonest and sordid gain.
- God condemns people who lie, trick, and deceive (Proverbs 6:16-19; Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:25; Proverbs 12:22; 2 Timothy 3:13). Cheating practices all of these.
- God rebukes those who steal (Ephesians 4:28; Matthew 19:18). Stealing is not limited to physical objects; we can also steal advantages, answers, and ideas. This is simply another way to cheat others.
Cheating is cheating. Wrong is wrong. It doesn’t matter if it is on a test, a term paper, a report, a High School football game, or even the Tour de France; cheating is wrong. Our culture models a “win at all costs” attitude, but God calls for us to be fair and honest. The next time an opportunity comes around where we could cheat, let’s choose to do what is true, honest, fair, and right instead.