The news has just come out: cyclist Lance Armstrong will be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and banned from Olympic sports for life:
“Armstrong announced Thursday night that he would disregard a midnight deadline the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had given him to challenge the results of USADA’s two-year investigation of his legendary cycling teams, a probe that determined Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions.”
Professional cycling has struggled with issues of doping for years, with the techniques becoming ever-more-sophisticated: we’re not talking about just ‘performance-enhancing drugs’ but ‘blood doping’: blood transfusions or the injection of the hormone EPO to increase the production of red blood cells.
What makes the situation more tragic is that professional cycling has an ethos of good sportsmanship: there are ‘rules of the road’ that the cyclists live by, even when it is to their competitive disadvantage. Consider the 2012 Tour de France: on Stage 14, a saboteur scattered tacks on the road, causing a number of tire punctures and crashes. What is notable is that the leader of the race (that is, the rider currently in first place in the overall standings) deliberately slowed down the pace so that all of the riders who had punctures could get back into the race. This was not surprising to anyone who follows pro cycling; the idea is that the winner should win fairly, not by taking advantage of his opponent’s mechanical troubles.
In a different context: an ‘academic ghostwriter’ has revealed his identity. From the article:
In The Shadow Scholar: How I Made a Living Helping College Kids Cheat, which is due out next month from Bloomsbury, Mr. Tomar seeks to cast himself as a millennial antihero while scolding colleges for placing the pursuit of money and status above student learning.
[...]The book also offers an unsettling account of higher education at perhaps its most cynical and mercantile. Some of his clients are rich and entitled, and see outsourcing their papers as a logical extension of the transactional nature of their relationship with their college. Others are simply unprepared for college because they lack the ability or the language skills to communicate adequately in English.
Both of these situations are examples of cheating, and I would say that cheating is a form of lying, of deception.
Doping in athletics means that the athlete is acting out a lie: his or her performance is not a true representation of his or her talent and training. If our values are utilitarian, it becomes difficult to articulate why this is a problem: if winning is good, why not win by any means possible? I am grateful that I was able to do my highest-level fencing as a Christian with a Christian coach, because competition was framed correctly: doing my best (in all ways, including gracious behavior) was the end goal; to win badly (by cheating or with bad behavior) would be failure of the worst kind — far worse than coming in dead last. Yet in order to do one’s best, one has to desire, passionately, to win — and so it is that athletics for the Christian becomes a spiritual discipline, a way of confronting the challenge day by day of being in the world but not of it.
Cheating in academics is also lying: presenting another’s words as one’s own, and presenting oneself as having mastered a set of skills or body of knowledge, when in fact one has not done so. This kind of cheating undermines society: what if I cannot trust that my tax preparer actually understands the tax code? or that my nurse can read and understand the doctor’s directions on my patient chart? It also undermines the individual person, in a similar way that false ‘self-esteem building’ does: how can I live a whole life, and flourish, if I have lied about what I have done, and learned, and can do?
In the educational environment – universities, colleges, schools, and homes – the question becomes: do we present knowledge and accomplishment as means to a utilitarian end, or do we present them as part of the experience of integrating Truth into our lives?