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What Would You Do For $100 Million Dollars? The Incentives Behind Lance Armstrong 17

Money

Stack of cash photo by 401(K) 2012 

In a recent article, I wrote that I care more about what Lance did with his fame than how he achieved it. I asked whether it is really cheating if everyone was doing it. I claimed that Lance had done more with his fame than most other professional athletes, so he should be judged with this in mind.

But the confessional interview with Oprah has provided me a better glimpse into this man and his intentions. The interview made it clear to me that the offence of doping was almost insignificant compared to everything else that Lance did in subsequent years to cover up his doping.

It is clear to me now that Lance is not the selfless man who was giving back to the cancer community as I had portrayed him. Lance was an extremely selfish man who destroyed the people’s lives who threatened to expose him. His own interests were more important than anything else in the world.

But one thing that is not widely discussed in the media is the financial incentives that drove Lance to lie and to viciously attack his detractors all these years.

When Lance discussed the $75 million dollars in endorsements that abruptly disappeared when the widespread evidence surfaced about his doping, it became clear that money is one of the primary motivations for Lance’s vicious cover up.

A less self-centered man might have told Oprah that all the money he had earned was based on a lie, so losing $75 million in future revenue was well deserved. But Armstrong seemed to believe he deserved his fortunes and he indicated that he would have protected that $75 million dollars to his grave had he not been caught. That says a lot to me.

A Christian evangelist recently posted a film on YouTube in which he asked random people on the street whether they would murder a man if they were paid $10 million dollars and they would never be caught. About half of the respondents told him (on camera) that they would be willing to commit murder for $10 million dollars – if they weren’t going to be caught.

Now just imagine someone offering you $100 million dollars to use performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour, and then lie about it after. Few people would have turned that down.

And it wasn’t just Armstrong who made these selfish financially-driven decisions. He was surrounded by dozens of people – his enablers – who had every reason to put him on a doping regimen and help him conceal it, since they too would financially benefit from Lance winning at all costs.

At home Armstrong was surrounded by people (like his ex-wife) who knew he was doping, but had no reason to encourage him to come clean because the tens of millions of dollars that he would lose would have a direct impact on them.

He was also surrounded by powerful corporations that acted as enablers to help maintain the Lance lie, because exposing him could threaten their brand and they would lose a valuable revenue stream if the truth were to surface.

The ex-cyclists who had admitted to doping and thus implicated Lance did not stand to lose a mountain of cash like Lance. They didn’t have the same financial incentives to lie as Lance did. In fact, some of them were struggling to make ends meet because Lance had sued them, or had ruined their reputation to keep his secret from being surfaced.

Coming clean is much easier to do when you don’t have a $75 million dollar bill on the line, and scores of people who want to see to it that you don’t lose that $75 million, because their lifestyles and careers depend on it.

Our society generates significant financial incentives for athletes to use everything at their disposal to win. We dangle millions of dollars like a carrot on a stick in the face of these athletes, their teams, and the companies that sponsor them. Then we get upset if they grab the carrot using all means at their disposal. We expect athletes to be pure, but we provide few incentives for them to actually be pure.

If Lance had to do it all over again, he would likely have made many of the same decisions. He knew what it was going to take to win the Tour those 7 years in a row, and he would rather be a liar, but have a net worth of $100 million dollars, than an honest man who is struggling to pay the mortgage on a $200,000 home.

Lance wasn’t the first cheater and liar that our society has created, and he surely won’t be the last. As long as those financial incentives are there, it will continue to happen.

I still morally support the Livestrong Foundation and all the great things they are doing to encourage a healthy lifestyle and support cancer patients. I can also appreciate the humanitarian side of Lance.

But I think Lance has a lot of work ahead to become a better person. I can only hope that his children will help him to see that there is more to life than money and power. Hopefully him getting caught will help to humble the man who couldn’t be humbled.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • Al P

    Well said James. I was prepared to give Lance a “free pass” going into the interview. But what struck me was what a conceited, arrogant, self-centered and selfish individual he really was (and is). Money certainly played a big part. I think ego played just as big of a role.

    The Livestrong brand/foundation has certainly taken a huge hit here. That’s really unfortunate given the mandate of the organization. Hopefully the Directors at this foundation will be able to find an inspiring (and legitimate) public face to keep the organization moving forward. That said, it seems like a huge longshot.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Agreed Al, ego played a large part too. I think the ego comes hand-in-hand with the money. The more famous he gets, the more money he makes. The more money he makes, the more people there are constantly feeding his ego.

  • Al P

    Well said James. I was prepared to give Lance a “free pass” going into the interview. But what struck me was what a conceited, arrogant, self-centered and selfish individual he really was (and is). Money certainly played a big part. I think ego played just as big of a role.

    The Livestrong brand/foundation has certainly taken a huge hit here. That’s really unfortunate given the mandate of the organization. Hopefully the Directors at this foundation will be able to find an inspiring (and legitimate) public face to keep the organization moving forward. That said, it seems like a huge longshot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.voyercaravona Karen Voyer-Caravona

    I can’t find much fault with his wife. I have no idea what she knew or when she knew it but many spouses put up all kinds of bad behaviors simply to preserve their marriage or to avoid doing damage to the other parent of their children and someone they used to love. I haven’t been following this story and didn’t watch either interview but she has children with him and whatever the state of the couple’s relationship, most parents who have their children’s best interests in mind try not to trash their ex, even when they deserve it.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      I wasn’t faulting his wife. My point was that there are dozens of people around him in his personal life who were benefiting from his fame and wealth. I was just saying that there would be little incentive for them to urge Lance to come clean.

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.voyercaravona Karen Voyer-Caravona

    I can’t find much fault with his wife. I have no idea what she knew or when she knew it but many spouses put up all kinds of bad behaviors simply to preserve their marriage or to avoid doing damage to the other parent of their children and someone they used to love. I haven’t been following this story and didn’t watch either interview but she has children with him and whatever the state of the couple’s relationship, most parents who have their children’s best interests in mind try not to trash their ex, even when they deserve it.

  • TKeen

    I didn’t see the Oprah interviews but I did see the excellent Fifth Estate program about Armstrong which can be viewed online. Couple of issues with your comments:

    1) Is it cheating when everyone does it? Of course it is. A sport where it’s necessary to drug people up like racehorses in order to make a decent showing is not worth bothering with. If competitive cycling is this corrupt – and it certainly appears to be – then take it out of the Olympics, like they are talking about doing. Sometimes I hear people say of sports “Oh just let them all take the drugs and not punish them – everyone’s doing it anyway”. Well, people have died from taking drugs in sports. If we openly allow that, for our own entertainment, then we’re back in ancient Rome. If it’s true that they’ll dope up because there’s so much money involved, then the reverse should also be true – take the money out, and the athletes and organizers will clean up their act pretty fast.

    2) Contrary to your comments above, near as I can tell, no one is showing up on the athletes’ doorsteps with a suitcase full of $100M and a batch of drugs guaranteeing that they’ll win anything. No one’s said … yet… that the races are fixed. What has happened, though, is that you’d be sure NOT to win if you DIDN’T dope, which is not the same thing. Where’s the guaranteed win if ‘everyone’s doing it’?

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Of course nobody is showing up with a suitcase full of $100 million dollars. But Lance himself said in the Oprah interview that he knew he was going to win the Tour each of the seven times he won it. And both he and his team knew that winning the Tour multiple times would yield significant financial rewards and widespread fame for Lance Armstrong. The issue most people have with Lance isn’t that he decided to dope in the first place. It’s that he decided to vehemently deny it for over a decade, while ruining people’s lives for telling the truth in the process. And his denial of doping protected tens of millions of dollars of future revenue. So in a way, he was kind of sitting on a suitcase full of tens of millions of dollars that he would receive if he continued to lie.

  • TKeen

    I didn’t see the Oprah interviews but I did see the excellent Fifth Estate program about Armstrong which can be viewed online. Couple of issues with your comments:

    1) Is it cheating when everyone does it? Of course it is. A sport where it’s necessary to drug people up like racehorses in order to make a decent showing is not worth bothering with. If competitive cycling is this corrupt – and it certainly appears to be – then take it out of the Olympics, like they are talking about doing. Sometimes I hear people say of sports “Oh just let them all take the drugs and not punish them – everyone’s doing it anyway”. Well, people have died from taking drugs in sports. If we openly allow that, for our own entertainment, then we’re back in ancient Rome. If it’s true that they’ll dope up because there’s so much money involved, then the reverse should also be true – take the money out, and the athletes and organizers will clean up their act pretty fast.

    2) Contrary to your comments above, near as I can tell, no one is showing up on the athletes’ doorsteps with a suitcase full of $100M and a batch of drugs guaranteeing that they’ll win anything. No one’s said … yet… that the races are fixed. What has happened, though, is that you’d be sure NOT to win if you DIDN’T dope, which is not the same thing. Where’s the guaranteed win if ‘everyone’s doing it’?

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Of course nobody is showing up with a suitcase full of $100 million dollars. But Lance himself said in the Oprah interview that he knew he was going to win the Tour each of the seven times he won it. And both he and his team knew that winning the Tour multiple times would yield significant financial rewards and widespread fame for Lance Armstrong. The issue most people have with Lance isn’t that he decided to dope in the first place. It’s that he decided to vehemently deny it for over a decade, while ruining people’s lives for telling the truth in the process. And his denial of doping protected tens of millions of dollars of future revenue. So in a way, he was kind of sitting on a suitcase full of tens of millions of dollars that he would receive if he continued to lie.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Agreed Al, ego played a large part too. I think the ego comes hand-in-hand with the money. The more famous he gets, the more money he makes. The more money he makes, the more people there are constantly feeding his ego.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    I wasn’t faulting his wife. My point was that there are dozens of people around him in his personal life who were benefiting from his fame and wealth. I was just saying that there would be little incentive for them to urge Lance to come clean.

  • grrlyrida

    Hi James, the problem with everyone-is-doing-it’so-it’s-alright is a childish rationale. First of all not all the cyclists have access to a variety of sophisticated drugs and complicit officials. Second PEDs act differently in different bodies. What works well in one body may not work well in another. So how can there ever be a level playing field? I never liked Lance and the cult of personality surrounding him, especially since he hid behind the guise of his cancer organization. There are other cancer organization without all the baggage which I have supported in the past and continue to support.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      I don’t know. Workout regimens have a different effect on different bodies too. So does food and vitamin intake.

      I think the moral dilemma surrounding PED intake is summed up nicely by a former cyclist: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/01/a-former-cyclist-reflects-i-would-have-done-what-lance-armstrong-did/267361/

      I like how he ended the interview too:

      “So how, in the end, do you think we ought to view Lance Armstrong?”

      “With tremendous admiration for what he’s accomplished, and vehement disapproval of the way he treated the other human beings in his life. There’s no excuse for that.”

  • grrlyrida

    Hi James, the problem with everyone-is-doing-it’so-it’s-alright is a childish rationale. First of all not all the cyclists have access to a variety of sophisticated drugs and complicit officials. Second PEDs act differently in different bodies. What works well in one body may not work well in another. So how can there ever be a level playing field? I never liked Lance and the cult of personality surrounding him, especially since he hid behind the guise of his cancer organization. There are other cancer organization without all the baggage which I have supported in the past and continue to support.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    I don’t know. Workout regimens have a different effect on different bodies too. So does food and vitamin intake.

    I think the moral dilemma surrounding PED intake is summed up nicely by a former cyclist: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/01/a-former-cyclist-reflects-i-would-have-done-what-lance-armstrong-did/267361/

    I like how he ended the interview too:

    “So how, in the end, do you think we ought to view Lance Armstrong?”

    “With tremendous admiration for what he’s accomplished, and vehement disapproval of the way he treated the other human beings in his life. There’s no excuse for that.”

  • Chris R. Chapman

    @Jim: You might want to read former team-mate Christian Van de Velde’s sworn affidavit from last September, as well. According to him, Lance’s wife was sometimes involved in handing out pills wrapped in foil (paragraph #39).

    What really guts me, however, is Hincapie’s partaking in “the program” as well – I *really* liked Big George. He was part of a cadre of guys (Leipheimer, Taylor, etc.) who I thought were proving you didn’t need to dope to win.

    Really turned off watching the TdF this year.