Maybe you’ve been there too. You’ve made a choice, and it’s not the right one. You’re feeling guilty, and you’re not quite sure what to do. It turns out, you have a couple of choices. To explore them, we’ll look at two different places. The first, is the wonderful world of professional cycling. I’ve been a fan ever since I started racing road bikes back in around Grade 10 or 11. In those days, cycling was fast and glamorous. Athletes could do almost superhuman feats, racing hundreds of kilometers day after day after day, all at speeds that would be uncomfortable for you and I even if our legs were fresh.
The early 2000’s turned out to be a fascinating time to be a cycling fan, because they happened to be right smack in the middle of a renaissance of cheating. It’s no stretch to say that most of the professional cyclists were probably on performance enhancing substances, all of them being either illegal or yet undiscovered by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Time to time, athletes would get caught, and almost every single one would heartily protest their innocence. At first you believed them and felt sorry for them, but after a while, even the most plausible denial seemed to fall short. In retrospect, perhaps being a cycling fan in that era helped prepare me for my role as a teacher. There’s a small window right before report cards are due when kid after kid experiences a complete lifestyle change and suddenly wants to do all the things they’ve neglected for the entire rest of the term… for the original amount of points. Or if that seems too much, they come to you with a very touching story, and ask if you would be able to round their 38% up to a 90%. But I digress…
The second place I would like to look today is from one of the many nuggets of wisdom found in the book of Proverbs. Chapter 28, verse 13 says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” In other words, hiding your bad choices won’t work out. But if you come clean and start fresh, you’ll find grace.
So you’ve done something wrong, and you’re feeling guilty. Let’s take a brief look at some your options.
Number one, you could play the blame game. This can actually go a number of different ways, but since there’s such a flair for the creative, let’s take a look at a few brief responses that cyclists had to being caught.
First up, you can choose to blame.
Blaming is one we go to a lot, and it reaches far past the realm of bad choices. How often do we love to blame others for our own problems? Certainly, other people do have an effect on our reality, but to cast the blame entirely on them is usually just plain arrogant of us.
When Michael Bresciani tested positive for a banned diuretic after the 2017 Italian national championships, instead of owning up to his mistakes, he immediately blamed his mom. His mom! Here’s what he said: “The problem is that my mother takes Lasix for meals. In splitting the tablet, a few pieces might have got somewhere in my plate.” Hmm. Seems likely.
The next option is to do a cover up.
To cover something up is to hide what you’ve done and hope that no-one will find out. This one is a bit harder than simply blaming someone else, but it can be temporarily more effective. Lance Armstrong, probably the most famous cyclist of all time had an amazing story. After becoming the youngest athlete ever to win the road biking world championships, he was tragically diagnosed with cancer. He hung in there though, and eventually overcame it, launching an incredible comeback in which he won 7 Tours de France in a row. Absolutely incredible! The only problem was, he cheated. Sure there were rumors of the odd positive test, but as long as he discredited his accusers, nobody would take them seriously. He even donated a huge pile of money to the World Anti-Doping Agency! Sort of a bait and switch! Brilliant! He managed to hold of the hounds for a pretty long time, but eventually his sins caught up with him and he received a lifetime ban from the sport. He’s not even allowed to show up at races as a spectator.
Another option is to make excuses.
We all know about making excuses. Most of us have an excuse for everything. An excuse if we’re late, an excuse if we forgot something, an excuse for acting the way we did. If you really stop and think about it, it seems like some of us are actually convinced on some level that we are never in the wrong in anything! We’re just… unlucky. Not my fault!
Here’s a great excuse story. Adri van der Poel tested positive for Strychnine back in 1983. This is something actually usually found in rat poison, but it turns out that a very small dose can help negate the effect of tired leg muscles. His excuse? He said that he had eaten a pigeon pie that was made with his dad’s racing pigeons. His dad must have doped the birds to enhance their own performance. Now I’m not entirely sure all the background details to this story, but it does make me very curious. Are pigeon races actually so competitive that you need to give your birds performance enhancing substances? Why was Adri eating his dad’s pigeons? Did his dad even know?
So we’ve blamed, covered it up, and made excuses. How about just old fashioned pretending it’s not your fault?
Tyler Hamilton is a great example of that. At one point, it appeared that he would be the next great American bike racer, but after winning the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, he returned a positive test, which set of a small chain events in which he was discovered to have a “foreign blood population”. In other words, when they did a blood test, they found someone else’s blood in his system. His response? He said he had an unborn twin, which he had absorbed in utero. That’s why his blood contained two sets of DNA. Turns out, that’s actually a real thing, but not for Tyler Hamilton.
Lastly, if we’re playing the blame game, we can simply just lie.
I think this one happens a lot when we find ourselves backed into a corner. “I didn’t eat the cookie.” “But there’s chocolate on your face…” “I didn’t eat the cookie!”
Michael Rasmusson was a former mountain biking world champion who had become one of the top climbers in the road cycling peloton. For several years he won the King of the Mountains classification at the Tour de France, earning him the leaders jersey (white with red polka dots) and the nickname “The Chicken”. In 2007, however, not only was he the best climber, but he carried the yellow overall leaders jersey, and it looked like the Tour de France was finally his to lose.
However, with just four days left in the Tour, he was abruptly withdrawn from the face and fired by his team. Why? Because back in June when he had told his team that he was training in Mexico, somebody else reported seeing him in Italy. It wasn’t much, but in those days it probably meant you were up to no good. A few years later, after his suspension was over, Rasmusson did confess to doping throughout his career.
So there you have it - the blame game. You’ve made your bad choice, and you now know your options. The only problem is, none of them really get you out of your dilemma. If you’re lucky, they’ll mask it for a while, or maybe put off the consequences for a bit, but none of these choices actually set you free. And not only do they not set you free, but when you make your choice and then choose to blame others, you’re actually just making things worse! Mathematically, it breaks down to this:
Bad Choice + Blame Game = Double Trouble
It’s like a one-two punch. First the consequences for your choice, and secondly the consequences of trying to get out of the original consequences. That doesn’t sound fun. I wonder, might there be another way?
Consider the story of Jonathan Vaughters… JV for those who know him. Vaughters spent an early part of his cycling career as a teammate of Lance Armstrong. Somewhere along the way, JV realized that if he wanted to compete on the top level, he needed to get on a doping program, and so for several years that’s what he did until eventually, he began to think of the ethics of cheating, and reconsidered. He was never caught. In fact, nobody knew about his doping until he confessed to it sometime later.
After retiring from racing, JV began to work on the management side of things, creating a junior team which eventually sowed the seeds for a top-tier professional team that was designed to prove to the world, as well as to young riders coming up, that success could be had at the very top levels without ever taking drugs. This team has been a part of a change in the sport. A change that can only start at the bottom levels and grow.
All this to say, when you do find yourself in a position where you’ve made the wrong choice, you will find yourself at a fork in the road. It’s up to you to choose your route, and there’s really only two main ones. You can choose to play the blame game, or you can choose to own your choices. At the time, one choice will always seem far more frightening, but only one choice will truly set you free. Remember, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
Blame Game ideas borrowed from “The Young Peacemaker” by Corlette Sande