Have you ever done something so boneheaded that your only option was to come clean, fess up, admit to the grievous error and solemnly accept your punishment? Or you might take options B: Lie and stick to it like white to rice.
The event that comes to mind for me is when I spilled some glue. I used to love to build scale models as a boy and the constantly-clogging tube of glue, airplane glue it was called at the time. But someone sold me a bottle of glue once that they claimed was better than that stuff that came in a tube. It was also more of a liquid consistency, so it would not clog up like typical airplane glue. Of course, similar to Raphie’s mother in the classic A Christmas Story, my mother warned me to be careful and not spill it.
I went home, laid out the latest model kit and opened the bottle of glue. The cap was stuck so I had to pull on it and, of course, it spilled all over the place: all over the model, the newspapers, under the model, my hands, my shirt, my pants and, eventually, the floor. The bottle seemed like a 55-gallon drum. It violated the laws of physics and more glue came out than could possibly be contained in the tiny bottle.
Remembering my mother’s words, I did the only thing a responsible eight-year-old would do. I tossed my shirt and pants into the clothes hamper, put baby powder on the floor and tossed everything else in the trash. There, evidence eliminated. I was just as sure I’d gotten away with it as those stupid criminals that Jay Leno loves. You know the guys who write “This is a stick-up” on the back of deposit slips bearing their name and address and hand it over to some poor teller.
A short time later, when my mother and sister began asking what the horrid, nauseating smell permeating the house was coming from, I lied. Had no idea what that smell was, no clue. In fact, what smell? Are you two feeling well?
My lie and attempted cover-up, collapsed like a cheap suit.
Had I continued to insist to this day that I hadn’t spilled that bottle of glue, which I never attempted to use again, I might add, I might know some semblance of how Lance Armstrong feels these days.
Lance, who has accomplished more in his life that most people will in three or four lifetimes, is finally paying the piper. But it’s a delicate, tricky process fraught with even more peril. Rebuilding your professional life when you’ve been proven a big-time liar is, as William Ickes, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington says, complicated.
“It’s difficult because he lied so long, he lied so consistently and, according to most reports, he tried to pressure other people to help maintain this lie,” says Ickes.
I spoke to Ickes before the interviews between Lance and our national priest Oprah Winfrey aired. “When people did accuse Armstrong, he then referred to them as liars. He lied to teammates, to sports officials, to sponsors and to his fans as well. In that sense, it’s going to be quite difficult for him to repair his image.”
Ickes says research shows that a public confession of wrongdoing often does make the person look better to others, so depending on how it’s handled and perceived, Lance may get at least a portion of his stature back.
That wasn’t the case with Dave Edmondson, the former CEO of RadioShack, who claimed to reporters that he had a degree from a small California Bible college, even after the school said he had only attended for a semester, or so. He continued to deny it after it was made public. He was fired less than a week later.
There are other mitigating factors in Lance’s favor, says Ickes.
For one, whether you’re using drugs or not, the Tour de France is no ride in the park. “Many people give him some credit for being the caliber of athlete he was in terms of physical prowess, no matter the performance-enhancing drugs,” says Ickes.
Lance’s foundation, LiveStrong could be another mitigating factor. No matter what you think of Lance, the organization he helped create has done a lot of good for many individuals and inspired many people stricken with cancer.
It also helps that Lance seems like a generally nice guy, says Ickes.
Still, he’s got a huge hole to dig out of, he notes. “It’s a hole he’s created himself and he took a long time to do. He’s not going to restore his image overnight,” Ickes said.
Like I discovered with that bottle of glue, life is a lot easier when you fess up straightaway.
In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.