You are the seven-time winner of the Tour de France, or you are the five-time world champion figure skater, or you are the Olympic 100 meter track champion. And you are a cheater. A serial cheater. So when you are cradling your medal, cup or ribbon, and you are smiling that megawatt smile reserved for a champion, what are you feeling?
I have been thinking about this all morning and I think there are several possible explanations because—just like no two people being alike—no two cheaters are alike. When Tiger Woods made his speech after being caught cheating, he stated that he had previously felt he deserved his adulterous lifestyle. He said it had happened because he was buying into his own publicity. He said he thought he was more deserving of this free pass as he was special, he was a champion, one of a kind. He also said his particular cheating had nothing to do with his family or his love for his wife. All the while he was cheating, he was justifying it. He had to or else how could he do it?
I think that must be the only way that a cheater can continue to cheat and still be hugely happy with themselves and their lives. They tell themselves that they deserve to win, and they justify this by putting forth in their plan the concept of winning by any means possible. A cheater has to do this, don’t you think? Otherwise, where is the joy of the win? Isn’t that what it’s all about? The fame, the pride and the joy? Some of you might be thinking that it is all about the fame. After all, people will do anything to be famous, right? And I think you would be correct to a degree. I went through the same thought process myself. But then I thought of the cheater sitting in their den at night in front of a fireplace relaxing, with no media present and I surmised that it MUST be something else. I think that right after or even during your first experience with the cheat, you move into your own fantasy world where you are justified in your choices. Do they think they are heroes? You bet they do. They got there by any means necessary. They deserve it. They are already champions, they just needed a little help. There is nothing wrong with doping. Doping is simply an enhancement to your already God given talents. Doping is no different then taking vitamins or eating the right food. It is an aid. Sleeping around on your wife has nothing to do with her. You need this. You are owed this.
I thought of the times in my life when I have cheated. I thought of the times I lied about taking the last cookie or wrote an essay that was almost word for word from National Geographic or took my cousin Patti’s 45 of Smith doing Baby, It’s You. The cookie caper was so easily justified. I was hungry and I didn’t confess to my crime as I knew I would get yelled at. The essay was a no-brainer. Didn’t love the academics and knew I just had to get through them. Was I going to be a historian? NO! And one of the top five justifications is the who am I hurting? mantra. When I took my cousin’s 45 I knew it was wrong and I hated myself. The fact that I still cringe lo these 43 years later at least speaks somewhat to my character or, at the very least, my conscience. But even after I was wracked with guilt, did I return it? No. Two reasons. I would be deemed a thief and it was my favourite song and she only kinda liked it. Yep. True story.
So what of these champion cheaters, these world-class role model cheaters? Do they think of their cheating every day with agony and toss and turn at night soaked in regret?
I don’t think so. I sincerely do not believe that there is any late night remorse, any wringing of hands, any muttering of dear lord what have I done? Because human beings have a built in survival mechanism. We cannot possibly sit there hating ourselves if we are cheaters, because that would make us losers, not champions. Believing we are right is part of the prize. Only a loser would second-guess. A champion does what he or she needs to do and it is right, damn it. Because if you are a liar and a cheat, which let’s face it go hand in hand, you can lie and cheat your way though any interview or media event easily. It’s an extension of the game. It is the character you have created.
But when it’s just you and your mirror, you must justify. You need to believe you are right. You look in that mirror and you see role model, champion, purity, winner! You don’t even have to convince yourself. You know it. You can see it. It’s staring back at you. I’m a winner!!!
At all cost.
Barbara: Wow, Deb, such an evocative post! I missed the Lance Armstrong news in the paper yesterday (I was gone all day and only had a chance to catch up on this at night. If you’re interested, here is the news piece, here is an op-ed.). I know, as you said, this isn’t about him per se, but still he’s a great reference, isn’t he? And your point about the mirror image spurring on the cheat and liar feels so so true.
I’ve always thought that this kind of sitch is exactly like our parables about the “deal with the devil”. Because, yeah, you get your promised something (success, fame, riches, ego-stroking), but sooner or later the truth will come out and the idealized mirror image will be smashed, and the devil will take you down to hell (all just imagery, people, I do NOT believe in the devil). And then what? Will it still be worth the “glory” of the cheat?