The Week in Ethics: Floyd Landis’ Guilty Conscience
I am reminded of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The narrator of Poe’s gothic tale, insists to the reader that he/she is sane, murders and dismembers an old man, and buries the body parts under the floor boards.
When police come, investigating reports of screams, the narrator daringly pulls chairs over the floor where the old man is buried and invites the officers to sit. The narrator convinces the officers that nothing is amiss. However, increasingly distracted by the sound of a beating heart under the floor growing louder and louder, the narrator blurts out a confession.
So what is the motive now for Landis’ Tell-Tale Heart confession of using illegal drugs?
He has for the last four years portrayed the role of a man wrongly stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for doping violations. He appealed to fans to give money to the Floyd Fairness Fund to defray legal bills in his fight for “justice”.
Now, he admits he is guilty of taking illegal drugs — but still says he is innocent of taking drugs during the 2006 Tour de France. (Is he making that distinction because it is true? Or to try and protect himself against potential criminal accusations that he raised money on fraudulent pretenses?)
Landis is professing to be a casualty of a doping culture in cycling. It is a culture he says he wants to bring down so young athletes won’t be confronted with the same choices he had.
His strategy is to accuse Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer and David Zabriskie of having taken illegal drugs as well. The proof? Apparently his word against theirs.
Just as in Poe’s story, we see someone disintegrating before our eyes. Landis can’t credibly fight for any cause right now because he is an admitted liar, without credibility or a reason to be trusted. There is no noble work for him to do now to reform cycling’s culture. Whatever needs to happen to restore integrity to the sport of cycling, Landis forfeited the right to be a player.
It is a Neverland mission if Landis believes he can protect others from “choices” he faced. In any sport, any business, we are always confronted with choices between right and wrong. We are defined by what we choose.
When the media attention dies down, and the floor boards reveal whatever they reveal for cycling, Landis’ story will remain a cautionary tale of wanting to win so badly that he betrayed himself and the sport he loves. It is about wanting that mountain-top moment any way he could get it, losing integrity, trust, and a sense of right and wrong in the process. It is a gothic tale all right, one that too many athletes and Wall Street warriors know far too well.
Gael O’Brien, May 20, 2010