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Mind and Body

'Live strong or live wrong:' The true damage of Lance Armstrong

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As the details of Lance Armstrong’s interview are revealed, and his apparent confession for doping, there are several important issues that remain quite troubling as it pertains to this once perceived icon and his impact on the health and lives of every individual.

1. Lance and cancer – While no one can ever doubt or take away Lance Armstrong’s resilience towards beating and surviving testicular cancer, the unfortunate reality is, many pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions align themselves with an individual who lacked integrity.  

For those individuals who are battling the unfortunate circumstance of cancer, the true hope in winning against all odds is ultimately winning with grace and dignity.  The fact that Lance Armstrong was portraying himself with these elements of superhuman qualities has potentially shattered the trust that many cancer patients have placed in this individual, and how they too, could potentially survive.  

While he did not use doping to overcome testicular cancer, he used his stature as a winner of the Tour de France to portray himself as one that can overcome.  While there is a silver lining in every story, the success and contributions of the Live Strong Foundation cannot be ignored, and the means by which sponsorship and contributions were solicited on the basis of a brand that was false is unethical.

2. Lance and his impact on health and fitness – In an era where obesity is a global crisis, the last thing society needs is for irresponsible athletes to leave a lasting impact on young individuals on what it really takes to succeed.  It is difficult enough under normal circumstances to motivate people about the importance of daily activity for improved health and well-being. When athletes (like Lance Armstrong) commit outright violations and lie, it is can be de-motivating to the individual who doesn’t know better.  

We cannot ignore the element of social responsibility that comes along with fame and for better or worse, the entertainment and sports industries have a tremendous impact on individual behavior that there must be much greater accountability of individuals and their actions.

3. Lance and drugs – The use of performance-enhancing drugs in the industry has become rampant, and it is apparent that Lance Armstrong felt as if he was singled out among others that were committing similar violations.  The dynamics in professional sports and the entertainment industry have created compensation expectation and norms that far exceed many other industries.  

Would anyone tolerate their doctor, accountant or lawyer doing drugs?  Yet, we are still willing to pay top dollar to support these violations.  Children need to be taught about the importance of competitive sports without the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and this must be an integral part of any core educational program in schools and colleges.  

There have been too many examples in professional sports of individuals that have conceded to the use of illicit drugs long after they received massive endorsements and millions of dollars in compensation that never have to be paid back.  What kind of example are we establishing for a future generation?

As more details unravel about the depth of improper behavior by Lance Armstrong, we will likely discover that this situation is in fact far deeper than we perceive it to be.  The true question is how many medical professionals and others were aware of the situation and continued to encourage and exploit it to the detriment of society.  

There is no doubt that over the next several months, this story will be a case study for individuals who will learn what it takes to live strong, not live wrong.

Dr. Sreedhar Potarazu is an acclaimed ophthalmologist and entrepreneur who has been recognized as an international visionary in the business of medicine and health information technology. He is the founder of VitalSpring Technologies Inc., a privately held enterprise software company focused on providing employers with applications to empower them to become more sophisticated purchasers of health care. Dr. Potarazu is the founder and chairman of WellZone, a social platform for driving consumer engagement in health.