I recently watched the movie The Program starring Ben Foster and Chris O’Dowd which focused on the rise, stardom, and downfall of cycling’s most well known athlete Lance Armstrong. Before I knew anything about the sport of cycling or had started riding myself I knew about Lance Armstrong. He was a hero who won more Tour de France races than any other person in history and did so after coming back from a life-threatening battle with cancer. His Livestrong foundation was a culture phenomenon known through the yellow wristbands promoting the cause. My father even read his book It’s Not About the Bike when starting his own battle with cancer.
To put it simply Armstrong was a winner…his brand was winning: winning over cancer, winning the Tour, and inspiring others to be winners. However, the deeply held secret was the Armstrong’s winning wasn’t 100% authentic. Rumors began swirling that in order to win Lance was breaking the rules. He was using performance enhancing drugs to achieve the added edge that pushed him over the top. I am not writing the blog to discuss the ethics of doping in professional sports or argue about whether or not it matters that since so many athletes were doping that in order to compete on a level playing field Lance had to dope. I want to focus on if something matters more that winning.
There is a powerful scene in the movie when Lance proclaims that nothing is more important to him than winning: not the rules, not ethics, or his own health. Each of us have to make that decision as well: are we going to cheat on the test, bend the rules, or undercut a competitor. We must decide if winning is the most important thing or are there other things that are more important to us. A great example in sports of a man who made a different decision that Lance Armstrong is that of University of Miami head football coach Mark Richt. Throughout his career Richt has made it clear that winning is not the most important thing. To Richt the shaping and development of a players character and winning with ethics and integrity are more important that how many wins and championships a person can acquire. He stuck to that philosophy even when it cost him his job as head coach of the UGA Bulldogs. He loved to win but he didn’t love and value winning over integrity.
All of us have dreams and goals. Most of us would agree that being successful is more enjoyable than failing. However, looking at the story of Armstrong’s rise and fall I have confirmed by belief that there are things more important than winning and how we “win” is as valuable or more so than the act of winning. To put this back into my world of ministry I would love to be seen as successful and accomplished. I want to work hard and listen to the direction of the Holy Spirit so as to one day achieve that success but I will not lose my integrity to do so. Too many famous and well-known pastors have fallen from grace because of their use of intimidation and bullying to get their way, too many have faked the sales of their books to look like bestsellers, and too many have used others work as their own. They won for a period of time but winning the wrong way cost to much in the end.
At the end of the film we see the full cost of Lance’s pursuit of winning at all cost. He was stripped of titles he had won, he hurt people who cared and loved him, and he forever tarnished the sport he loved. Everything he had won was now gone and he was left with a tarnished reputation.
We must weigh the cost and make the decision for ourselves. In those times of self-reflection and desire we must decide what matters most: winning or integrity. I have decided that to lose with integrity is better that winning without it. The world might not fully understand but then again I do serve one who said by losing my life I gain it. So maybe losing isn’t the worst thing in the world.